DECISIONS DECISIONS...Among the considerations operators must balance when choosing an ice machine are the ice type, the ice production capacity, whether it should be air-or water-cooled and where it should be placed. For example, optional equipment such as the unit pictured here fits on various types of beverage dispensers to provide ice for fountain drinks.
The foodservice industry uses a lot of ice. The trick is to have the right type of ice around and produce it in the most cost effective way to best satisfy your customers and your bottom line. Here are some tips for choosingthe right equipment.
The first step to consider is the type of ice you need and the best machine for making that ice. There are two traditional types of ice made by two different types of machine processes. The classic ice type for beverages is cube ice. Flake ice, the other main ice type, is ideal for rapid beverage cooling, but tend to water down the drink too much for most customers. Flake ice is often used to keep seafood chilled.
There is also a new and exciting type of ice available called 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. Many people like to chew this type of ice because of its size and shape. The ice also does well in kitchen uses for 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 require less maintenance.
What size ice maker? Once you choose an ice type, you must select an ice makers size, which can be 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's difficult to predict, here are a few guidelines for ice usage. Generally, you can count on using about one pound of daily ice production per cover served.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 use will need to be accounted for separately.
When sizing your ice maker, be sure to take into account the air and water temperature to be sure enough ice can be produced.
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 a 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 operations may be higher than 70°F. Exceeding these design temperatures causes the machine's production capacity to decrease.
When sizing your ice maker, be sure to take into account the air and water temperature to be sure enough ice can be produced. 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. Each has advantages. The air-cooled condenser is cost effective and involves no added water costs. In most areas, water-cooled machines must be on a closedloop 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.
Water-cooled ice makers generate less heat, use less electricity and are quieter than air-cooled machines.
Consider a remote condenser.A variation of the air-cooled system is a remote condenser unit that offers some advantages of its own.
The remote unit takes the biggest heat-producing component, the condenser, out of the ice maker and your kitchen altogether. The remote approach does not require water and removes most of the heat from the service area.
The condenser can be located up to about 50 feet away, including the roof. Remote ice makers are also quieter than typical machines because some of the machinery has been relocated. Front-of-house soda and ice dispensers are a good application for remote equipment because of the reduced noise and heat.
Here are two last items of importance to make sure you continue to provide quality ice. The first is to never 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 build up will be greatly reduced inside your maker if you use a filter. Use a good quality water filter and follow the directions to change when needed.
The second important factor for quality ice is to think about ice as a food you sell. As such, ice makers need to be sanitized regularly so you serve a safe consumable product. Several manufacturers now make it easier to keep the ice and water contact surfaces of the machines cleaned and sanitized through automatic systems. Even if you have the automatic cleaning options, still set up and perform a regular internal cleaning and maintenance schedule or contract with a service agency to do the work for you.
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.
DAN BENDALL is a principal of Food-Strategy, a Maryland-based consulting firm specializing in planning foodservice facilities. He is also a member of Foodservice Consultants Society International (FCSI).