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What is Air Compressor CFM?

Putting together an effective, efficient compressed air system that can power your entire factory or facility starts with understanding and keeping a close eye on your air compressors’ key performance indicators. One key air compressor performance indicator is CFM. Not only do you need to understand CFM to choose the appropriate compressor for your application, but understanding your air compressor’s desired CFM is also essential to ensuring your entire compressed air system is running as it should.

Here’s a basic introduction to what air compressor CFM is, what it means, and how you determine how much CFM you need from an air compressor.

What is Air Compressor CFM?

CFM stands for cubic feet per minute. For air compressors, CFM is a measure of the machine’s output — it tells you how much air a compressor can produce at a given pressure level. CFM is an important indicator of performance. The more CFM your air compressor is capable of, the greater its output.

It’s good to remember that your air compressor’s CFM is related to its PSI (Pound per square inch). An air compressor’s CFM is measured at a specific PSI. If that pressure goes up or down, your CFM will change, too.

Does Higher CFM Mean A Better Compressor?

The higher an air compressor’s CFM, the more air it is able to put out at a specific pressure level. A higher CFM can support larger, heavy-duty applications, but it’s important to know that higher CFM doesn’t necessarily mean a better air compressor — it just means a bigger one.

While it’s important to pay attention to an air compressor’s CFM, you shouldn’t just pick a compressor with the highest available CFM. Air compressors come with a range of capabilities, and CFM is just one performance indicator. Instead, choose an air compressor that’s output matches the needs of your application. This will help ensure you’re buying the most efficient air compressor for your application, and not overspending on air you’ll never use, or under pressurizing your compressed air system, causing production efficiency issues.

How Much CFM Does My Air Compressor Need?

One of the most challenging aspects of purchasing an air compressor is finding the appropriate size for your facility’s air needs. If you’re brand new to choosing an air compressor, this blog on How to Size an Air Compressor Accurately should help.

If you’re just looking for a little help figuring out how much CFM you need from an air compressor, we’ve got answers.

The best way to determine how much CFM you need is to take a look at the tools that require air.

How many tools need air, and how many of those tools will be running at the same time?

Any air tool, from small nail guns to large industrial pneumatic equipment, will list a required CFM, either on the machine or in the machine’s manual. You’ll need to add up the required CFM for each machine you plan to power with your new air compressor.

Take that total number, and multiply it by 1.5.*

This is the minimum CFM you’ll need to power all of those tools.

*While this equation is a good general guideline, it’s always best to speak with an expert before you make a final purchasing decision. A range of factors, from required PSI to how many machines you plan to run, and at what duty cycle, can all impact what CFM you’ll ultimately need. 

Want to Know More?

This is a very basic guide to understanding air compressor CFM. There are so many factors in your facility that can affect your air compressor’s performance — its rated CFM is just one performance indicator.

There’s a lot to know here, from figuring out how much CFM you need, to getting more out of an existing air compressor. While we can’t cover it all in one article, the TMI Compressed Air team is here to answer any question you might run into.

If you’re looking for help determining which air compressor is best for your application, or if you’re looking for ways to increase your existing compressor’s performance, the TMI team can help. As air compressor experts, we’ve got the training and the tech to help you get the most out of your compressed air system. Give us a call at 800-875-9555 or contact us online today!


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