Commercial Ice Machines

Whether your business is a nightclub that goes through hundreds of pounds of ice per night or a mid-sized office that enjoys iced beverages on demand, commercial ice machines can serve a variety of needs.

Because of their size and power, commercial ice machines produce large amounts of ice quickly and regularly. If you want to buy a commercial ice machine for your business, it is important to understand the differences between products so that you choose the machine that best meets the needs of your business.

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Where do you need service?

  • Office?
  • Industrial?
  • Medical?
  • Educational?
  • Other?

The Basics

Who Uses Them?

Commercial ice machines are common among a wide range of industries. Some of them include:

  • Food Services
  • Government
  • Hospitality
  • Manufacturing
  • Warehouse Distribution
  • Professional Services
  • Higher Education
  • Healthcare
  • Retail
  • Restaurants
  • Spas & Salons

When considering what kind of commercial ice machine best suits your business, you will want to consider: 1) the type of ice you want, 2) the type of ice machine you need, and 3) the type of condenser that will keep your ice machine running and producing efficiently.

Types of Ice

Generally speaking, there are three main types of ice that can be produced. They are:

  1. Cubed Ice
  2. Nugget Ice
  3. Flaked Ice

Cubed Ice

Cubed ice is produced by a machine called a cuber. Over 80% of the ice machines in the U.S. produce cubed ice. This form of ice typically melts slower than other forms, making the total consumption lower than other forms of ice. Cubed ice is available in full, half or regular size cubes that range from 7/8”x 7/8” to 11/8”x 11/8”.

Full Cube Ice

A full cube or “full-dice” ice is common and cheap to make. It measures 7/8″ all the way around. With its high ice-to-water ratio, it offers maximum cooling and slow melt time.

Half Cube Ice

The half cube, also known as the “half-dice,” measures 3/8” x 7/8” and is considered to be the most versatile type of ice. A half-cube is a solid, dryer piece of ice with a high ice-to-water ratio (this means it will keep a drink cooler for longer). It melts slower than nugget or shaved ice. More ice can fit in a glass to displace more liquid, which means less liquid can fit into the glass.

Benefits
  • Large surface area
  • Slow melt time
  • Cools beverages quickly
  • Keeps them cold a long time
  • Visually pleasing in mixed drinks/cocktails
  • Packs tightly into a glass and displaces more liquid
  • Increases beverage profits with its high ice to beverage ratio
Uses
  • Salad Bars
  • Bagged Ice
  • Cocktails
  • Ice dispensing
  • Blended drinks
  • Mixed drinks
  • Carbonated drinks
Industries That Use Cubed Ice 
  • Bars/Nightclubs
  • Offices
  • Hotels
  • Convenience stores/ice retail
  • Banquet services
  • Restaurants
  • Commercial kitchens
  • Offices

Nugget Ice

Nugget ice comes in pellet or nugget form. Pellet, pearl, “sonic,” and “chewblet” are other names given to compressed nugget ice. Because it is soft and chewable, it is commonly used by healthcare facilities for their patients. It is also popular among certain fast food restaurants and bars whose customers prefer its soft and chewy texture over the harder cubed form.

Nugget ice displaces more liquid than cube and half-cub ice (higher ice to beverage ratio). Customers who love nugget ice want more ice in their cup, which means increased beverage profits.

Benefits
  • Soft
  • Chewable
Uses
  • Fountain drinks
  • Blended cocktails
  • Healthcare services
  • Meat/seafood/produce displays
  • Salad bars
Industries That Use Nugget Ice
  • Hospitals
  • Bars
  • Restaurants/Fast Food

Flaked Ice

Flaked ice is produced by a machine called a flaker. Flaked ice typically comes in a shaved or crushed form. It is most commonly used for packing, preservation and cooling purposes. Flaked ice is not typically used for consumption, but is perfect for quick and consistent chilling of display items.

Benefits
  • Even cooling
  • Soft texture will not scratch or bruise food products
  • Visually enhances food displays
Uses
  • Blended drinks
  • Carbonated drinks
  • Healthcare services
  • Chilling food on display
Industries That Use Flaked Ice 
  • Hospitals/healthcare
  • Research laboratories
  • Grocery stores
  • Meat/fish packing

Other Types of Ice

Crescent Ice

Crescent-shaped ice has a curved side that helps displace liquid. More ice + less liquid = increased beverage profits.

Benefits
  • Slow melting
  • Large surface area
  • Attractive shape
Uses
  • Carbonated drinks
  • Mixed drinks
  • Bagged ice
  • Dispensing
Industries That Use Crescent Ice
  • Restaurants
  • Convenience stores
  • Commercial kitchens

Gourmet Ice

Gourmet ice is known for its top-hat shape and unique visual appeal. These ice pieces are typically larger than other types of ice and are used with high-end liquors.

