What you need to know when buying an ice maker for your business

Whether you are in the food-service, hospitality, retail, or healthcare industry, there’s no denying the importance of ice. That being said, you need no less than the best ice maker to supply your operation with fresh, clean ice regularly. Whether you are looking for a mini ice maker or a clear ice maker powerhouse that can deliver large amounts of ice at a time, this guide will help you pick out the ice maker that truly suits your needs.

Factors to consider when buying your ice maker

Air-cooled vs water-cooled ice maker

Commercial ice makers use an air-cooled or water-cooled system to remove the heat outside of the machine. Air-cooled ice machines are a popular option for most operators because they cost lower to operate. It also helps that an air-cooled system is easier to set up in most locations. 

This type of ice maker works by moving air over the condenser coils to expel the heat through the rear or the side of the machine. The hot air will naturally turn up the temperature of the room. For this reason, it would need extra space to be properly ventilated.  

Air-cooled ice machines need to operate at ideal ambient temperature to deliver maximum yield. Air-cooled ice machines are ideal for use in clean, air-conditioned locations where the temperature can be controlled. A warm environment will force the ice maker to overwork, which means it will have a lower output. You want the unit to have a lot of leeway for airflow and ventilation.

A great alternative is a remote condenser that can be installed in a separate location or outside the building to prevent the machine from heating up the room. Remote condensers have their condenser unit installed separately from the ice machine. 

The refrigerant travels through a line set to the condensing unit which is commonly installed outside or in a large area indoors with plenty of ventilation. Since it involves running refrigerant lines that connect the machine and the condenser, you will need a professional to set up the unit.

Water-cooled ice machines use water to carry the heat out of the unit. This means the ice maker will be connected to a water supply. If you operate in an area where the water expenses are low or in a location that has poor ventilation where there is no way to control the temperature, a water-cooled unit will be your best bet. You won’t have to worry about ambient temperature with this design. These ice makers use a higher amount of water compared to their air-cooled counterparts, and unless you are in a building that supports a recirculating water system to use the cooling water, it could end up being wasteful and expensive. As per Easy Ice, if the outside water with a temperature of 85 degrees or above, the ice machine will consume more water for cooling.

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Capacity

Ice makers are rated by the amount of ice they can produce over a 24-hour period. Determine how much ice you need in a day based on peak times to make sure you don’t run out. Commercial ice machines have different production capacities, which should be the first information that you can find during your shopping. 

Remember that the declared capacity is based on ideal ambient and water conditions. If the environment is not favorable, you cannot maximize the capacity. Anticipate lower ice production in hot locations by choosing a machine that is rated with a higher capacity than you normally need.

If you only need a small amount of ice per day or simply do not have the space to support larger ice makers, there are undercounter ice maker machines that can produce 100-300 lbs of ice from right under your counter. These units have built-in storage bins and are usually air-cooled. There are also portable ice makers and dispensers that can be set up on your counter with the same range of capacity.

Ice type

An ice machine is designed to make a specific type of ice. For cube ice machines, you have an array to choose from and they have various names depending on the brand. The most common are full-dice ice machines, half-dice ice machines, and regular ice machines. 

Other names for the half-dice cube include crescent cube, half-cube, and small cube. Full-dice ice is also sometimes called full cube, square cube, or just dice. Most ice cube types have a high ice-to-water ratio, but some melt faster than others.

Other types of ice are flake ice, nugget ice, bullet ice, and gourmet ice or top hat ice, which is touted as large cubes. Nugget ice also has many names including chewblet, pellet, pearl ice, tubular ice, pebble ice, or sonic ice.

Although used for beverages, flake ice is generally the go-to for food display while nugget ice is utilized in healthcare due to its chewability. Flake ice machines and nugget ice makers go through an additional step to achieve the smaller size and crushed texture of the ice. =

Whatever type of ice you need, it is safe to say that you want to produce clear ice rather than clouded ice because it is purer, higher in quality, and slower to melt. The cloudiness of white ice is caused by air bubbles being trapped in the ice as the water freezes.

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Installation

An ice maker water line will be required to supply the water that will be used to make ice. At the same time, there should be a floor drain located close to the ice machine through which excess water is drained. Countertop ice machines can also be set up to flush water on the same drain used by the closest sink with the use of a special ice maker kit. Your ice maker will also need a gap to prevent the backflow of water. It is a good practice to check with your local area to ensure everything is up to code.

Your ice maker will of course need an electrical connection. Low-volume ice machines will likely need a 115-volt outlet while the high-production models will require a 220-volt outlet. The cord and plug are usually supplied with the ice machine. Ice machines will have a higher voltage to sustain the production so it is best to consult an electrician to make sure that your power source can support the ice machine.

Durability and cleanability

High-quality commercial ice machines will have tough stainless steel construction to prevent corrosion and rust. Make life easier for you by choosing an ice machine that makes the cleaning process a breeze. Fortunately, most ice maker brands keep this in mind in designing their offerings, which is why the foodzone is built in a way that is easy to reach and wipe down; most components have some form of antimicrobial protection so they stay clean for longer, and they are removable too so they can be rinsed and sanitized thoroughly, and the filter can be removed without the use of any tools.

Accessories

Unless you are getting an undercounter ice machine, you will need an ice storage bin in which the ice can be stored and accessed. Your bin should allow you to make the most of the production capacity of your ice maker.  The ice machine and ice bin are the most basic pieces you need to produce ice. However, there is an assortment of accessories that you should seriously consider to enhance the safety of your production and improve the quality of every batch of ice that comes out of your ice maker.

A water filter is a recommended accessory for ice-making that ensures the clean, high quality of the water by keeping microbes and contaminants out of the water and reducing scale buildup, which makes it easy to keep the ice machine clean.

Another excellent addition to your ice machine is a heat exchanger system designed to lower the temperature of the incoming water, which cuts down the number of cycles your ice machine goes through while also increasing the output.

There are also a few cleaning technologies that will surely save you time and labor. Manitowoc also has an advanced sanitation device that delays the growth of fight bacteria and yeast so the ice maker can go longer without cleaning. The brand also has a unique automatic cleaning system that schedules and runs routine cleaning on its own so you won't have to do it manually.

Some brands also support a cart system that makes it easier and safer to transport hundreds of lbs of ice anywhere in your kitchen.

To retrieve ice in a sanitary manner, make sure you use an ice scoop that can be set on an external holder where it will be kept clean.

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Special Features

High-end ice makers have innovative design elements that make the ice production more streamlined and precise. Most advanced units on the market can perform preventative maintenance so you can stay ahead of any issues that may emerge. This also prevents unexpected breakdowns during production so you can be confident you can produce all the ice you need for the day.

Manitowoc ice machines, for example, come with a sensing probe that ensures identical density and thickness of every ice cube. These units also have a touchscreen display where you can access various features and control ice production with a simple tap.

To make the most of your money, choose a brand and a distributor that offers excellent warranty and reliable customer support. You will also benefit from working with a company that offers convenient availability of parts and accessories to prolong the life of your ice maker and keep it running as smoothly as it did from day one.