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What's Hot with Ice Makers

—Mike Travis

SAVER: A good ice machine will use less water and elecricity.

CUBE: Use it for drinks.

Americans consume lots of ice in restaurants. We consume it in fountain beverages, slushes and mixed drinks. Kitchen staffs use ice for displays and to chill products. On the other hand, ice makers are big users of water and electricity. The right ice maker is one that is going to save you money in ongoing operating costs. Here are some tips for choosing the right equipment.

In recent years, ice makers have become one of the more technologically advanced kitchen equipment items. Innovations have been made in sanitation, energy savings, serviceability and reduction of machine noise levels.

Many ice makers now feature sanitation improvements. Look for more covered corners inside the bins for easy cleaning and new automatic or manual cleaning and sanitizing technology. Some parts are treated with antimicrobials manufactured directly into components.

Energy and water saving innovations have been implemented in many new-generation ice makers. Efficiency and cost savings are now a hot topic because of rising water and electricity costs. Manufacturers have been implementing new technology to reduce electric consumption by using new types of refrigeration compressors and by "harvesting" ice cubes without the use of electricity. Reductions in waste water have been designed into machines as well.

California and at least one or two other states have implemented rebate programs for purchasing certain energy efficient models. Look for more efficient machines later this year and possibly more rebates from local utility companies.

Serviceability has been improved on some manufacturers' models by the addition of computer chips with self-diagnostic displays. Much like your car, now a service technician can on some models make a quick diagnosis of problems for repair or, in some cases, even alert you to future problems. Some machines have the ability to have data transmitted to a service technician who can diagnose a problem from a remote location. Indicator lights on some units alert you to the machine's current status.

Noise has always been a consideration influencing where to locate an ice maker. It's not a good idea to locate most ice makers near or on a wall adjacent to guest areas because of noise from the compressor as well as noise from ice dropping inside the machine. Some manufacturers have begun to address these concerns by providing additional sound deadening in the machine panels around mechanical components. Some machines also have stateof-the-art quiet fans and compressors, which all contribute to a quieter machine than those most operators are used to.

The Basics. Let's consider the basics of ice maker selection. The type of ice to use and the machine that makes it is an important first step to consider. Commercial ice makers produce ice in a somewhat different way than you do at home for better quality and much higher production. Most machines spray water into chilled cube-size compartments. Unfrozen water drips away, taking water impurities with it leaving those crystal-clear cubes you get in a goodlooking drink.

There are three ice types that are made by different machines. The classic ice type is cube ice. Cube ice is clear and appealing for beverages. The cube has less surface and lasts longer. Flake ice is ideal for rapid cooling, but tends to water down a drink too much. However, flaked ice is an effective ice to use in cold pans or displays where the ice can be packed and mounded to merchandise well. Flaked ice is also excellent for icing down fresh seafood or chickens in your kitchen prep area. Cubes tend to melt slower than flaked ice because it has less surface.

There is also a new and exciting type of ice known as compressed nugget ice. This ice is not as crystal-clear as cubes, but is hard and slower to melt than flaked ice. Although you may not want to use this ice for mixed drinks, nugget ice is great for soft drinks. The ice also does well chilling products like meats and fish. The process to make the ice uses less water and significantly less electricity than producing cubes, making nuggets less costly to make. The machines are also a bit more compact and are said to require less maintenance.

Once you choose the ice type, sizing ice makers is always a difficult thing to do because there are so many variables. Ice needs are rarely the same in any two operations. Requirements will fluctuate depending on day of the week and season in most operations. While it is difficult to predict, here are a few guidelines for ice usage. A good rule of thumb is that you will need at least three-quarters of a pound of ice production capacity per beverage served.

For example, if you serve 100 beverages, your ice maker production capacity should be about 75 pounds. This usage factor includes ice melting in the bin and some waste, but does not include other ice uses, such as chilling soda lines in ice bin cold plates. This will need to be accounted for separately. If you are in a very warm climate or there are a lot of other ice needs, you may want to increase this ratio.

