Product Knowledge Guide: Ice Makers

In the foodservice industry ice comes in three main forms: cubed, including small and medium versions; flake and nugget ice, which are small bits of ice completely different from their cubed siblings; and various other shapes that vary by manufacturer. Some ice machines form other cube types, including gourmet square cubes, octagon and crushed.

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A trio of ice machine types produce these various forms of ice: modular, under counter and countertop. The simplest to install are under counter units, or self-contained units, that include the ice maker and bin in one small, compact machine. Modular units allow operators to purchase and install an independent bin on the ice maker.

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Manufacturers classify their ice machines by how much the units can produce in 24 hours. For example, modular ice machines' capacities range from 250 to 3,300 pounds of production in 22-, 30- and 48-inch footprints. Self-contained modular machines have capacities of between 50 and 300 pounds of production in 15-, 19.7-, 24-, 26-, 29- and 30-inch footprints. The design of some models allows operators to stack them, doubling daily outputs.

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Countertop nugget icemakers and water dispensers produce larger amounts of ice with smaller storage capacities. Dispensing options include ice only or ice and water combinations. Countertop dispensers can store between 150 and 300 pounds of hand-loaded ice. Large floor models can accommodate up to 1,000 pounds.

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Ice machines use one of three types of condensing systems: air-cooled, water-cooled and remote. The air-cooled self-contained condensing system has the refrigeration system contained within the ice maker. However, it does eject heat into the room as well as fan noise.

The water-cooled self-contained systems place the condenser and regulating valve within the ice maker. This system is popular in areas where water costs are low and water temperatures do not become much colder than 35 degrees F or much warmer than 90 degrees F. Water pressure to the condenser must be more than 20 PSI and less than 80 PSI. The water-cooled condensing system is the least affected by ambient air temperatures.

Many cities and states will not allow water to be used for water-cooled condensers and require a closed loop system. Operators should verify the area's regulations before purchasing.

The remote systems place the condensing unit outside, which prevents the rejected heat and fan noise from impacting the ice machine environment. It connects to the ice machine with a refrigeration line set and an electrical hookup. The use of a remote condensing system would be advisable when the room temperatures are critical, when the cost of water prohibits the use of a water-cooled machine or when noise is a factor.

Air-cooled ice machines use less water than water-cooled units. Nugget and flake ice machines use less water and energy than cube ice machines, due to the ice production process and how the units form the ice.

Ice dispenser features include stainless-steel exteriors, removable dispensing chutes, deep catch-drain areas designed to help prevent ice overflow and an internal agitating function to prevent clumping. Some dispensers also include an internal paddle-wheel scoop to ensure all storage bin contents are dispensed. Large dispensers feature options such as push button controls, card-key and/or coin operation and automatic ice bagging.

Common Applications

  • If an operation requires an ice machine for only one application, such as soft drinks, a more specialized unit might be the correct choice. If the operation will use the ice across multiple applications then a more versatile unit may be appropriate.
  • Hotels use large quantities of cube ice for banquet and catering services as well as have an ice machine on most floors for guest room service.
  • Flake and chewable ice forms are ideal for smoothies
  • and blended cocktails. These softer ice forms create consistently smooth beverages and result in less wear and tear on blenders. These forms of ice also take time to blend, which enables bartenders to make and serve more drinks.
  • Flake or nugget ice is suitable for seafood, meat or produce displays, or salad bars.

Specifying Considerations

  • The operation's volume will determine the amount of ice necessary. For example, a typical restaurant requires between 1 and 1.5 pounds of ice per customer each day. Since cube ice is harder than nugget ice, operators will need more nugget ice than cubed.
  • Measure the width, height, length and space where the ice machine will reside before buying a unit. Figuring out how many pounds of ice that can be produced in the existing floor space will provide further insight into how much space will be required for the unit.
  • Determine which condensing system will work best for the circumstances and surroundings.
  • For example, when placing the unit in a tight place with little air circulation, a water-cooled unit may be the best choice.
  • Consider a remote condenser application for larger cubers to eliminate the heat load added to the building by self-contained air-cooled condensers. Consider the option of a remote condenser/compressor model for self-service beverage stations to reduce noise in the dining environment.
  • A drain, electrical source and water source must be in close proximity to the ice machine.

Specifying Mistakes to Avoid

  • The most common specifying mistake is incorrectly sizing the ice machine and bin. In terms of volume, the general rule is 5 ounces of ice per each 7- to 10-ounce drink; 8 ounces of ice per each 12- to 16-ounce drink; and 12 ounces of ice per each 18- to 24-ounce drink.
  • On hot days, when demand for ice is highest, the output of ice machines will be lowest because of the heat's effect on compressors. For this reason, operators should consider purchasing ice machines capable of meeting their peak demand on these days, rather than average volumes or they risk losing drink sales on a hot day due to a lack of ice. If an operator experiences higher volume on weekends but lighter traffic during the week, a machine with a smaller capacity can be paired with a larger bin that can save ice for use on weekends.
  • Operators should consider the uses for ice. Some operations will have a set up for half cubes and another for the popular nugget or tubal ice, which can be used for both soft drink type beverages and frozen drinks.

New & Notable Features

  • Because it is important to regularly clean an ice machine, some units now feature easily accessible and removable food zone components.
  • Antimicrobial protection in plastic food zone components inhibits the growth of bacteria, mold, mildew and fungus to help keep the equipment sanitary and working properly between cleanings.
  • One ice machine manufacturer offers a system that allows operators to make, bag and merchandise store-branded ice in one machine at the retailer's location.
  • Ice dispensers now feature infrared sensors that dispense predetermined cup- or container-sized amounts, while eliminating the need for staff or customers to touch a dispenser.

When to Replace

  • Production is impacted: If an ice machine no longer produces at its normal capacity, or the shape of ice cubes or flakes is not consistent, it might be time to replace this unit.
  • Undersized unit: If the ice machine is constantly running, it may have been undersized in ice production specification. In this case, the compressor and or parts will fail at an increased rate.
  • Corrosion: If the interior of the ice maker and or ice bin have long-term corrosion, rust and scale build up, the unit should be retired.

Maintenance Musts

  • Ice machines and dispensers require cleaning every six months. Depending on the ice machine's environment, the frequency of scheduled planned maintenance may need to be increased.
  • Periodically empty and clean ice storage bins, regardless of the ice machine cleaning schedule.
  • Check and clean air-cooled condenser filters or fins monthly. Likewise, periodically check rooftop remote condensers for debris.
  • Dry the evaporator and inspect for deposits. A dirty evaporator will increase harvest times, which will melt more ice in the harvest cycle and require the machine to run longer before the bin is full. A nylon bristle scrub brush is necessary to clean dirty evaporators and extrusions on machines.
  • Ice machine cleaner removes mineral deposits and lime scale but does not disinfect. Use a sanitizer on the ice machine and bin/dispenser to ensure the ice is safe to consume. Thoroughly rinsing out the bin and purging the ice machine, as well as throwing away the first batch of ice, is very important to ensure the removal of all chemicals from the ice making and storage zones.
  • Install and replace water filters as needed to prevent mineral buildup.
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