Identifying a couple of basic needs will help make buying an ice machine head only production unit easier. First, think about all the different ways you use ice in your business. If you serve drinks, get a close estimate of how many customers you serve in a day. Take into account what you will be serving, because soft drinks typically use more ice than cocktails. If you use ice in a salad bar or other type of chilled display, factor that into the calculation.
The size of your new ice maker will depend on how much ice you need in a 24 hour period. That's how these machines are rated. If an ice maker is rated at 310 pounds, that means that over a 24 hour period, it will produce 310 pounds of ice. Of course, that's based on some conditions that likely won't be replicated in your facility, so you'll want to upsize to get the right amount.
The actual number will vary based on a couple of factors, the biggest being ambient air and water temperatures. Typically, manufacturers rate their machines for a 70-degree room temperature and 50-degree water temperature, though some are more rigorous in their ratings. Higher temperatures in either variable will decrease ice production. If your machine will be located in a hot environment like a kitchen, or if your water supply runs warm, you will likely need to upsize your machine by as much as 10-30 percent to get the amount of ice required.
Ice is a fairly simple concept, but it comes in all shapes and sizes, and there are ice machine head only units that produce each type. Each is better for different uses. The styles vary by manufacturer, but there are four basic types:
Cube is what most people think of when you mention ice, and it's the most common. Cubes typically have square dimensions, though Hoshizaki offers a variation with its crescent cube. All manufacturers offer two styles, half cube and full cube. Half cube is the most popular ice in soft drinks and, thanks to the international love for those fizzy beverages, it's also the most popular style of ice overall. Full cubes are typically used in high-end restaurants, as well as in alcoholic drinks, though bars really looking to make a splash typically opt for larger cubes or gourmet ice.
Flake ice has the consistency of coarse snow. This kind is light and has a high air-to-water ratio. It's great in frozen drinks like daiquiris, but it's especially valued for displaying cold food. That's because it conforms to the shapes of the objects placed on it, which means it won't damage delicate items like produce and seafood.
Flake-style is also the most popular type of ice in healthcare and long-term care, where it's given to patients to provide cold drinks or something cold to chew on. Its delicate nature means it can be served to those who may be at risk for choking without causing that issue.
Nugget ice has become a very popular type in recent years. Customers love it because it's chewable and absorbs drinks, making a kind of snack in its own right. Operators love it because it can displace a lot of liquid, helping cut down on cost per drink. This type has probably the longest list of names among the manufacturers, including nugget, pearl, tubular nugget, gem, and chewblet. Many customers, though, simply know it as Sonic ice, thanks to the drive-in chain that has billed itself as everyone's drink stop. In such high-volume operations, it's typically necessary to buy multiple ice machine head only production units to be used on several dispensers or with a larger bin.
Gourmet cubes are unique both in their appearance and how they're produced. They're very clear and dense, the result of a process that removes most of the air and mineral impurities from the cube. These machines are slower to produce and are more energy intensive, but the resulting cubes are large and slow melting, so it takes fewer cubes to cool drinks than with the other types. Manufacturers have several different names and styles to fit this type, including the top hat and the octagonal cylinder.
For a deeper look at all the styles of ice available, visit our Learning Center article on all the different types of ice
Air Cooled or Water Cooled?
Any type of refrigerated equipment, ice makers included, will generate heat and must be cooled either with air, which is the most common method, or with water. There are benefits and drawbacks of each.
- Air-cooled machines use fans to blow air over the components, carrying heat away from the unit that way. These are fairly simple mechanisms, so they're affordable and easy to install and maintain. The drawbacks are that air-cooled systems have more moving parts that can require service, they're noisy, and they can make the room they're in hotter.
- Water-cooled systems use running water to cool the equipment. This type is sometimes preferred because it cools equipment faster, can produce more ice than similar air-cooled models, and doesn't impact ambient air temperatures. The drawback of water cooled systems is that they can be expensive to install and operate. Unless they're attached to a closed-loop system that recycles water, which most restaurants don't have, the water goes down the drain. That means sky-high water and sewer bills as thousands of gallons of water each month are wasted. Because of that, they're even illegal to use in some places.
Ice maker manufacturers are constantly coming up with new technology to make their machines more efficient and easier to use.
A cleaning cycle will make it easier to keep your ice maker clean, meaning you'll have fresher tasting ice. This feature allows you to add a cleaning solution, press a button, and have the ice maker clean itself. These features can take care of routine cleaning, but you'll still need to perform a thorough deep cleaning from time to time.
When ice is fully frozen, it must be harvested. Most ice makers reverse the refrigeration cycle and heat the evaporator plate to release the ice. While that is effective, it means a bit of ice is already melting as it hits the bin and requires a thick-enough bridge – the connection between the pieces – to release all the ice. A more efficient option is an evaporator plate hammer, which taps the plate to release the ice instead of creating heat.
Another feature that can make an ice machine head only unit more efficient is the evaporator probe, which senses the thickness of the ice as it freezes and automatically triggers the harvest cycle when it's ready. Factors such as changing ambient air temperatures can affect the rate at which the ice freezes, and a timed cycle may not harvest it at the optimal time.