It can be tricky to figure out how much ice you need to produce on a daily basis and how much you need on hand at any given time. The capacity you need will be determined mainly by how much you need to have for the busiest rush of the day. This will determine the storage capacity of the bin. Bin sizing sometimes, but not always, matches the 24 hour production rating of the ice maker. More often, the bin will hold about half of the 24 hour production. Ice bins usually aren't insulated, so ice will begin to melt after a few hours. You'll want to match your rate of use with the rate of production as closely as you can so the same ice doesn't sit in the bin long enough to melt. For help figuring out how much ice you're going to need, see our guide on sizing an ice maker
There are three main ice types. These evolved over the years to accommodate different needs across the foodservice industry. Your new self-contained ice maker will produce one of these three.
Cube is the classic shape for ice, and it's still the most common. It's typically used to cool drinks of many kinds, including cocktails and soft drinks. It's also frequently sold in bags. You'll encounter two general styles: full cube and half cube. Half cubes are more common.
- Cooling and serving drinks
- Selling as bagged ice
- Versatile uses
- Solid, clear, and slow-melting
Flake ice consists of irregularly-shaped and sized bits, and has a consistency similar to heavy snow. This is the kind of ice you'd use to display fresh food in a grocery or seafood display, or on a salad bar. It isn't commonly used for drinks, though it's great for frozen ones because it blends easily. It's also valued in the healthcare industry to serve patients and fill cold packs for physical therapy.
- Healthcare for cooling drinks without a choking hazard
- Fresh food displays
- Blended, frozen drinks
- Molds to solid products; won't damage fresh food
- Doesn't pose a choking hazard
- Blends easily
Nugget ice has exploded in popularity in recent years; it's now the most popular type in convenience stores and it's gaining in the restaurant industry, especially in the quick-service sector.
- Soft drinks
- Making smoothies and frozen mixed drinks
- Selling in bags
- Absorbs flavor of drink
- Displaces a lot of liquid, saving on drink costs
Ice makers expel heat as it is removed from inside to create freezing conditions. This heat has to be managed with either air or water.
Air cooled compressors use fans to blow away hot air from the heat-generating components. This is by far the most popular method and also the most affordable. Because the fans need plenty of space for air to circulate, you must install air-cooled equipment with clearance from walls and other equipment. Failure to do so will result in inefficient ice production and could cause breakdowns.
Water-cooled units use circulating water to carry away heat. These are sometimes connected to a closed-loop system in which water is recycled, recirculated, and cooled in a cooling tower. This kind of system is usually only found in larger operations like hospitals and large commercial facilities. If it isn't connected to a closed loop, this kind puts fresh water down the drain, driving up utility bills. They've been banned in many areas because of this.
Remote compressor units are installed outside your building, usually on the roof, so the noise- and heat-generating components don't affect indoor conditions. This type has a higher up front cost – installation takes more time and refrigeration lines must be run between the compressor and the ice maker, but it can save money on energy costs in the long run because your HVAC system won't have to remove the heat generated by the equipment.
In a cube-style, self-contained ice maker, ice forms on an evaporator plate, a grid on which water is sprayed and frozen. There are different ways to release the ice from the plate, most often by heating the grid just enough to loosen the ice. This is energy-intensive; a more efficient way is by the use of a evaporator plate hammer, which taps the plate to release the ice, conserving energy that would otherwise be used generating heat.
Technology is being used to streamline a lot of the major foodservice equipment, and ice makers are no exception. Digital controls are becoming more popular. With them you can monitor utility consumption and production rates, adjust production and bin fill levels, and control the cleaning cycle.
Because air temperatures and water conditions can dramatically affect the way ice forms, a timed harvest cycle may not be effective, and it can leave you with ice that is too thick or too thin. To make the harvest cycle more efficient, some models are equipped with an evaporator plate probe, which measures the thickness of the ice and starts the harvest cycle when it detects the right conditions.
Running out of ice can cause a lot of headaches for a business that depends on it. Some ice makers have alarm systems built in to warn operators when a problem is developing. This lets you address issues as they arise, hopefully before you run out of ice, and will help minimize downtime in the event that a repair is needed.
Ice is a food, and clean ice is essential to the health of your customers, so maintaining a clean ice maker should be a habit. Units with automatic cleaning cycles can make routine cleaning a little easier. Most of these functions are as simple as just adding some cleaning solution and pressing a button to begin the cycle. Automatic cycles are no substitute for the periodic deep-cleaning, but they can save on labor for daily and weekly cleanings.