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Bromic understand the difficulty faced by customers in deciphering highly-technical information to select products that suit their needs. In the case of ice machines, there are a number of factors that must be considered before selecting a unit that produces the correct style of ice for your application in the quantities you require, both now and in the future.
Type of Ice Required
Disregarding variances in size and less common configurations, there are three primary types of ice produced by commercial ice machines: cube ice, flake ice and nugget ice.
Cube is the most common form of ice and comes in a number of sizes, characterised by it dense structure and subsequent slow melt time. Cube ice is produced in a style similar to the common tray method found in the average home, although automated for efficiency within the machine on a much larger scale. Although difficult to chew, this style of ice is preferred in the service of beverages and other products with a preference for purity that would be compromised by faster melting ice.
Flake is a general purpose term used to describe irregularly shaped shards of ice produced in two distinctly different ways.
Granular flake ice is produced as an auger transports water up a cylindrical tube refrigerated to roughly -0.5°C, forming ice not cold enough to re-freeze its own melt-water that is perfect for the rapid cooling, gentle packing or cold retail display of delicate items, such as seafood or meat.
Scale flake ice, on the other hand, involves sub-cooling water to roughly -7°C as it runs down the wall of a refrigerated cylinder before scraping free the thin layer of ice that forms. The resulting ice is much hardier than granular flake ice and suits large-scale applications, such as bulk seafood handling, but has a tendency to clump together when not stored below 0°C through freezing ambient moisture and its own melt water.
Nugget ice is a compromise between flake and cube, compressing flake ice to create slower melting, porous nuggets that absorbs the flavour of the beverages they cool while remaining soft and easy to chew. Soft enough to avoid bruising delicate produce but sturdy enough to bag and transport, nugget ice suits a wide variety of applications served by cube and flake ice and offers versatility where having a designated machine for each is not practical.
It is important to identify the uses of ice in your business and make daily estimations of usage to enable accurate unit selection, including an optimistic production rate buffer to allow for future increases in demand. If you are in the hospitality industry, for example, calculate the amount of ice that a typical patron requires (250g-500g is a good starting point) and multiply that by an optimistic average number of customers per day. Same goes for the display of refrigerated merchandise, with simple calculations on the amount of ice required for a display and the number of times it will have to be refilled per day giving you a rough idea of required production rate. Of course an established business wishing to become self-sufficient could simply extrapolate this information from the number of bags of ice they buy per day in their busiest period.
We would recommend being generous in your estimations as ice machines are one of the simplest examples of an economy of scale. It may be tempting to shop purely on price and select a smaller capacity unit, but if it cannot keep up in peak periods and is constantly playing catch up, your operating costs will be much higher than those of a larger ice machine. This issue compounds itself when additional units are required to meet demand, multiplying both initial purchase costs and running costs in the long term. It is also worth considering the fact that an over-supply can be sold off at a profit, while an under-supply will hamper the operations of your business.
Before getting your heart set on a certain style of machine, it is wise to assess the availability of three necessities in ice machine operation that may force placement; power, water and drainage.
As with any electrical device, the compatibility of voltage and amperage between the ice machine and the mains power supply of your venue is paramount to proper operation. The availability of a direct power outlet close to the appliance should be considered, as extension cords and power boards act as a restriction in the supply of power.
A solid supply of clean water is also incredibly important. Most units will require a filter to be fitted regardless, but a clean water supply extends the life of this filter drastically. It is also worth investigating whether your current water infrastructure will be able to adequately supply a machine suited to your production goals.
The majority of ice machines on the market operate with a simple gravity drain for excess water, although some do include an internal drain pump, while others allow an external one to be added. Drainage pumps offer versatility in the positioning of ice machines, but we would recommend relying on a gravity drain if possible to reduce the flooding risks associated with pump cessation.
As the nature of ice machines involves freezing water at below 0°C, the ambient temperature of air and water affects the rate of production. Most manufacturers will provide the temperature/s at which units were tested, so it is wise to include the average temperatures at your venue in required output calculations.
