All commercial ice machines create ice in basically the same way. However, different types of ice are made differently.
There are 3 basic types of ice, with some variation on those ice styles: Cube Ice, Flake Ice, and Nugget-style Ice.
When choosing your ice machine, consider what style of ice you are looking for. Different types of ice are more suitable for specific applications.
Cube Ice is made by running water over a freezing evaporator plate which is typically divide up into a grid. All of the purest water will freeze first and begin to form the ice. As the water is pumped back up and over the plate, the ice begins to grow until it is the appropriate cube size and is released from the evaporator plate.
Cube Ice has several different forms. Standard Full Cube ice generally measures 7/8" by 7/8" by 7/8". Most manufacturers also have models that produce a Half Cube which is 7/8" by 7/8" by 3/8". At least one brand, Hoshizaki, has patented a unique Crescent-shaped Ice that is 7/8" by 7/8" and approximately 3/8" thick. However one face is flat and the other face is curved. And other brands have their own crescent cube ice.
Cube ice is popular at sit down and fast food restaurants, hotels, and convenience stores, since it is typically a harder, long-lasting ice, ideal for cooling beverages.
Finally, most of the major ice machine manufacturers have an ice machine that produces a cylindrical, crystal clear ice shape. These clear "cubes" are round like little top hats or small shot glasses and are very elegant. These Gourmet Cubes are often found in high-end alcoholic beverages at sophisticated establishments.
Flake Ice is made in an entirely different way than cube ice. Most manufacturers have their own patented auger-type evaporator cylinders. Water is sprayed on the inner surface of the cylinder and begins to freeze into a thin layer. A spinning auger chops the thin ice into small flakes. The rotating auger blades force the loose ice flakes up to the top of the cylinder and out, where it falls over the edges of the auger like snow.
The soft tiny flakes are the ice easy to pack and shape. Therefore, flake ice is often chosen by supermarkets to display fresh seafood and meats without damaging the food items. Restaurants with salad bars also find flake ice most suitable to keep plates and bowls of salad ingredients cool.
Hospitals and other health care facilities also commonly use flakers since the flake ice is soft and melts quickly, so patients can be hydrated without worrying about choking on ice. Flake ice is also great for shaping and packing around injured extremities, so sports facilities and rehab facilities also rely on flake ice.
Nugget Ice is a very popular form of ice. It is also called Cubelet ice, Chewblet ice®, and Pearl Ice®. A popular national restaurant chain has also lent its very "sound" name to the nugget ice style. Nugget ice is small, round, irregularly-shaped balls of ice about the size of a child's marble.
Nugget ice is essentially flake ice that has been created in the auger cylinder and then when it reaches the top of the cylinder, it is forced out through extruders that tightly compress the flake ice into the nugget shapes and allow it to fall as small balls or clumps.
Nugget ice is therefore soft and chewable and many people crave nugget ice just for these features. Nugget ice also has the ability to retain liquid in the tiny spaces between the compressed flakes, meaning that when the nugget ice is chewed, it will have the flavor of whatever beverage it was recently cooling.
Many foodservice establishments enjoy serving this ice as well as it cools drinks rapidly and has a very high liquid displacement which means less liquid per glass. It is great for beverage dispensers and ideal for healthcare facility applications.
Choose Your Cubes - How the Right Ice Makes All the Difference
Ice Machine Configurations
Modular Ice Machine Heads
Modular Ice Machine Heads are essentially cabinet / boxes with all of the ice making components housed inside (including the compressor, the evaporator, the water reservoir and pump, and the like). Ice Machine Heads need to be mounted on some other piece of equipment such as an ice storage bin, an ice dispenser unit, or a soda beverage dispenser, since the Head unit does not contain any storage space. Standard Ice Machine Heads are either 22", 30" or 48" wide across the ice machine industry, although there is some variation. For example, an ice cuber head which makes a standard cube might be 22" wide while a flaker head which makes flake ice might only be 21" wide and would need an accessory called a bin top adapter to properly mount atop an ice storage bin (to accommodate that lost inch of width).
Modular ice machine heads are popular for several reasons. They are modular units and can be repaired and replaced without the need to remove the entire ice making system. When the ice machine head has reached the end of its functional use, it can be swapped out and a new modular head can be mounted, reutilizing the other existing equipment such as a bin or dispenser. However, ice machine heads are the most common form of equipment chosen for the simple reason that they have a wide variety of ice production rates and the largest can make over a ton of ice per day.
Modular equipment also means that you can combine different ice machine heads with different storage options for a customized solution for your foodservice application. Modular ice machine heads mounted on a bin or dispenser look like a single piece of equipment but allow for maintenance or upgrade of each unit separately.
Undercounter (All-In-One, Self-Contained) Ice Machines
Self-contained Undercounter Ice Machines typically include all of the ice making components and the storage bin within the same cabinet, creating a true, all-in-one unit. Undercounter ice machines are designed to fit under standard commercial counters, approximately 39" high or less. These Undercounter models are compact, taking up less floor and wall space for a more efficient work flow in your foodservice establishment.
Undercounter ice machines are available in models with a variety of production rates, internal bin storage capacities and ice styles. Generally, undercounter models are smaller versions of the modular ice machine and bin. Therefore, the undercounter units will not be able to produce large volumes of ice each day, since their ice making capacity is smaller. However, when space is at a premium and your ice requirements are modest, you can get decent performance from an all-in-one undercounter ice machine. For a front of the house bar, a sports stadium sky box suite or a physical therapy facility, an undercounter ice machine would be ideal.
Ice Maker / Dispensers (All-In-One, Self-contained)
Ice Maker Dispensers are another All-In-One, self-contained ice machine configuration. These units include the ice making components in the cabinet along with a small internal storage bin, just like an undercounter ice machine. However, Ice Maker Dispenser models also include an ice dispensing feature, typically a lever- or button-activated ice chute, so the ice can be easily dispensed directly into glasses and small containers.
Most Ice Maker Dispensers produce and dispense nugget-style or flake ice, making them ideal for healthcare facilities since nugget and flake ice is soft and chewable.
Ice Maker Dispensers are very common in applications where the end-users (employees, customers) are self-serving their ice. Ice Maker Dispensers also allow for the most sanitary provision of ice, since the cabinet is an enclosed unit. There is little to no risk of contamination with Ice Maker Dispensers since the ice is made, stored and dispensed to the glass without any human interaction. Some Ice Maker Dispensers don't even require touching a lever or button to dispense the ice, but utilize optic sensors to determine that a container is waiting for ice.
Ice Maker Dispensers also commonly come with a water-dispensing feature, typically another spout operated by the lever or sensor. This means that your customers or employees have a one-stop location to dispense ice and to fill their glasses with water.
Ice Dispenser models do NOT make any ice. They are mechanical ice dispensing units that require either a top-mounted ice machine head or to be manually top-filled with ice from another source. Ice Dispensers include two types of equipment that dispense ice: countertop ice dispensers and hotel ice dispensers.
Undercounter Ice Machines and Countertop Ice Machines
Hotel Ice Machines