Small but cool: compact ice makers under the microscope

Maidaid’s Slim Bin range can store 129-243kg of ice.Maidaid’s Slim Bin range can store 129-243kg of ice.

Every operator seems to be asking dealers to specify the very smallest appliances for an increasingly squeezed kitchen space, and the ice makers sector is no exception. So when distributors have to face this decision, what units are out there for them to recommend, and how small can these ice machines realistically go without compromising functionality?

According to Maidaid’s sales director, Julian Lambert: “There are two key points that should be considered; the unit needs to produce a sufficient amount of ice, coupled with a large enough storage capacity to meet the daily demands. If the ice maker is too small in terms of production it won’t produce the amount of ice required. Should the storage bin not have a large enough capacity then the ice maker will need to be able to produce more ice on demand, ultimately resulting in a larger machine. In conclusion, Maidaid doesn’t envisage the possibility of technical innovation reducing footprints in the near future.”

However, the manufacturer already has many compact options in its portfolio. These include the Slim Modular range, which is 560mm wide and still produces between 154-210kg of ice per day, with the range of Slim Bins being able to store 129-243kg of ice.

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“We do listen to our customers and at every opportunity provide the equipment they have requested. Space is always at a premium, whether it is for a new development or site refurbishment. It has also been noted that in many inner city sites where older buildings have non-standard door widths, installation engineers have to undertake daily gymnastics and dismantling to install the machines,” said Lambert. “Our complete view of the market also considers installation and service engineers’ requirements as they are such an important element in our efforts to satisfy our customers.”

The firm’s smallest model is the M22-5 which is 345mm wide, producing up to 21kg of ice per 24 hours with a storage bin capacity of up to 5kgs.

Over at DC Warewashing & Icemaking Systems, director Bob Wood detailed: “The size and location of ice makers in catering establishments will play a large part in determining which make and model would be best suited. Self-service ice dispensers are also becoming very popular – located in the dining area, these machines save valuable kitchen space.”

However, he warned: “There has been a distinct trend in recent years in the amount of low grade ice making machines and systems on the market, usually being offered at very low prices, which are generally smaller, more compact models. Specifiers should ensure that they compare like-for-like in terms of overall quality and value for money.”

Emphasising that distributors should ensure that there is enough space left behind an ice machine to allow for ventilation, Wood believes that manufacturers have also been working hard to design and produce ice making machines and systems that are significantly ‘greener’ and more environmentally-friendly than their predecessors, without compromising quality of ice, ice production or storage capacity.

DC’s own latest minimal footprint model is the self-contained ‘Pebble’ ice machine which is specifically designed for use in cocktail bars, cafes, fast-food outlets, pubs and cafeterias. The range produces a new hybrid ice utilising a cylindrical evaporator to create small trapezoidal cubes that bridge the gap between granular and cubed ice.

Unlike modular machines, which have separate production and storage bins, self-contained ice makers have an integral storage bin. The smallest machine in the range produces 85kg of ice in a 24 hour period and stores up to 20kg, whilst the largest produces up to 140kg of ice in a 24 hour period and stores up to 50kg.

In comparison, Prodis’ C25 has a 6kg storage bin, which it believes is generous for its small footprint. The compact model was designed to deliver a mains connected, fully automatic European manufactured ice maker into the budget marketplace. The model produces 22kg per 24 hours, meaning that it will fill its storage bin in around 6½ hours.
National accounts manager Darren Mairs feels: “The limiting factor in reducing ice machine size is the amount of ice the machine can store. There comes a point where the amount of ice stored in a machine becomes so small as to make the machine impractical.

“We believe that 6kg is the absolute lowest storage capacity that is acceptable in a commercial ice maker. If the storage capacity was to fall below 6kg, this optimal production time to storage efficiency would be disrupted and the ice maker would not be able to keep up with the demands of most smaller establishments.”

He underlined: “All Prodis ice makers, whether they are compact or not, are manufactured by our European partner to the same exacting standard and subject to the same quality control procedures to ensure that all machines are of high specification.”

