Foodservice Equipment Reports

FER REPORT: Ice On Demand

Moving ice always has been a difficult and dangerous job. Long before mechanical refrigeration put cold storage in practically every home and restaurant in America, an icebox did the job for many. Blocks of ice cut from frozen rivers and lakes and kept in sawdust-insulated storage were delivered to restaurants and people’s homes. The ice blocks could easily crush fingers, toes and even entire people.

Getting cubed or nugget ice from an ice machine is pretty easy these days, but sometimes getting it to its destination isn’t. Ice is food and should be handled in the same careful, sanitary manner. Yet, despite all of the advances in refrigeration and ice making, few concerned themselves with ice transport until the waning years of the last century. Now there are several options that address some or all of the potential pitfalls of moving ice around your operation. 

Ice Buckets

No, we’re not talking the kind you plunk your bottle of Dom Perignon into. When the industry started taking a systems approach to food safety in the 1990s, a few companies started producing plastic buckets devoted solely to moving ice. 

Although not elegant or fancy, dedicated ice buckets do the transport job and help solve the sanitation issue by keeping hands off of the ice, and they’re relatively inexpensive. Filling dispenser ice bins by hand, however, takes labor, can involve climbing on a chair or step stool to reach the bins and requires constant monitoring of ice levels.

Ice Transport Carts 

Long used in supermarkets, ice transport carts are finding their way into large foodservice operations more often. These systems typically consist of a large ice machine with an elevated storage bin. Employees roll a dolly cart equipped with one or two insulated receptacles under the icemaker storage bin. Ice drops from the bin into the receptacles below.

Carts easily transport large quantities of ice and are well suited to replenishing deli display cases or buffet cold-food displays. But while they make getting ice to its destination easier, you still have to move the ice from the cart to the display case or beverage dispenser bin. A dedicated ice shovel works well for cold-food displays but not so well for getting ice into the top of a beverage dispenser. Labor, of course, is a big factor when using transport carts. 

Ice On Demand 

Two types of equipment automatically deliver ice directly to ice bins and ice or beverage dispensers. Both offer similar benefits but fit applications differently, so one may be more suited than the other depending on your operation. Ideal applications for both include operations where you don’t have enough ceiling clearance to add an ice machine to the top of a beverage dispenser or in service areas where the heat and noise of ice machines would bother customers. In many high-volume settings, even an icemaker on top of the dispenser can fail to keep up with ice demand.

Because they both deliver ice directly to where it’s used or dispensed, both systems eliminate the labor needed to replenish ice. By taking employees out of the equation, they also eliminate the potential for accidents and help ensure food safety and sanitation. Remotely delivering ice to storage bins and ice and drink dispensers also removes the need for icemaking heads, saving you equipment costs and eliminating the noise and heat of ice machines, which helps save on HVAC energy costs. 

So how do these two types of equipment differ?

Remote ice delivery equipment (RIDE). Developed for Follett’s line of nugget ice machines, the company’s ice-on-demand system pushes a continuous supply of nuggets through a plastic tube to a storage bin or dispenser. You can place the ice machine as far away as 75 ft., and the system is compatible with a range of sizes up to a machine that makes more than 1,500 lb./day. 

To service two bins or dispensers from one ice machine, the company also makes a diverter valve that automatically delivers ice to the storage or dispense point that needs it most.

The RIDE system’s beverage dispensers and ice bins are easier to clean than equipment with icemakers on top. Employees simply lift the system’s lid to get at the bin that is located below. 

As mentioned previously, this system applies well to stores with self-service beverage dispensers that are within 75 ft. of the ice machine, which can be located in the back of the house. By putting the ice machine in a storeroom along with CO2 tanks and bulk syrup racks, you can keep the noise and heat out of the customer area while making ice replenishment automatic, labor-free, safe and sanitary.

Ice Link. Like the RIDE system, an Ice Link automatically delivers ice to bins or dispensers that need it. The three major differences are capacity, distance and type of ice. Although the technology has been around for more than a decade, the company that developed and designed the system reorganized about a year and a half ago and now contracts with a manufacturer in Texas to build machines to its specs. 

Using the same pneumatic-tube principle that moves canisters through a drive-through bank-teller station or at a large office facility, Ice Link delivers ice wherever it’s needed. By putting optical monitors in the beverage dispensers or ice bins it feeds, the system constantly observes ice levels and adds ice as needed in quantities of about 32 oz.

The system works with any ice machine and any type of ice—cubes, nuggets, even crushed ice—and can deliver it up to 400 ft. away horizontally and 40 ft. vertically. Ice travels through the system at about 25 ft./sec., so replenishment is fast. The Ice Link system can handle as many as four remote locations as well as dispensing at its main base, which holds 350 lb. and moves as much as 900 lb./hr., the capacity of many industrial-size ice machines. 

Cleaning the Ice Link is automatic and hands free with the push of a button. The system essentially programs to let ice bins empty. Employees press the cleaning-mode button, and the Ice Link unit mixes water with a cleaning solution in the right ratio; the unit then pumps the solution through the pneumatic tubes to the beverage or ice-dispenser bins. The cycle then repeats with clean rinse water, and ice delivery begins again.

A resort hotel and casino in Las Vegas recently installed two Ice Link systems to provide ice for five Coke Freestyle beverage dispensers in its main buffet’s self-serve beverage station. The buffet serves 4,000 guests per day, so having enough ice was paramount; however, the ceilings at the beverage stations weren’t high enough for top-mounted ice machines. Aesthetically, the hotel also preferred not to have ice machines in the customer-service area. The Ice Link systems are located with fountain syrups, CO2 tanks and two ice machines in a storeroom right behind the beverage station. The operation estimates the ROI on the two systems is about a year. 

A QSR franchisee in Las Vegas with 33 stores also is opting to put the system into two new stores it’s constructing after a two-month test in another store. According to the operator, ROI is instant because the system replaces four ice machines—in the self-serve beverage station, the drive-through, the smoothie station and the counter beverage station—with a single large-volume ice machine in the back of the house. The operation also saves on service as well as some of the labor involved in cleaning beverage dispensers and moving ice around.

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