Cube ice is versatile. Available in multiple cube sizes and shapes, it maximizes beverage displacement to save on syrup, delivers the beverage temperature and quality customers expect, and, depending on cube size, works equally well in cube form or crushed for blended drinks.

Makers generally label an ice machine based on the capacity it produces in 24 hours. Small to mid-size cube ice machines—which are the majority of ice machines sold and the size we’re highlighting here—produce about 500 lb./24 hr. or less at 90°F ambient air and 70F incoming water, though you’ll find some makers also publish production at 70°F/50°F. The Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute, which tests performance on commercial ice machines, lists ratings based on 90°F/70°F.

Many ice machines sold in this category are air-cooled and self-contained, meaning the compressor, condenser and evaporator are contained in one fixture. A small percentage of units sold are water-cooled, or remote (where the condenser sits on the building’s roof, for example, to keep the unit’s exhaust heat out of the kitchen).

For the Cuber Gallery, below, we invited makers to submit models with capacities at or less than 500 lb./24 hr.; the comparison chart highlights air-cooled versions, further narrowed by cube style to achieve similar capacities across all models.

If you’re in the market for a cube ice machine, you’ll find makers now offer models that are more energy efficient and easier to maintain than in the past. In fact, you can expect ice machines to become even more efficient as the Department of Energy has adopted more-stringent standards, effective Jan. 28, 2018. Ice machines manufactured after that date must meet the new standards; however, makers can still sell existing inventory. Also part of the new standards—AHRI reports—the DOE for the first time will regulate continuous ice machines, which produce flake or nugget ice.

Makers expect the Environmental Protection Agency to respond to the new DOE standards by raising the bar as to what qualifies as an Energy Star-certified model. The program has certified many commercial ice machines and the list of utility companies offering rebates on these units continues to grow. Currently, ice machines are exempt from the phase-out of the refrigerant R404a. Some makers have researched more efficient refrigerants, such as R290 (propane), but there’s work to be done to ensure the refrigerant meets local codes and that technicians are trained on how to service these machines.

Sizing Cubes, Capacity
Cube ice machines batch-produce hard, clear ice in a variety of shapes including crescents, rhomboids and cubes, in individual pieces or in grids that drop and break into pieces in the bin when they’re harvested. Cube makers typically offer two sizes: half cube and full cube; others refer to their cubes as dice, and offer half dice, full dice and regular (small, medium and large). You'll also find a growing number of machines that produce gourmet ice, extra large, crystal-clear cubes in a variety of shapes. Used for more high-end niche applications, these machines appeal to mixologists who appreciate the presentation of oversized cubes in craft cocktails.

Cube ice machines make ice by filling a reservoir with filtered water; then the water continuously circulates over a (typically) vertical evaporator grid, comprised of cube-shaped compartments, freezing layer by layer until the grid is full of cubes. The machine cycles into a harvest mode and the cubes fall out of the evaporator grid and into the bin or dispenser.

One maker builds a double-sided, stainless ice-making surface (versus others’ nickel-plated copper grid-cell design); it’s mostly flat except for small dimples. Water flows over the dimples and forms crescent shapes. When the machine harvests, each crescent cube pops off individually.

Before choosing an ice machine, take a look at what type of cube you’ll most often use. Half cubes are more versatile than full cubes because they work well for serving in beverages but also for blending drinks. Use full cubes when serving beverages in pitchers, for instance; this type of cube melts slower. You’ll likely find full-cube ice machines in southern states with warm ambient air. On average, half cubes measure 3/8 in. x 7/8 in. x 7/8 in. while full cubes equal 7/8 in. x 7/8 in. x 7/8 in.

Unless you run a high-volume operation, a 500 lb. or less cube ice machine will likely fit your production needs. These machines typically come in 22-in.W or 30-in.W cabinets with a 115V electrical requirement.

To figure out your capacity requirements, calculate the volume of ice you’ll use—in terms of beverage cups or buckets—per customer and multiply it by the number of customers you’ll serve per day. Restaurants use an average of 2 lb. of ice per customer per day; schools and university cafeterias average 1. lb. of ice per student per day; hospital cafeterias use about 1 lb. of ice per person per day and an average of 10 lb. for every bed; and bars and cocktail lounges use about 3 lb. of ice per seat. For example, if you operate a restaurant serving 250 customers per day, choose a 500-lb. machine.

User-Friendly Design
Many if not all makers have put time and resources in recent years into building ice machines that are easier to clean and service. You’ll still find models that are economical and simple yet robust—built to make ice. Period. But lately, the market offers ice machines boasting plenty of advanced technology, from ozone delivery systems to intelligent diagnostics.

A couple of manufacturers offer as an option ozone delivery systems, designed for new and existing modular cube ice machines. One device infuses incoming water with ozone, killing microbes on every surface it touches and hindering future growth (mold and slime are common results of microbe growth). As an added bonus, the ozone becomes entrapped in the cubes, carrying the same sanitation benefits to the bin and dispenser.

Several manufacturers, including one in 2015, have moved one or more components—air filters or evaporators—to the front of the machine. Front-breathing units require less side clearance and a front-facing evaporator makes for easy-access service. Look for tool-less removal of components—water shields, spill trays, distribution tubes and ice thickness probes; this makes deep cleanings easier and faster.

Take one maker’s “smart cuber” as another example of forward-looking innovation. The unit comes standard with auto-alert indicator lights to alert crew members to service issues or cleaning prompts in a highly visible way. It also includes a QR code that instantly connects you to service information and warranty history, and features one-touch cleaning. Add an optional smartboard for additional diagnostic capabilities or a “smart” control to customize ice levels.

