Since the reciprocating compressor has the most applications, we’ll take a look at how it works. First let’s examine its design. Picture an internal combustion engine because that’s what a reciprocating compressor looks like. A central crankshaft drives between two to six pistons located inside of the cylinders. Each cylinder has a suction line for taking in low-pressure refrigerant and a discharge valve for releasing high-pressure refrigerant. The pistons compress the refrigerant. 4 Below is a closer look at the process:
Step 1. The crankshaft begins to rotate, pulling the piston downward and reducing the pressure in the cylinder. The difference in pressure inside the cylinder and the suction line causes its valve to open and low-pressure refrigerant to flow into the cylinder. Once the cylinder is full of refrigerant gas, the suction line valve closes.
Step 2. As the crankshaft continues its rotation, it pushes the piston upward, increasing the pressure of the refrigerant gas because it has less space in the cylinder. The difference between the high pressure in the cylinder and the low pressure in the discharge line pushes its valve open. The high-pressure refrigerant escapes.
Step 3. After all of the compressed refrigerant is out of the cylinder, the process repeats. 5
As you can see, the compressor plays an essential role in the refrigeration process air conditioners rely on. As one of an A/C unit’s primary components, you’ll probably come across many compressors once you finish your HVAC training and start working in the field. Understanding how the various types of compressors work will likely prove helpful when that time comes.
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