The type of ice to use and the machine that makes it are the first decisions. There are two basic types of ice made by two different types of machine processes. The classic ice type for beverages is cube ice. Cube ice is clear and appealing for beverages. Commercial quality cube ice differs from that made in ice trays in how it is produced. Commercial ice makers produce ice in a somewhat different way than you do at home for better quality and much higher production. Flake ice is the other main ice type. Flakes are ideal for rapid beverage cooling but tend to water down the drink too much for most customers and is not very popular now.
A newer “better” drink ice has been invented, sometimes called “nugget” ice. It's not as crystal clear as cubes but is harder and slower to melt than flaked ice. The process to make nugget ice uses less water and significantly less electricity than producing cubes, making them less costly to make. The nugget machines are a bit more compact, require less maintenance and generally conserve energy.
One main reason to choose one type of ice over another is its melting characteristics. Surface area and melting is what it is all about. A cube tends to melt slower than flaked ice because it has less surface area. The slower melting of an ice cube waters down a beverage less than flaked ice.
Flaked ice, however, does have an important place in the back-of-house operation of a kitchen. It transfers heat and chills product quickly: what you need to hold items like fresh seafood and chickens or for rapid chilling tasks. Nugget ice generally melts slower than flaked ice but more quickly than cubes, making it good for keeping soft drinks cold and not too watered-down.
Beware that some of the production claims by manufacturers can be misleading if you don't know what to look for. First, production amounts are always quoted in pounds of ice produced in 24 hours. Be careful: many manufacturers' ice making amounts are based on a 50°F water temperature and 70°F air temperature at the ice maker. These temperatures are often unrealistic. Exceeding these design temperatures causes the machine's production capacity to decrease, and at times when you need it most!
The best way to avoid running out of ice on your hottest peak use days is to buy enough ice capacity from the start. Buy ice and storage capacity for your peak, not just your average demand.
When sizing your ice maker, take into account the air and water temperature to be sure enough ice can be produced. As a rule of thumb, a 10°F air temperature increase may reduce daily ice production by 10% when using an air cooled machine. In addition the higher room temperature will melt ice in the bin quicker, requiring more ice making capacity to replenish and fill the bin.
The use of water-cooled ice makers, especially for larger machines, can reduce the amount of heat the ice maker itself adds to the kitchen. The amount of heat generated by air cooled machines is significant.
Ice makers 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 a closed loop system, which may or may not be feasible in your operation. In addition to dispersing less heat than an air cooled machine, the water cooled system is more efficient and quieter.
A variation of the air cooled system is a remote condenser unit, which takes the biggest heat producing component, the condenser, out of the ice maker altogether. The remote approach does not require water and removes most the heat from the service area.
Here are two last items of importance to make sure you continue to provide quality ice: Water filters condition incoming water, reduce the machine's necessary cleaning frequency, allow top equipment performance, and improve the taste quality of your ice.
Cleaning and sanitizing of ice machines are critical. Even if you have automatic cleaning options, still set up and perform a regular internal cleaning and maintenance schedule or contract with a service agency to do the work for you. 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.
Dan Bendall (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a principal of Food-Strategy, a Maryland-based consulting firm specializing in planning foodservice facilities. He is a member of Foodservice Consultants Society International.