Icemakers have made some great technological strides in recent years. Through a variety of built-in electronics, they are now more energy efficient, easier to clean and more economical to service. What follows are some features to look for if you find yourself looking to purchase one.
Many energy and water-saving innovations have been implemented in newer icemakers. Efficiency and cost savings are now a hot topic because of rising water and electricity costs. The government's EnergyStar program has just listed qualified icemakers, which can be found on their web site.
Ice Machines that have earned the EnergyStar are about 15 percent more energy-efficient and 10 percent more water-efficient than standard icemaker models. In a typical application, these efficiencies can amount to several hundred dollars in electricity savings and a saving of about 2,700 gallons of water per year.
EnergyStar machines are generally no more costly than standard models. In addition, California and several other states have implemented rebate programs for purchasing certain energy efficient models.
Serviceability has been improved on some manufacturers' models by the addition of computer chips with self- diagnostic displays. Much like your car, now a service technician can, on some models, make a quick diagnosis of problems for repair. In some cases, they can even alert you to future problems. Some machines have the ability to transmit data to a service technician who can diagnose a problem from a remote location. Indicator lights on the machines also alert you to the machine's current status.
Sanitation is important
Many icemakers are now featuring sanitation improvements. Look for more coved corners inside the bins, enabling easier cleaning, and new automatic or manual cleaning and sanitizing technology. Some machines are made with antimicrobial compounds molded directly into components. These compounds reduce the growth of bacteria, algae, mold and slime on icemaker surfaces.
Noise has always been a consideration influencing where to locate an icemaker. It's not a good idea to locate most icemakers near or on a wall adjacent to guest areas because of noise from the compressor and from ice dropping inside the machine.
Some manufacturers have begun to address these concerns by providing additional sound deadening in the machine panels around mechanical components. Some machines also have state-of-the-art “quiet” fans and compressors that produce much less noise than operators are used to.
When it is actually time to select a new icemaking machine, the first consideration is the type of ice that is needed for your operation. There are three ice types that are made by different machines.
Cubes, flake or nuggets?
The classic ice type for beverages is cube ice. Cube ice is clear and appealing for beverages. Most machines spray water into chilled cube size compartments. Unfrozen water drips away taking water impurities with it. The result is crystal-clear cubes that are perfect in drinks.
Flake ice is another main ice type. Flakes are ideal for rapid cooling but tend to water down a drink too much. However, flaked ice is an effective ice to use in cold pans or displays where the ice can be packed and mounded to merchandise well. Flaked ice is also excellent for icing down fresh seafood or chickens in your kitchen prep area.
You may want to consider a new hybrid ice that seems to be gaining in popularity known as 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. In fact, several QSR chains use nugget ice at their self-serve beverage bar with favorable customer response. 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. The machines are also a bit more compact and are said to require less maintenance.
Another equipment innovation to check out if your operation has the right application is a new remote ice dispensing system. One manufacturer has developed an automatic system for loading several ice bins from one remotely located icemaker. The system may be very useful especially, for example, in a operation with several ice bins along a service counter. Each bin could be constantly filled automatically from an icemaker in the back of house. The system uses transport hoses and a series of switches to sense the need for ice at various locations. The equipment seems to be working well in the proper application.
Air- vs. Water-Cooled
Here are a few other items to consider. The choice of an air-cooled or water-cooled machine is an important one. Each has advantages. The air-cooled condenser involves no added water cost; however, the units will discharge a lot of heat into the room they are in.
In contrast, water-cooled machines must be on “closed loop” systems, meaning no water can be dumped down a drain, and the cooling water recirculates in the system after having heat removed in the building's cooling tower.
In addition to exhausting less heat to the ambient room than an air-cooled machine, a water-cooled system has 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 in areas where noise is a factor. If water-cooling is practical in your operation, use it.
Do not underestimate the importance of a water filter for your icemaker. Water filters condition and remove some particulate and chemicals found in tap water. They will reduce the machine's necessary cleaning frequency, allow top 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. Make sure to change the filter regularly according to directions.
The most important thing is to choose the machine that best meets your needs and then take care of it. Buying the right machine and maintaining it properly are critical to productivity, food safety, and quality ice.
Dan Bendall is a principal of FoodStrategy, a Maryland-based consulting firm that specializes in planning foodservice facilities. A member of Foodservice Consultants Society International (FCSI), Bendall can be reached at 240-314-0660.