Another maker’s model comes standard with built-in intelligent diagnostics, providing 24-hr. planned maintenance and diagnostic feedback for trouble-free operation; programmable ice production to improve energy efficiency (to match production with demand or to make ice when energy costs are lowest); and an optional microbe growth inhibitor (using UV light) that controls the growth of bacteria and yeast within the food zone.

The Install
Once you’ve chosen your cube type, model capacity and the features that matter most, spend equal energy on properly installing and maintaining your ice machine. Unlike a range on a cookline, for instance, ice machines directly produce a food product—your customers ingest the ice.

Start by relying on a qualified service technician or other expert who can recommend a water filtration system that best fits your geographical area. (Several ice machine makers sell these systems as accessories.) More than 60% of ice machine maintenance calls are water-related, according to one maker, which recommends installing an NSF- or FDA-supported filter system that removes dirt, rust and sediment, has a built-in scale inhibitor designed to limit buildup and reduces chlorine taste and odors.

Install the ice machine near a floor drain; all models purge leftover water after making a batch of ice. Make sure the machine has adequate ventilation for air intake and exhaust. Clearance varies but one model requires a minimum of 8 in. on top/sides and 5 in. in back. (As mentioned, front-breathing units reduce the amount of clearance required.) In situations where there’s not enough side clearance, consider a top air discharge kit that redirects air from out the side to out the top.

As much as possible, install the ice machine away from hot, greasy cooking equipment or yeast-producing areas, such as a bread-baking sandwich shop, bars or even where empty beer bottles happen to get thrown away. But as mentioned, at least one maker offers a growth-inhibiting device for ice machines to combat yeast in facilities where it’s unavoidable.

Many ice machines come outfitted with self-cleaning cycles but makers recommend also performing manual, deep cleanings, which involve removing and sanitizing all food-zone parts and emptying and sanitizing the bin. How often you schedule these deep cleanings depends on environmental conditions; you might deep-clean an ice machine in a corporate dining facility every six months and a unit in a barbecue restaurant open seven days a week every other month. Chances are you’ll hire a service technician to perform deep cleanings—not because it’s difficult to clean the machine but to save labor.

Also of note, wipe the exterior of the ice machine daily. If the machine has a bin, keep it closed and the ice scoop clean—most bins are equipped with scoop holders. Keep the machine’s compressor and air vents clear of dust and debris. And be sure to use only manufacturer-recommended cleaners. Using the wrong cleaner can ruin the metal of the evaporator grid.

Properly caring for an ice machine will reduce downtime and service fees; the unit will last up to 10 years. And your customers will raise a glass to pure, quality ice. Cheers.

Cuber Gallery:

This slim-line modular cuber, turning out 325 lb./24 hr., produces individual crescent ice cubes using a dual-sided stainless evaporator that’s mostly flat except for small dimples. Water flows over the dimples and forms a crescent shape and when the machine harvests, each crescent cube pops off individually. The CycleSaver design produces the same quantity of ice in about half as many cycles as the competition, the company reports.

Making ice “pure and simple,” the ICE0400A produces 368 lb./24 hr. Practical design features include Harvest Assist, which overpowers scale buildup and improves energy efficiency by speeding up ice harvesting, and durable, electro-less nickel plating on the evaporator plate for improved reliability. Ice-O-Matic recently released an optional ozone delivery system, the O3-Matic, a device that infuses water coming into the machine with ozone, killing microbes on every surface it touches and hindering future growth.

Producing an exclusive square cube, the GT360 features an upside-down horizontal (rather than vertical) evaporator and water plate assembly. As water sprays upward into the evaporator grid cells, the pure water freezes first while particulates and air are forced out and dumped at the end of each cycle; the process results in a crystal-clear cube. Rely on the air-cooled model to turn out 246 lb. to 275 lb. per 24 hr. depending on whether you need full cubes or half cubes.

Koolaire by Manitowoc’s Model K-0420, making 305 lb. to 310 lb. per 24 hr. depending on cube size, boasts easy access to the machine’s ice-making and storing “food zones” with removal of two screws and a lift-off door; easily remove the water shield, distribution tube, pump, floats and trough by hand. Other construction features include a smudge- and fingerprint-resistant exterior finish and white plastic throughout the food zones to help identify areas that need cleaning.

Built-in intelligent diagnostics on the Indigo 500, which, depending on cube size produces 370 lb. to 410 lb. per 24 hr., provides ’round-the-clock preventative maintenance and diagnostic feedback for trouble-free operation. Programmable ice production improves energy efficiency—high production during high-demand times, lower production in low-demand times or production during times when energy costs are lowest. The EasyRead display communicates operating status and cleaning reminders. Easily access the “food zones” using the hinged front door; many components are removable for efficient cleaning. LuminIce II UV bacteria growth inhibitor is an option.

Making 374 lb./24 hr. of crystal-clear slab ice, this NSF- and UL-approved ice maker comes low maintenance and easy to clean. Use this modular model in many applications, from restaurants to bars and hotels. Other highlights include advanced electronic controls, an easy-to-use automatic cleaning setting and a durable, stainless exterior.

The Prodigy Plus line of self-monitoring ice machines builds on the Prodigy platform and delivers a number of customer-driven enhancements. Producing 300 lb./24 hr., the Prodigy Plus C0330 features external AutoAlert indicator lights; a front-facing air filter to reduce side-clearance requirements; and a QR code that instantly connects you to service information and warranty history. The WaterSense adaptive purge control automatically reduces scale buildup. Scotsman offers the ECO3ICE ozone-based growth-inhibitor as an option.

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