In the film “Cast Away,” Tom Hanks plays a man named Chuck who is stranded on a tropical island for four years. After Chuck returns to civilization, there’s a memorable scene in which he is at a party and the host asks if he would like ice in his drink. Hanks’ response: “Oh yes, I like ice.” That scene has always stuck with me because it brings home how much we take ice for granted. Imagine going four years without it.
But ice, especially the high-quality ice provided by the industry’s leading ice machine manufacturers, shouldn’t be taken for granted. The ice machine industry is always working hard, innovating, and dealing with regulations in order to meet the insatiable demand for the perfect ice cubes, crescents, and nuggets.
Commercial ice machine manufacturers have incorporated new design features over the past few years, including those that improve reliability, address poor water quality issues, add more diagnostics to improve serviceability, and shrink their footprints, noted Dean Groff, regional marketing manager, refrigeration, Danfoss. However, because of their energy consumption and potential environmental impact, these machines have been receiving significant attention from regulatory agencies, including the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
“Manufacturers have been diligently designing machines that are more energy efficient and sustainable,” Groff said. “Effective Jan. 1, 2018, DOE regulations will require manufacturers to comply with new efficiency standards and improve efficiency by an average of 20 percent. Also on the horizon is the phasing out of R-404A by the EPA’s SNAP [Significant New Alternatives Policy] program for other applications — and potentially for ice machines in the future.”
He noted that a variety of substitute refrigerants are being considered, including R-290 (propane).
As manufacturers face these challenging regulatory standards, they are designing machines with enhanced insulation and more efficient compressors, Groff added.
“Along with these and other creative design features, properly selected, installed, and maintained thermostatic expansion valves, solenoid valves, and other control products can be found at the heart of these machines, enabling compliance with the new standards,” he said.
IMPACTS OF THE TECHNICIAN SHORTAGE
Scott DeShetler, director of marketing, Ice-O-Matic, said the company is focusing on several areas in which its ice machines can stand out. The first is reliability and maintenance. He noted that the industry is losing more service technicians every year than it is bringing on, making technicians harder to find and more expensive to hire.
“That means ice machines need to be more reliable, so they need less service, and when they do need service, they must be designed so a technician can get in and out and not have to spend all day working on it,” DeShetler said. “There’s even the potential that some owners are going to prefer to perform the simpler cleaning and sanitizing tasks themselves to save money.”
In terms of ice machine design, this means ensuring that access to components is easy, parts are easy to take out and put back in, and the machine’s diagnostics are easy to understand and work with.
“In general, younger technicians tend to be more visually savvy, and they’re going to want digital diagnostics,” DeShetler said. “Designing around that dynamic is very important when it comes to making an ice machine that’s easy to have in the back room.”
Sanitation and food safety is another area of focus at Ice-O-Matic. DeShetler noted that in a food service environment, ice machines are typically one of the first places inspectors examine, which is understandable because ice machines are the only equipment in restaurants that actually make food.
“Having a good sanitation process in your restaurant is essential,” he said. “That’s why we make our machines easy to clean. All of our plastic parts are dishwasher safe. There are no fasteners involved, so everything pops out and pops back in. We also have introduced our 03-Matic ozone delivery system. Other manufacturers use ozone for food sanitation, but with our 03-Matic, the ozone is water-delivered instead of air-delivered. We have found that water-delivered ozone works better because the ozone freezes on the surface of the ice and drops into the bin, which helps keep the bin clean. In fact, any areas that get wet inside the machine show a dramatically reduced growth of microbials.”
SEEKING INNOVATION, CLEANABiLITY, AND EFFICIENCY
Bo Erickson, vice president of Manitowoc Ice for the Americas, said the company is always looking at its ice machines from the standpoints of innovation, cleanability, and energy efficiency.
“Those are the three things we’re constantly working on,” he said. “It’s always our goal to add innovation to our machines to make life easier for contractors and their customers. We strive to make machines that are easier to clean, easier to maintain, easier to diagnose, and easier to repair, so contractors can keep their customers happy longer.”
