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Commercial Ice Machine Trends: What Should Service Companies Brace For?

Partstown - mechanic working on ice machineNew ice machines feature not only improved safeguards but also enhanced integrated filtration systems.

Coming off the heels of this year's National Restaurant Association Show, innovation is top of mind for many in the industry. Hundreds of the latest pieces of equipment were prominently on display, featuring cutting-edge technology to help improve energy efficiency, waste reduction, less downtime reduction and more. That includes a wide range of ice machines.

Everything form large ice machines to countertop makers are vital in various commercial applications. While many features impact the operator on a day-to-day basis, it's still important to ask how the latest trends impact both service companies and technicians in the field.

Customers want their ice machines running at their best for years to come. That's why they call on local agents to conduct planned preventative maintenance or help with troubleshooting and repairs. So understanding the ins and outs of the new equipment on is key for proper service.

We'll look at a few ice machine trends and break down what the impact could be on service companies going forward.

Enhanced Safeguards

From misshaped ice to incorrect temperatures, faulty components can cause issues that lead to downtime. When that happens, some operators think they need to take matters into their own hands to get their ice machines back up and running. However, that can do more harm than good. In fact, performing incorrect diagnostics or repairs not only can cause further damage to the unit, but it also can void the manufacturer warranty. 

Fortunately, new ice machines are adding safeguards and clearer instructions to contact authorized technicians to remedy any issues. This helps avoid equipment from being incorrectly handled and ensures that the experts are handling any necessary troubleshooting and repairs.

For example, one Kitchen Innovation (KI) Award Winner from the last couple of years has a service limit feature. This built-in function stops the machine completely if a certain issue can eventually lead to major component or equipment failure. Following a restart procedure, the manufacturer instructs the operator to contact service if the machine stops again.

What does this mean for service companies? First, it means less headaches. You never want a technician to hop into the process once additional tinkering has been done by the operator. It can make it more difficult to troubleshoot the problem ailing the unit. Second, most of these manufacturer safeguards also include fault codes or instructions to assist the service tech, making issues easier to diagnose and remedy.

Specialized Ice

Partstown - Ice SphereSome ice machines can craft specialty ice in even more precise shapes and sizes.

Craft cocktails have been a trend for nearly a decade, and many ice machine brands are starting to roll out more pieces of equipment to make specialized ice. Sure, there have been units catered to specific shapes for years. But now there are models geared almost exactly for bars and restaurants looking to whip up craft cocktails that require cubes or molds with a precise shape and size. Why? The right ice enhances presentation, increase the chilling, minimizes dilution and maintains the proper flavor of the drink.

In both 2020 and 2021, two brands won KI Awards by zeroing in on this trend.  The first makes a machine with perfectly square, crystal-clear ice cubes. The other manufacturer had two machines win in consecutive years: One in 2020 that crafts sphere ice and another last year that makes approximately 2" x 2" squares.

What does this mean for service companies? While all these new ice shapes and sizes mean a lot for consumers, it shouldn't really impact how these ice machines are serviced. From float switches to evaporators, many of the components inside the machine are the same as their predecessors. And as we mentioned previously with safeguards, some actually feature better fault codes and diagnostics that make repairs easier to tackle.

Improved Filtration

We brought up air filtration in a previous issue about fryer trends. Both air and water filtration are key points of emphasis with ice machines too. Typically, ice machines either have air- or water-cooled condensers, and the surrounding environment plays a major factor in terms routine maintenance. 

For an air-cooled unit that shares space with ovens, fryers and griddles, the machine's air filter helps not only keep large amounts of grease and debris from infiltrating various parts but also maintains the ice's taste and color. For a water-cooled unit, proper water filtration is crucial to keeping the flavor and visual quality intact. This is especially essential in areas with hard water, which can cause scale buildup that quickly wears out components throughout the machine. 

That's why many new ice machines have enhanced built-in filtration for easy convenience. For instance, one of 2021 KI Award Winners with an air-cooled condenser, has an easy-in, easy-out air filter for quick cleaning and replacement. Another winner from 2021 that is water-cooled, features an integrated water filtering system. 

What does this mean for service companies? The day-to-day maintenance and repairs won't change much. The integrated filters likely will add another small box on the checklist in terms of diagnostics and quarterly tasks for a planned preventative maintenance program. Just consider having extra OEM air and water filters in your warehouse and service vans. It's easy for a customer to forget to change them every few months, and your team can be ready to replace a dirty filter during a service call.