How To Adjust the Air Compressor Regulator

Dec 09, 2021 by Brad Taylor

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How do you adjust the pressure of your compressed air for downstream tools and applications? A compressed air regulator allows you to control the pressure of air going into your air-powered equipment. Regulating the pressure (PSI) of the compressed air at the point-of-use can be important to protect pneumatic equipment and ensure the safety and efficiency of your operations. Here’s what you need to know about the air compressor regulator. 

What is an air compressor regulator?

The air compressor regulator is, as its name implies, a device that regulates pressure (PSI) for your compressed air needs. It controls airflow from the compressor to ensure that air used for tools and processes is delivered at a constant pressure. It also allows you to adjust the pressure manually, within certain parameters. 

 Your system may have a single pressure regulator at the exhaust outlet for your compressor or individual pressure regulators for each drop or tool. The pressure regulator allows you to precisely adjust the pressure of air going into specific tools and applications. It maintains a constant output pressure regardless of any variation in input air pressure or downstream flow requirements. The pressure regulator helps to avoid the problem of overpressurization, which wastes energy and increases the CFM requirements for the air compressor. 

How does an air compressor regulator work? 

The pressure regulator is designed to dampen pulses in PSI as your air compressor cycles on and off. The air compressor regulator consists of a gauge that displays the pressure (PSI), an adjustable valve that controls the flow of air, and a knob or dial that allows the user to adjust the airflow. The regulator typically will have an internal spring that tightens or loosens a seal, allowing more or less air to go through the regulator. When airflow is reduced, pressure is also reduced for anything downstream of the regulator. Pilot operated (internal and external) regulators do not have a spring to overcome; they are more accurate and also hold the pressure to a tighter band. 

Note that the pressure regulator can only decrease pressure from the air compressor; it cannot increase the pressure above the PSI produced by the compressor. 

The pressure regulator may be either relieving or non-relieving.

  • A relieving pressure regulator releases excess air into the atmosphere to relieve downstream pressure. This allows the regulator to lower the pressure delivered by the compressor even in dead-end runs. You’ll notice a loud hissing sound as excess air is released. 
  • A non-relieving pressure regulator does not vent the excess air. A downstream valve is required to release the excess pressure. 
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Do you need a pressure regulator on an air compressor?

Yes, a pressure regulator is advised for most applications. The pressure regulator prevents damage caused by fluctuations in air pressure as your air compressor cycles on and off. The air compressor does not run continuously; it will cycle off when it reaches the maximum PSI setting for your system and then cycle back on again when the pressure drops below a set point. As the compressor cycles on and off, it creates pressure pulses. Because compressed air is a fluid, these pulses are transmitted through the system. This can cause problems with equipment and tools that utilize compressed air. The pressure regulator acts as a pulse dampener, evening out pressure as the compressor cycles. Pressure regulators are essential if your systems require a constant pressure for optimal operation. Overpressurization will also waste air and energy; every 2 PSIG of overpressurization represents a 1% increase in electricity demand.

The pressure regulator provides several advantages. 

  • It ensures that pressure remains constant, so there are no sudden jumps in pressure that can impact your operations. This protects sensitive pneumatic tools from being overpowered. It also ensures that proper pressure is maintained for each tool regardless of variations in downstream demand or upstream supply.
  • Individual pressure regulators can be used on each drop to control the pressure for specific tools and systems. This can be helpful if you have tools with varying PSI requirements attached to your air compressor.
  • A pressure regulator can also help to save money. Reducing the air pressure to the minimum required for each air-using application will reduce your overall compressed air usage and thus your operating costs. 

How do you adjust the air compressor regulator? 

Depending on your air compressor model, this may be done using a simple dial or knob or via a digital human-machine interface (HMI). Consult your owner’s manual for specific instructions for your model.

  • To adjust the air compressor regulator on the discharge of the tank, first check the pressure gauge to read the current pressure. Then determine the PSI required to operate your tools and equipment. 
  • For screw-style pressure regulators, there is usually a push-pull locking mechanism that will need to be activated to release the knob. 
  • Once the mechanism is unlocked, turn the knob clockwise to increase pressure or counterclockwise to decrease pressure. As you adjust the pressure regulator up or down, it tightens or loosens a seal inside the regulator, increasing or decreasing airflow to adjust PSI. 
  • Adjust pressure slowly, keeping an eye on the pressure gauge, until the desired pressure is reached. 

Remember that the maximum PSI for your system depends on the CFM (maximum airflow) capacity of your compressor; you will not be able to raise PSI beyond this maximum. Make sure you do not adjust PSI below the minimum ratings for your tools and equipment to prevent costly damage or operating failures.

How precise is a pressure regulator?

A general-purpose pressure regulator will maintain pressure within +/- 2 – 5 PSI. This is adequate for most pneumatic tools and general applications. Some applications have tighter pressure tolerances. A precision pressure regulator can maintain pressure within +/- 0.5 – 1.5 PSI. These regulators may have several separate diaphragms that balance each other to maintain a precise pressure. Do not size regulators by pipe size; size by CFM flow.  

How do I know how much pressure I need for my air tools? 

Different tools will have different PSI requirements for optimal operation. Your operating manual will tell you the minimum PSI rating for the tool. 

Most pneumatic tools are designed for operation at pressures of 90 PSI. Your operating manual will probably have three ratings: the recommended operating pressure, the minimum operating pressure and the maximum operating pressure. If pressure drops below the minimum, the tool will not operate correctly and may stop functioning entirely. Operating above the maximum pressure will cause excess wear-and-tear on the equipment and could result in costly damage. As long as pressure does not drop below the minimum, there is no added benefit to operating the tool at a higher PSI than required. Read more: How much PSI do you need

What are the types of pressure regulators?

A pressure regulator may be self-relieving or non-relieving. There are several types to choose from. 

  • A poppet-style valved regulator consists of a poppet-style valve controlled by an adjustment spring. This is the simplest and cheapest style of pressure regulator. The flow is controlled by the poppet, which throttles the orifice plate to control the flow of air. This type of regulator is non-relieving. 
  • A diaphragm chamber regulator incorporates a separate diaphragm chamber with an aspirator tube that controls pressure within the chamber. These regulators are larger and more expensive than the poppet-style regulators, but they have improved responsiveness and sensitivity and minimize pressure drop across the valve. 
  • A balanced poppet regulator is similar to a diaphragm chamber regulator but has a larger orifice to allow greater airflow. The poppet is pressure-balanced to improve response and sensitivity. 
  •  A precision pressure regulator will have several separate diaphragms. These regulators may have limited flow capacity and smaller connection ports

How do I choose the right pressure regulator for my application? 

Choosing the right pressure regulator will help you control costs and ensure optimal operation for your needs. Ask yourself the following questions: 

  • How much flow capacity is needed?
  • How much precision in pressure regulation is required for my application?
  • Is a relieving or non-relieving pressure regulator better for my application?
  • Is it important that the pressure regulator be tamper-proof?
  •  Do I need a pressure regulator that can be adjusted without tools?

The right pressure regulator will help you ensure the longevity and reliability of your air-using tools and applications. 

 Have questions about air pressure regulators? Contact us to learn more about regulating pressure for your compressed air system. 

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