Nearly every type of food service business needs an ice machine. Because there are so many different configurations and styles available, it’s important to understand what is available to find the best ice maker to suit your business’s needs.
Ice Machine Configurations
While there are variations within each type, commercial ice machines generally fall into three basic styles.
Ice Machine Sizing
Once you’ve settled on the type of ice machine you need and the type of ice you want, you must select a machine with the right capacity for your needs.
For new businesses: Make sure your estimates allow for growth, or you could quickly exceed the production capacity of the machine you wish to purchase.
For replacement ice machines: Did your current ice machine keep up with demand? If not, you will need to evaluate how much capacity you were lacking and factor that into your calculations.
For everyone: Ice consumption at peak times should be considered, as well as any possibility for a future increase in demand. It’s always better to have extra ice on hand than to rely on a machine that is too small to meet your needs.
Benefits of Using Multiple Ice Machines
It may seem easier to supply all your ice from one large machine and bin, but in the end this is usually inefficient. With only one large machine, your staff will constantly be running back and forth from the ice bin to soda machines, under bar ice chests, and salad bars…costing you time and also increasing chances of cross-contamination.
Instead, consider using several smaller machines, one on top of the soda dispenser, a small underbar unit, and a small ice maker with a bin near your salad bar, for example. This way your staff will always have ice when and where they need it, while also keeping the ice safe and sanitary!
Understanding the different types of ice cubes that commercial ice machines can produce will help you choose the right type for your needs. Certain types of ice cubes melt slower, are easier to chew, or have specific shapes to accommodate specific applications. Check out the list below for a more detailed explanation of common ice types.
Most common; melts slower and can potentially reduce customer ice consumption compared to other types
“Full” (approximately 7/8″ x 7/8″) cubes
“Half” (half of full) cubes
“Regular” (approximately 1 1/8″ x 1 1/8″ x 7/8″) cubes
Slow melting; most common in health care industry because it’s softer and easier to chew than cube ice
Also called compressed nugget, or “chewblet” ice
Nugget ice machines are great for smoothies, blended drinks, and cold beverages
Flake ice machines make small, soft flakes of ice that cool rapidly and mold to any shape
Used mainly in ice displays for seafood, meat, fish, and on salad bars; can also be used in blended drinks
Softer and easier to chew than cube ice
Modular or Ice Machine Head
Modular ice machines are commonly available in 22″, 30″ and 48″ widths, and are designed to sit on top of an ice machine bin, an ice machine dispenser, or a soda dispenser. Ice outputs range from 250 lbs. per day to well over 1000 lbs. per day.
Countertop Ice Dispenser / Makers
These compact units are often found in health care settings, and may dispense water too. They have a small bin but can still produce up to 400 lbs. of ice per day, making them a great small commercial ice maker. They also usually dispense nugget style ice, which is easier to chew.
Under-counter Ice Machines
For small bars, cafes, or businesses that don’t need as much ice, an under-counter, or self-contained ice machine may be all that’s needed. These small ice makers combine the ice machine with a storage bin, and fit under most 40″ high counters. Ice outputs generally top out at about 350 lbs. per day, though a few higher capacity models do exist.
Once you’ve decided what type of machine and ice you want, the next important consideration to make is whether you want an air-cooled, water-cooled, or remote compressor.
Air cooled ice machines are often the most cost-effective type of ice machine, as they do not involve any additional water costs. Many air cooled models even achieve Energy Star Compliance. Air cooled condensers do need at least 6″ of clearance around air intake and discharge areas, but they are a good choice for the majority of users.
A water cooled ice machine is a better choice than an air cooled model only if one or more of the following conditions exists:
The machine would be installed where ambient air temperatures are greater than 80 degrees Fahrenheit
The machine would be installed in an area where the air contains a high level of contaminants, like grease
The machine would be installed in an area with poor air circulation or limited space where clearance limitations of an air cooled machine could not be met
Again, unless one or more of the above conditions exist, a water-cooled machine is probably not the best choice, since water consumption will be much higher than with an air cooled ice machine. In fact, some municipalities do not even allow the use of a water cooled ice machine for that reason!
With remote condenser ice machines, the condenser is air cooled, and mounted outdoors, usually on a roof. Refrigerant lines run between the condenser and the machine. As a result, a remote condensing ice machine will be much quieter than its air or water-cooled counterparts.
However, installation and maintenance of a remote setup can be much more costly, and a remote condenser ice machine is usually only chosen if conditions prohibit the use of an air cooled or water cooled unit.
Space and Ventilation:
Make sure you have enough space for the machine, bin, and filter. Adequate air flow is crucial for maximum ice production, so installing an ice machine in a storage room or closet is not recommended. Read the manufacturer’s specification sheet carefully to ensure that you have the proper amount of space for the install, and consider the placement of the machine and bin within your operation as well. A well-placed ice machine can increase worker productivity and efficiency, but a poorly placed ice machine can cost you more for labor and utilities.
Water Supply & Floor Drain:
Your ice machine will need a cold water supply with a shutoff valve. A floor drain is needed too. Check your local codes for specific drain type and placement requirements.
Many ice machines do not come with a cord and plug, so a visit from your electrician will be needed to hard wire the machine. Make sure you understand and can meet the machine’s power requirements—not all machines operate on standard 110V electric. Electrical requirements and any other special installation considerations will always be found on the machine’s Specification Sheet.
Use the chart below to get an idea for how much ice you might use. It’s also important to keep in mind that ambient room temperature and ventilation considerations will affect the maximum output of any ice machine. This information is usually available on the manufacturer’s specification sheet.