Benefits
  • Attractive shape
  • Melts slowly
  • Uniquely large pieces
Uses
  • High-end liquors
  • Mixed drinks
Industries that use Gourmet Ice
  • Upscale restaurants
  • Banquet/event establishments
  • Bars

Types of Ice and Usage

chart of types of ice by usage and shape

Types of Ice Makers

Ice machines are generally available in three different configurations:

  • Modular
  • Undercounter Ice Machine
  • Countertop Ice Dispenser

Modular Ice Machine (IMH)

Modular ice machines (also known as ice machine heads or IMH) are stackable units that come in a variety of sizes, but the most common include:

  • 22″ wide
  • 30″ wide
  • 48″ wide

An IMH is designed to stack on top of its other components (the storage bin, ice dispenser, or soda dispenser, if applicable). They’re the best choice for any commercial kitchen that needs to be able to keep a lot of ice on hand and ready. They produce large amounts of ice quickly and are designed to be easy to attach to a storage bin that’s the size of your choosing.

The typical ice output for a modular ice machine ranges between 200 lbs. and 1,900 lbs. per day. The storage bin on an ice machine head can typically hold about 12 hours of ice production. Modular ice machines are commonly available in 22″, 30″ and 48″ widths.

Note: Modular ice machines only make the ice; you’ll have to buy a separate storage bin to keep the ice in once it’s made.

They do take up more space than self-contained ice machines, but they provide more capacity. If you need a significant amount of ice produced every day, then a modular model is likely the best commercial ice maker for you.

Undercounter Ice Machines

For small bars, cafes, or businesses that don’t need as much ice, an under counter or self-contained unit (SCU) may be the best fit. These ice makers combine the storage bin and ice machine so that the unit can fit beneath a standard 40” high countertop. The average ice output for an under counter maker is about 350 lbs. per day, although some units can produce more. Talk to a local supplier about options.

Countertop Ice Dispenser

Countertop ice dispensers (also called countertop makers) are most commonly used in the health care industry. Even though these ice makers are usually smaller than their larger counterparts, they can still produce as much as 400 lbs. of ice per day. Some of these machines come with a water dispenser option. This is a great option for any business that needs a lot of ice but doesn’t have space for a larger machine. These machines usually dispense nugget ice, which is easier to chew and, therefore, popular in hospitals and other healthcare facilities.

3 Types of Ice Machines

chart comparing the three different types of ice machines

Types of Condensers

Once you decide on the type of ice and ice maker you need, the next thing you need to decide is the type of condenser you want. Condensers are the refrigeration systems for ice makers and vital to the efficiency of your ice machine. Also known as compressors, a condenser removes heat from the ice machine to allow for continuous cooling.  Most ice machines can be paired with more than one type of compressor, so you will need to decide which compressor works best with your unit and fits within your budget.

There are three basic types of condensers:

  • Air Cooled
  • Water Cooled
  • Remote Cooled

Air Cooled

Air cooled is the most common type of condenser. They are all-purpose and practical units. Air is blown over the refrigeration lines to draw heat away from any high-pressure, high-temperature areas. Fans and air vents are used to keep the air flowing. An under counter ice machine will need a condenser that draws air in and pushes air out underneath the unit. Other ice machines will attach the compressor to the side to achieve the same process.

Advantages of Air Cooled
  • Easy installation–fits almost anywhere
  • Cost effective–less expensive than other types of condensers
  • Efficient–utility costs are much cheaper; uses less water than other types
Disadvantages of Air Cooled
  • Requires space for good ventilation
  • Heat produced by condenser affects temperature of surrounding area
  • Noise produced by condenser affects surrounding area
  • Air filters need 6” of clearance for airflow
  • Vents must be cleaned and replaced regularly

Water Cooled

A water cooling condenser uses water (instead of air) to cool refrigerant vapor and turn it into liquid. There are two separate water lines in a water cooled ice maker. One line flows into the ice-making compartment. The other line runs along the condenser and draws heat away from the refrigerant. A water cooled condenser must have a continuous water supply to function properly.

Water cooled condensers may use a once-through system that pulls the cooling water through the system one time, then dumps it out. A closed-loop system is another option which recycles the water, rather than draining it. A closed-loop system uses less energy and creates less water waste.

