What You Need to Know to Select the Right Air Motor

air motor

Air motors have been in use in the industrial and transportation sectors since at least the 1840s. More recently, they’ve become a key component in pneumatic handtools.

While electric power tools are nearly ubiquitous in hardware store isles, air-motor-powered tools outperform their electric counterparts in many applications.

Not all air motors are created equal, however. Keep reading to discover what you need to know to select the right air motor for your needs now.

Types of Compressed Air Motors

There are several types of compressed air motors.

  • Vane
  • Piston
  • Turbine

Vane motors are most commonly used in relatively low-power tools. Portable handtools are a good example.

Piston air-powered motors are usually found wherever high torque is needed. This includes high-powered machines of all sizes and kinds.

Turbine compressed air motors are best for applications that need high velocity but low pressure. This can be anything from a dental drill to starters in jet engines.

Why Air Motors Are Better Than Electric

Air motors work differently to electric motors. These differences can make air motors a better fit for certain environments or uses than electric motors.

Compact and Powerful

For example, air motors typically produce more power than electric ones. This means that you can use a smaller motor if you use an air-powered one.

In fact, air motors often weigh up to 75 percent less than equivalent electric motors and take up only 16 percent of the space. This can provide design flexibility and increased portability.


Air motors don’t get as hot as their electric counterparts during use. They are also less prone to sparking. This can make them ideal for volatile or higher-risk workshops and job sites.

This includes areas:

  • Heavy in salt or water
  • Where motors may be exposed to corrosive materials
  • With fire or explosion risks
  • Where they may suffer impacts or high heat

Flexible and Reliable

Air motors can be easily adjusted during use through modifications to load and airflow. They do not suffer strain or damage when heavily loaded or from constantly starting and stopping. This not only increases their viable lifespan but provides on-the-job convenience.

Air-powered motors are reversible, as well.

How Do You Choose an Air Motor?

Deciding which small pneumatic motor is right for you doesn’t have to be complicated. You can narrow down your options using a few simple questions.

First, ask yourself what you want the motor to do. Knowing that will help you determine what speed, power, and torque you need. It will also help you decide what airflow rate you need.

Once you know those things, choosing the right motor will be easy.

The other factor to take into consideration is mounting options. Different sizes and styles of motors come with different mounting brackets. Common types include:

  • Hub
  • Flange
  • C-face
  • Foot

You will need to select a motor with the right mounting brackets for your situation.

What Do You Need Your Motor to Do?

In many cases, you can get away with using several different sizes and types of compressed air motors. Which type is best, however, will depend on your goals.

The matter of the highest importance is determining the amount of torque you will need. In most cases, this can be calculated based on the weight and size of other equipment involved. Any weight the system must lift should also be factored in.

Other factors include:

  • The desired lifespan of the motor
  • Whether or not your project absolutely requires a consistent motor speed
  • How regular torque demand is expected to be

When running these figures through a motor size calculation, it is important to consider that you can also use modifiers to achieve the ideal power and torque ratios.

Supplemental air motor parts can be used to alter airflow or motor speed to increase torque, regardless of the motor’s size.

Lubricated vs. Non-Lubricated Motors

Once you’ve determined the size and power range you need, you can consider whether a lubricated or non-lubricated motor is best for you.

Lubricated motors contain tiny amounts of oil, which work with the compressed air in the system to keep them running smoothly. Typically, lubricated air motors have higher longevity than non-lubricated ones.

Non-lubricated motors contain no oil. They are constructed using materials with lower than average friction to compensate.

Where to Get Help

If you are new to these calculations or dealing with a particularly complicated setup, they may feel challenging. It can be worthwhile to invest in getting experienced help.

Companies experienced in providing engineering solutions can do more than just crunch the numbers for you. They can:

  • Evaluate your entire system
  • Complete feasibility surveys on your behalf
  • Provide insights into key safety concerns and appropriate equipment to mitigate risk
  • Identify opportunities for improving or maximizing efficiency through your motor choice
  • Provide custom engineering and manufacturing services to meet your specific needs
  • Offer CAD and 3D modeling services for custom parts or combinations of parts
  • Provide automation and outsourcing options where applicable

In most cases, these services are extremely affordable. More importantly, a small investment in them upfront can save you tremendous amounts of time and money down the road.

Selecting the Right Air Motor

Selecting the right air motor for your needs is important, but it can also be a complicated process.

Setting up your system to maximize the efficiency and longevity of your motor is something we would definitely recommend. Let the experts help you put together the perfect system for your needs, today!

You can count on RG Group for excellent quality and service

Contact us today