A Perfect Match. Once the number of pounds of daily ice production is determined, you then need to match the production need with a machine. Some of the production claims can be misleading if you don't know what to look for. Be careful to note that many manufacturers' ice making claims are based on a 50°F water temperature and 70°F air temperature at the ice maker. These temperatures are often unrealistic since in many areas incoming water temperature exceeds 50°F, especially in the summer when ice needs are greatest and the air temperature in the store may be higher than 70°F. Exceeding these temperatures causes the machine's production capacity to decrease.

As a rule of thumb, a 10°F air temperature increase may reduce daily ice production by 10% when using an air-cooled machine. In addition, the higher room temperature will melt ice in the bin quicker, requiring more ice-making capacity to replenish and fill the bin. The use of water-cooled ice makers, especially for larger machines, can reduce the amount of heat the ice maker itself adds to the kitchen. The amount of heat generated by air-cooled machines is significant, especially if located in a small confined area or a space you may be trying to air-condition for the comfort of kitchen staff.

The choice of an air-cooled or water-cooled machine is an important one. The air-cooled condenser is cost effective and involves no added water costs. In most areas, water-cooled machines must be on a closed-loop systems, meaning no water can be dumped down a drain. A closed loop and cooling tower may or may not be feasible in a smaller restaurant, however. In addition to dispersing less heat than an air-cooled machine, the water-cooled system does have some significant advantages in machine efficiency. A water-cooled maker's electrical consumption is generally less when compared with a similarly sized air-cooled machine. Water-cooled units are also quieter for areas where noise is a factor. If water cooling is practical in your operation, use it.

Do not underestimate the importance of a water filter for your ice maker. Water filters condition incoming water, reduce the machine's necessary cleaning frequency, allow top equipment performance and improve the quality of your ice. Lime and mineral buildup will be greatly reduced inside your maker if you use a filter. Use a good-quality water filter and follow the directions to change it when needed.

The most important thing to remember about your ice maker is to choose the machine to best meet your needs and then take care of it. Maintaining your ice maker properly is critical to productivity, food safety and quality ice.

Preventive Maintenance Extends the Life of Ice Machines

Ice makers are vital to restaurants, hotels, clubs and other foodservice institutions, but like any heavily used piece of equipment, require periodic maintenance to keep running smoothly. Preventive maintenance is easy to do and can extend the lifespan of your ice machine.

If you notice that the size of ice cubes is smaller than normal, or the ice is soft, mushy or cloudy, these are indications that an ice machine is overdue for cleaning. The most important thing to keeping an ice machine running well is to keep it clean – this includes:

  1. Exterior cleaning – Dirt, debris and grime around the exterior of the machine can easily make their way into the machine where it can contaminate the ice and clog the line. Clean around the exterior of the ice machine as often as necessary to keep it clear and free of impurities.
  2. Clean the condenser – A dirty or dusty condenser impedes the airflow cooling the coils, which results in excessive operating temperature, making the machine work harder. Over time, this can reduce ice production and shorten the life of the machine.
  3. Interior Cleaning – The greater the amount of dissolved solids in the water, the more troublesome the freezing process will be. Naturally occurring bicarbonates in water are the most troublesome of the impurities for ice makers. These cause scale buildup on the evaporator and can clog the water lines. The interior of ice makers should be cleaned and sanitized every six months, or more frequently depending on the water quality, to remove lime scale and hard water residue that can decrease efficiency.

Each manufacturer has specific instructions for their systems/models, so please consult the manufacturer or a trained foodservice equipment technician for proper servicing techniques.

Mike Travis works at GCS Service, the equipment care business unit of Ecolab. He can be reached at 651293-2233 or [email protected] More information about ice machines and other foodservice equipment maintenance is available online at http://www.GCSparts

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