Whether it is a hot summer day or the middle of winter, ice is a constant need in restaurants. You need to purchase an icemaker with the right capacity and right type of ice to meet your particular needs. Here are some tips to help in choosing an icemaker.
Icemakers are all about daily production capacity. No matter what type you buy, the first factor you want to look at is the pounds-per-day of production. Commercial icemakers range in capacity from about 50 pounds of ice made per day to 2,000 pounds and larger.
If you are looking for a small-volume machine, check out an undercounter maker. It has the obvious advantage of fitting into tight kitchens. Undercounters typically range in production from 50 pounds to about 200-280 pounds, depending on the manufacturer. The footprint ranges from 15” to 30” in length with depths from 20” to 30.” Heights are around 36”.
Undercounter machines are one-piece units with an integral icemaker and bin. With the exception of a few ice flaker machines, when you move up in size to 300 pounds or more you will need to buy separate components to mix and match. The icemaker unit is generally about 34” deep, with widths of 22,” 30” and 48”, although there is some variation between manufacturers. Many manufacturers build makers in sizes rated at 200 pounds, 400 pounds, 600 pounds and so on. Often their model numbers give a clue as to their rated size. However, see below for some factors to be wary of when comparing rated icemaker sizes.
Ice bins have the basic dimensions to fit comparably sized icemakers. Usually the bin is a few inches deeper than the maker to allow for a sloped door for easy access to ice, while the width may be the same as the bin.
The next step to consider is the type of ice. There are two basic types of ice made by two different types of machine processes. The classic ice type for beverages is cube ice, which is clear and appealing for beverages. If you have a bar operation, you may want to look at the one or two manufacturers that have those extra large one-inch cubes that look great in a drink.
Flake ice is the other main type. Flakes are ideal for rapid beverage cooling but tend to water down the drink too much for most customers. A newer, better drink ice is often called nugget ice. This ice is most similar to compressed flaked ice formed into small cylinders. This ice is not as crystal clear as cubes but is hard and slower to melt than flaked ice. The product is formed in an easy to chew-sized nugget. The process to make nugget ice uses less water and significantly less electricity than producing cubes, thus making them less costly to make. The nugget machines are also a bit more compact and require less maintenance. You may not want to use nugget ice for bars, but it can be quite acceptable for just about everything else. The nugget machines are also generally more energy conservative than similar cubers.
Manufacturer claims, fairly standard in the industry, can be misleading if you don’t know what to look for. Be careful to note that many manufacturers’ ice making amounts are based on a 50°F water temperature and 70°F air temperature at the icemaker. These temperatures are often unrealistic. Also, the air temperature in the restaurant kitchen is often higher than 70°F. Exceeding these design temperatures causes the machine’s production capacity to decrease. Most equipment brochures will have a chart showing production rates with different air and water temperatures. A good rule is to assume a worst case of 90° air temperature and 70° water temperature and you will be safe.
The choice of an air-cooled or water-cooled machine s another important decision. Icemakers use either air or water to cool their refrigeration compressor and condenser system. Each has advantages. The air-cooled condenser is cost effective and involves no added water costs. Water-cooled machines must be on closed loop systems, meaning you are recirculating water to cool the icemaker. Dumping cooling water would be a tremendous waste and cost. A closed loop and cooling tower may or may not be feasible in your outlet, 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. The use of water-cooled icemakers, especially for larger machines, can reduce the amount of heat the icemaker 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.
Here are two last items of importance to make sure you continue to provide quality ice. The first is never to underestimate the importance of a water filter for your icemaker. Water filters condition incoming water, reduce the machine’s necessary cleaning frequency, allow top equipment performance and improve the taste 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 when needed.
Maintaining your icemaker properly is critical to productivity, food safety and quality ice. Since ice is considered a food safety concern by many health departments, cleaning and sanitizing an ice machine are critical. If you don’t have self-cleaning features on your equipment, proper regular maintenance is critical. Many manufacturers recommend a regular six-month maintenance program. If you have a less than desirable machine location, you may want to consider doing maintenance like coil cleaning and flushing the machine on a three-month schedule.
The most important things to remember about your icemaker are to choose the machine to best meet your production needs and choose the right type of ice for your application. Most of all, take care of the machine and don’t neglect maintenance.
Dan Bendall is a principal of FoodStrategy, a Maryland-based consulting firm specializing in planning foodservice facilities. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.