Once infrastructure placement narrows down the list of possible ice machine locations, one should consider the area they wish to dedicate to an ice machine. Will you require a small amount of ice on hand at all times, as provided by an under counter unit, or would you be better served with a larger supply placed centrally that can then be distributed to where it is needed. Measure up possible locations while taking in to account not only the physical size of the ice machine itself, but also the necessary clearances for operation and easy access to the ice. This would also be a good time to identify access limitations, such as stairs or doorways.
The internal operation of ice machines is dependent on output style as previously discussed, but each of these styles can be achieved by self-contained units, ice-making head units or remote-condensing units.
Self-Contained Ice Machines
Self-contained ice machines are units that can produce and store ice internally. These units are the best entry level option for venues with limited space requiring 130kg or less of ice per day, although there are larger units on the market.
Ice-Making Head Units
Ice-making head units are modular units tasked solely with the production of ice, designed to provide ice to storage bins or other storage/transportation accessories. The production rate of these units typically ranges from 130kg-500kg per day, with the ability to operate in series to increase supply. The ability to supply ice to a separate, portable storage unit becomes increasingly valuable as output increases, decreasing handling of the ice and aiding in transport.
Remote condensing units suit venues with ice demands above the ability of a self-contained unit but without the room for an ice-making head unit, saving space by mounting the condenser in a remote location.
The daily usage of energy and water by an ice machine make up the majority of operating costs, so it is important to look at how efficiently the units you are considering use each. Different ice types, cycle characteristics and cooling styles all influence efficiency, as do factors such as whether heat or water is used to break ice away at the end of a batch or how often cleaning cycles are carried out. These factors are all usually reflected in the consumption figures of the unit.
Many overlook the length of time a unit requires to create a batch of ice, the amount of ice produced in each batch and the way in which this affects use. At either end of the scale are units with a low yield that complete multiple cycles in a short period of time and units with a high yield that create a similar amount of ice in a similar time period, but in a single batch.
Short cycle times are well suited to ice machines that see constant use. Hospitality and a number of other service industries demand constant ice output to service a number of tasks throughout the venue, with cocktail service on a busy night a common cause of ice shortage that can be aided by short cycle times.
If one selects an ice machine with a generous production rate in relation to the demands of the venue and plans to provide adequate storage, long cycle times can be beneficial in the long term. By completing fewer cycles to produce the same amount of ice, long cycle units drastically reduce wear and tear on components while increasing efficiency through reductions in wastage through operational losses, such as cleaning cycles.
Of course an appropriately sized ice machine will maintain adequate supply once up and running, but matching cycle length to the demands of your business can make a massive difference in periods of unexpected demand.
Water or Air Cooling
All ice machines operate on the basic refrigeration principal of the thermal compression and expansion of a refrigerant to freeze water, but the condensers on these units can be cooled through two methods: air-cooling or water-cooling.
Air-cooling utilises fans and vents to transfer heat into ambient air as it is blown or sucked through the condenser. This makes adequate airflow and ambient air temperature incredibly important to the operation of a unit.
Water-cooling operates through a secondary water supply to that of ice production, pumping water through the condenser to cool it. While this method does use considerably more water, it is not as heavily affected by ambient temperatures, able to operate consistently in higher temperature environments where an air-cooled unit could not.
When considering ice machines, it is important to ensure that they comply with legal standards relating to their two primary inputs: energy and water.
A wide range of electrical appliances sold in Australia and New Zealand must meet the Minimum Energy Performance Standards (MEPS) for their category, specifying the minimum level of energy performance required for sale. For ice machines, this standard is AS/NZS 4865.3:2008 and dictates the maximum energy to be consumed per 100kg of ice produced. CLICK HERE
Ice machines must also partake in the Watermark™ Certification Scheme, mandatory for all plumbing and drainage products sold in Australia and New Zealand to ensure that the taste and appearance of water is not affected.