Picture this: Your customer’s ice machine has just “died” and it must be replaced. You are the person who just informed the owner that the machine isn’t worth repairing, but what new machine do you recommend?

The line-up of products that the ice machine industry offers has changed dramatically in the last 10 years, so what do you say?

The first step is to gather information on the existing product. Get the brand, find the model number nameplate, and write down the model number. If it is a modular unit, get the bin model too.

Note whether the unit is air-cooled, water-cooled, or remote air-cooled. If it is remote air-cooled, you will have to find the remote condenser and get its model number as well. Take a look at the line routing (length and tubing size). Note the refrigerant type.

Now ask the owner or customer some questions:

  • Did the machine make enough ice?

  • Did it put out too much heat?

  • Was it too loud?

  • Are you planning to expand?

  • Was the bin big enough?

  • Would two machines be better than one, with a smaller one in an under-the-counter spot closer to where the ice is used?

If the customer is considering a remote air-cooled model, find out where the condenser can go and how far away from the ice machine it will be. Most manufacturers have limitations for distance between the machine and condenser.

Also find out the electrical capacity available. It will add cost to put in a larger amp service to the new machine.

If there aren’t any water filters, suggest them, and suggest that they be put in an accessible place. Behind the ice machine will not do — the cartridges will never be changed if they can’t be easily accessed.

If you have access to the Internet, you can probably get product information from the manufacturer’s website. A better source of information is the ice expert at the local distributor. That expert or specialist will have the knowledge and experience to help spec the new machine.

Water, air, or remote air

What is the ideal type of condenser to spec?

Water-cooled models have many advantages. They are quiet, easy to install compared to remote air-cooled (cheaper too), and do not put any excess heat into the room.

The trade off is, of course, the cost of the water. In many areas water-cooled machines are not even allowed, so check with local authorities.

Self-contained, air-cooled machines are very simple and common. Although they are the easiest and cheapest to install, they do make the most noise and exhaust heat into the surrounding air.

Remote air-cooled units have the low noise advantage of water-cooled units and use no more water than self contained air-cooled units, but they are more costly to install.

Many ice machines are too small for the application. If an ice machine runs 24 hrs a day, seven days a week without shutting off, it is too small. Not only is it wearing out prematurely, it does not give the user any ice-making margin — they will occasionally have to buy ice.

Bin selection, size

Many customers like to recycle their bins. This saves them money, and that is perfectly understandable. But there are problems with placing new, modular ice machines on old bins.

First of all, the bins were originally designed to go with an ice machine of a certain size, brand, and type. All bins will not work with all ice machines.

The cost and hassle involved in making modifications to adapt the bin to the machine may not be worth it, and the customer will still end up with an old bin that has an old door, hinges, gasket, and so on.

Do not specify a bin that is too small, because it can’t hold the amount of ice needed. Small bins may also be too low for ease of use.

Having a bin that is too large can also be a problem, as ice that is not used tends to melt together and then it is hard to remove from the bin (a little cold water poured on it helps to loosen it up).

Like the Goldilocks story, only one size is “just right.”

One last note about modular machines and bins: When specifying a combination of ice machine and bin or dispenser, be sure that all of the necessary adapter kits are on the list.

Ice preference

A final complication is the ice type: flaked, nugget, or cube?

Flaked ice is best for packing food like fish or chicken; many supermarkets use it for displays.

Nugget ice is good for that as well, and also makes a decent beverage ice.

Cubed ice is fairly universal, good for almost every application. However, cubers do have to stop refrigerating water to release their ice while flakers don’t, which is why flakers are more efficient at producing ice.

Finally there is brand. There are many excellent commercial ice machines on the market. The brand’s reputation should be a factor, as should product and parts availability, design features, performance, capacity, electrical consumption, technical support, training, serviceability, and to some degree, price.

And don’t forget the installation. Commercial ice machines should be properly installed just like any other piece of commercial equipment. Use new tubing, be sure the electrical power is adequate, and don’t forget to vent the drain.

Specifying an ice machine can be as simple as ordering the same exact replacement model or it can be very involved, sometimes changing how the ice user does business. Do some checking and give your customers the best ice solution for their needs.