On the Rocks: Shaking Up the Ice Machine Market
Volume, cube shape, and ease of cleaning top ice machine operators’ wish lists
Ice machine manufacturers are dealing with the same regulatory requirements and refrigerant uncertainties as the rest of the refrigeration industry. And, when it comes to selecting ice machines, operators are paying particular attention to environmental impact, convenient cleaning, and ease of service.
Kevin Clark, president, Scotsman Ice Systems, said changing legislation is making manufacturers even more cognizant of the role efficiency standards and refrigerants must play in product design and technology.
In January 2018, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) will implement new standards for automatic commercial ice-making equipment, lowering the maximums for allowed energy use and condenser water use, and expanding the regulations to machines with higher harvest capacities. These standards will include continuous-type ice machines such as flake or nugget systems.
In terms of refrigerants, Scotsman uses R-404A and R-134a in its ice machines and has introduced natural refrigerants R-290 and R-744 in European markets. Upcoming U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidelines may require refrigerants to have lower global warming potentials (GWPs); however, flammability and existing building codes could hinder the entry of new refrigerants.
“Although sanitation and service are not new considerations, manufacturers are always looking for ways to automate the cleaning process and enhance serviceability,” Clark said. “Features, such as external air filters, removable components, built-in antimicrobial protection, and touch-free technology, help ensure effective cleaning and a sanitary operation, whereas diagnostic code displays and easily accessible QR codes help technicians determine the right diagnosis the first time.”
When it comes to ice forms, nugget ice, also known as pellet ice, continues to gain popularity — particularly among consumers, Clark noted.
“Customers prefer this ice form because it absorbs the flavor of the drink and is easily chewable,” Clark said. “Operators offer nugget ice because it not only helps draw customers to their facilities, but also can keep beverage costs down by displacing more liquid than cubed ice, which lowers syrup costs per cup.”
Ice-O-Matic is moving forward with updates on its equipment while planning a full redesign to meet the upcoming new DOE efficiency standards.
Julia Gregory, marketing coordinator, Ice-O-Matic, said the company is finding people are concerned about and aware of energy use, so having Energy Star-rated units is very helpful in the marketplace. In addition, customers are looking for larger cubes and high-volume ice machines.
Ice-O-Matic’s Grande unit offers a large-format cube that’s twice the size of its traditional bulk-size cubes. The air-cooled unit is available in both 60- and 50-Hz models.
“Although this machine has a large format size and is Energy Star-rated, it also meets the market’s desire for a high-volume machine, as it can make up to 800 pounds of ice per day,” Gregory said.
The Grande unit is well-suited for bagging, food presentation, and fine dining, she added.
The company has also introduced new universal panels for its upright bins that will accept virtually any ice maker regardless of size or shape without an adapter kit. “The universal top that comes with the new bins just slides into place; it’s very user-friendly.” Gregory said.
Gregory also extolled the benefits of the Ice-O-Matic’s exclusive top air discharge on its 520 and 525 units, both of which are Energy Star-rated.
“Top air discharge increases space utilization,” Gregory explained. “In addition, on most air-cooled machines, the heat is discharged from the sides of the unit and increases the ambient air temperature in the kitchen, which nobody wants.”
Barbara Harrison, director of customer support, Hoshizaki America Inc., said customers are looking for a variety of ice, not just the traditional cube. Hoshizaki offers five different shapes of ice, ranging from its signature crescent shape to “cubelets” that are popular with those who love chewable ice.
Restaurant operators, meanwhile, are looking for machines with a small footprint that can fit directly on top of a beverage dispenser, to create a self-serve machine that helps them reduce labor costs. Hoshizaki has partnered with Lancer Corp. to offer smaller ice machines that fulfill this need.
There are also safety concerns, and sanitation is critical.
“Our evaporators are easy to clean, and we provide good instructions on how to clean them,” Harrison said. “That’s what operators want. They say, ‘Remember, we have 16-year-old employees behind the counter cleaning those machines, so make it simple.’ And that’s one of the biggest things we keep in mind as we develop new products.”
Hoshizaki is striving to gain brand recognition for its products on the refrigeration side of the market as well as its ice machines, Harrison added.
“We’ve had reach-in upright refrigerators and freezers for about 10 years, and, in the past three years, we’ve made a significant entry into prep tables and under-counter refrigerators and freezers,” she said. “Our goal is to become the world’s number one food service supplier across many different lines.”
Harrison said Hoshizaki, like many others in the industry, is cautiously navigating the ever-changing world of refrigerant regulations. “Like a lot of people, we’re in a little bit of a holding pattern,” Harrison said. “We have some concerns about the volatility of R-290, not only from the perspective of the service technicians who will be working on the units, but also as far as shipping and transport. So, we hope the EPA delays the implementation of its hydrofluorocarbon [HFC] rule to give everyone some time to do the research and really pick what’s best. We all want sustainability and a better planet, but we need to make well-thought-out choices, too.”
Publication date: 7/6/2015