Erickson added it’s also the company’s goal to provide innovation for end users in terms of ease of use and intelligence of the machine. This includes interaction with the machine overall, including the display screen and the ease of routine sanitation.
As with other manufacturers, meeting new DOE regulations has been a priority for Manitowoc.
“Making sure we would have viable options for all of our customers after Jan. 1, 2018, has really been our No. 1 focus,” Erickson said. “For us, it was roughly half of our line that needed upgrades in order to cross the DOE threshold. We aimed high, because we not only wanted to meet the DOE requirements but also to make sure we addressed Energy Star 3.0, which we anticipate will arrive in late 2018 or early 2019. Maintaining our leadership status in Energy Star has always been an important goal for us.”
Erickson added that Manitowoc has not settled on one refrigerant that will be used across its ice maker product line, but that’s not because the company is indecisive. Rather, refrigerant options will vary depending on the size and construction of the machine, what the machine will be used for, and the subsystems and additional components that will go along with it.
A FASTER HARVEST
Sally Ray, marketing manager, Hoshizaki, said the company found that re-forming the evaporator plate increased the ice making surface area. This also means when hot gas moves through the tubing at harvest time, the cubes release faster. She said this increases energy efficiency and ice production, even in harsh water environments.
In addition, instead of an off-cycle defrost, the company’s ice machines use a time-initiated, temperature-terminated defrost cycle every six hours.
Finally, Ray said the company recently conducted rigorous tests (equivalent to five years in a harsh kitchen), subjecting a number of materials to the ammonia gases given off by meats and fish. The company tested aluminum, painted aluminum, and stainless steel, and found the stainless steel provided the most durability.
“The aluminum was the most affected in our test,” she said. “The painted aluminum works fine unless you scratch it. Overall, the stainless steel had the most benefit, and that’s why we use it on the inside and outside of all our refrigeration units and ice machines.”
Scott Bingham, senior product marketing manager, Follett, said water quality is an important consideration for ice machines in food service applications.
“Equipment in the food service industry often battles scale formation, especially when there’s a phase change, such as making ice or creating steam in which the solids tend to get left behind,” he said.
Ice machine manufacturers have attempted to mitigate scale formation by draining or flushing the machine more regularly, but that can drive up water usage costs.
Bingham said a water management system introduced on Follett’s Horizon Elite Series machines will be implemented in Follett’s entire product line.
“We manage the water in such a way that solids, as they concentrate, are isolated in a reservoir and then flushed out,” he said. “We flush out very small volumes of water and very high concentrations of total dissolved solids to take care of the scale problem in an extremely water-efficient manner.”
Bingham said Follett is looking at all of its refrigerant options and will quickly respond to any market or regulatory requirements. He noted that although ice machines aren’t subject to some of the specific EPA delistings that coolers and freezers are subject to, the ice machine industry is still preparing to move beyond hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).
“There are a lot of other entities that are going to be driving the refrigerant decision, and we’ll be ready to move forward in whatever direction the market goes when that time comes,” he said.
DRINKS IN THE ROCKS RATHER THAN ON THEM
The ice business has always been tough, going all the way back to the days of ice harvesting.
While today’s ice business is more about regulations and competition than brute strength, one fact remains: Everybody loves ice, and there’s no reason not to have a little fun with it.
The Beyond Zero liquor freezing counter-top ice maker is designed to rapidly freeze liquor, wine, or mixed cocktails into solid, portion-controlled cubes. Freeze times vary from four to six minutes for 80- to 90-proof base spirits and three to four minutes for wine. The maker’s ice tray freezes four liquor ice cubes at a time into one-quarter-ounce cubes. The plug-in unit can be used in residential or commercial settings.
Planning a party? Beyond Zero also offers a counter-top storage freezer that holds up to 150 cubes or just over one liter of liquor ice cubes.
Publication date: 7/10/2017