Water cooled condensers are typically quieter and more energy efficient, but they can end up costing you in water utility bills because of the high amount of water required to operate them. In some places, water cooled condensers are no longer permitted due to the amount of water they use. This makes water cooled condensers less common, except in a situation when:

  • the surrounding air temperature is higher than 80 degrees Fahrenheit
  • the surrounding air contains a high level of contaminants, such as grease
  • the surrounding air has poor circulation
  • there is not enough space for an air-cooled machine
Advantages of  Water Cooled
  • Quiet – no condenser fan is needed
  • Energy efficient – less electrical energy needed
  • Consistent and effective cooling
  • Keeps heat out of building
  • Performs well in high temperature or tight, confined spaces
  • Low maintenance
Disadvantages of Water Cooled
  • Inefficient
  • High water consumption–for a one-through system, water is used once to cool the machine, then drained
  • High water/wastewater bill
  • Banned in some cities that have water shortages
  • Narrow market where cost of water is cheaper than electrical
  • Expensive

Even though the advantages of a water-cooled condenser may seem attractive, in most cases, they do not outweigh the expense of the unit and the cost of water. Similarly, a closed-loop condenser is an incredibly complicated machine that comes with an expensive price tag. Closed-loop condensers only make sense when used for large scale operations.

Remote Cooled

Similar to an air cooled condenser, a remote condenser uses a fan to blow air over the refrigeration lines pulling heat away from high temperature areas of the ice machine. The remote condenser unit (RCU) is installed outdoors, rather than indoors (usually on a roof) and is cooled by the outside air. A refrigeration line runs from the condenser to the ice machine.

Because the condenser is outdoors, away from the main unit, the ice machine is very quiet. The downside is that installation and maintenance are usually more expensive. RCUs are commonly used in grocery stores and other large-scale operations.

Advantages of Remote Cooled
  • Heat is produced outside the building
  • Reduces air conditioning costs inside the building
  • Cooled by outside air
  • Quiet
  • Flexible choice in placement/location
Disadvantages of Remote Cooled
  • Expensive installation
  • Expensive maintenance
  • Only practical for large scale operations like grocery stores.

Types of Condensers

chart comparing ice condenser types, application, pros and cons


Options

Storage Bin Sizes

An ice maker storage bin is the compartment where the ice is stored until it’s ready for use. Storage bins can hold as little as 40 pounds and as much as 100 pounds of ice.

When you are choosing an ice bin, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Bigger ≠ Better. If your ice bin is too large, you will end up wasting ice and therefore, money. You want to estimate for growth within your business, but don’t go overboard.
  • Sitting Water = Contaminated Water. Ice that’s gone unused for long periods of time tends to melt, then refreeze. Melted pools of water can become a breeding ground for bacteria and mold. The last thing you want to do is serve contaminated water to your employees or clients. Ask your supplier if they offer a monthly tune-up/cleaning service as part of their package.
  • Replacing your ice machine. If you are replacing or upgrading your ice machine, you need to evaluate how much capacity was lacking (if any) and forecast any growth.
  • Take note of peak times. Ice consumption during peak hours should be considered as part of the total equation when determining what size bin you need.
  • Your storage bin doesn’t have to match the capacity of your machine. If you own a restaurant and your peak time is the weekend, you might need 900 lbs. of ice, but during the week, you only need half that amount. In that case, you might consider pairing a small ice machine with a large bin so it won’t over-produce during the slower periods, yet can still hold enough ice during peak times.

Ice Usage

Here is a standard ice sizing chart showing daily ice usage per number of customers per industry.

Note: These are estimates only. Talk to your local supplier for specific recommendations regarding the needs of your business.


Tips

Pricing

Once you know you need an ice machine, the next question people usually ask is: how much is it going to cost?

Ice makers range widely in price, generally anywhere from $1,000 to $6,000. The price is influenced by all of the following factors:

  • Type of ice
  • Type of ice maker
  • Type of condenser
  • Daily ice output
  • Size of storage bin
  • Price of local water utilities
  • Local temperature/humidity

But as a general rule: the higher the ice output, the higher the price.

Choosing a Supplier

Once you’ve decided your business needs a commercial ice machine, it’s time to start shopping. There are a lot of ice machines and ice services out there. We’ve created a list of questions to ask potential suppliers so that you can make an educated decision before investing a lot of money in an ice machine.

Company History

  • How long have you been in business?
  • What industries do you serve?
  • What areas do you service?
  • Do you stand behind your product when there is a problem?
  • What differentiates you from your competitors?

Product Reliability

  • What are customers saying about your products?
  • Are they reliable?
  • Any common maintenance needs or repairs?
  • Do you offer the size, type of ice and capacity that would meet the needs of our office?

Cost

  • How much do your machines cost?
  • How do the prices compare with your competitors?
  • If their prices are higher, find out why.
  • Are there any additional fees, like delivery, maintenance, etc.?

Customer Service

  • How was your experience when you talked with them?
  • How quickly did they respond to your needs?
  • How knowledgeable did they seem?
  • What is their maintenance/repair policy?
  • What kind of ratings and reviews are they getting? (Yelp, BBB, etc.)

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