Mairs also revealed that the firm is currently in the process of researching and developing a fully integrated small ice maker for the UK market. “This is designed to be installed directly into a back bar counter, creating both a seamless appearance and allowing the machine to be fitted within back bar furniture to free up valuable floor space and promote a better workflow for bar staff. We hope to launch this machine in time for the summer when ice makers are most in demand.”

For supplier Foodservice Equipment Marketing (FEM), the Manitowoc ice machines it provides have the research and development resources of the international Welbilt group behind them. “Modern technology is allowing ice makers to produce and store more ice on a compact footprint and to be quieter too, offering establishments with limited space a reliable supply of quality ice cubes,” said FEM marketing and sales manager Mark Hogan.

He advised distributors: “If space is an issue, look for front venting ice machines, as these will require little or no top or side clearance and can be quickly and easily installed. This means they can be slid into the tightest spaces and set to work pretty much right away. Another thing to look for is a model that is able to work in high ambient temperatures, up to 43°C, so you can be sure that the ice supply won’t run out when the heat is on.”

For instance, he detailed that FEM’s Manitowoc QM-45 ice machine has a compact footprint, integral storage and front ventilation so that it can be easily sited under or built-in to counters. It produces what are said to be hard, clear, slow-melting dice cubes, which provide maximum cooling and can be produced at speed. “Quick production means that a compact ice machine can keep up with demand,” said Hogan.

“The UG020A is considered to have the ideal ice production on a small footprint. It is capable of producing 22kg of ice per 24hrs, with a 10kg storage capacity and measuring just (w) 450 x (d) 475 x (h) 650mm.”

However, he revealed that Manitowoc Ice has discontinued the Sotto UG018A due to lack of sales of such a small ice machine.

Elsewhere, Hoshizaki’s director of UK and Ireland Steve Loughton counselled: “When creating ice makers, the key consideration is functionality and whether the machine will produce the quantity and the quality of ice that is required. One way of reducing size without compromising quality is to place the drain pump remotely away from the unit; this can help to save front of house space.

“Additionally, machines such as Hoshizaki’s new compact ice maker AM20 CAE have front mounted vents which make them suitable for confined installation and can be placed against a back wall.”

The new AM20 CAE model is said to be one of the smallest ice machines available on the commercial market. It can be placed anywhere in a commercial kitchen due to its size, making it a popular choice for busy bars with limited space. This undercounter model also has individual water jet systems for more consistent ice production.

Loughton commented: “Hoshizaki is proud to be a leader in its field and continues to innovate and respond to industry needs. Technology and practicalities naturally dictate the viability of smaller machines, and currently ice machines are the smallest they’ve ever been, but Hoshizaki is constantly looking at new technology to help cater for the needs of operators working in increasingly confined spaces.”

Another smaller model the brand has is the IM21. This is designed with hygiene as a main priority, and the IM series utilises an ice making system with an automatic rinse cycle. Each ice cycle is made with fresh water for quality purposes.

Over at Hubbard Systems, supplier of the Scotsman range of ice machines, commercial director Simon Aspin feels the technology is still developing: “As the ice production technology improves and gets faster, less storage is required, so the machines can get smaller. Nugget and cubelet machines are already showing how far this trend can go.”

However, he cautioned: “Although it is possible to manufacture ice machines that make very small quantities of ice, in reality much below 20kg per 24hrs begs the question of whether buying in bagged ice would be more cost effective than the purchase and lifetime costs of the equipment.

“Whatever the size of the ice machine there has to be a sensible balance of production versus storage. Obviously the faster the production rate, the less storage is required, but peaks in demand still have to be considered. The rule of thumb is approximately 50% of the 24 hour production capacity as storage. This could be possibly down to 40% with dice and nugget ice and 30% on flakers, all based on self-contained units.”

In response to demand for compact and versatile ice solutions, Scotsman developed the CU415 and CU715 self-contained superdice models, which are 381mm wide and feature built-in storage bins.

Another space-saver is said to be the Ice Duo. The compact footprint unit delivers a choice of different ice types, as it sits two modular ice machines icemakers onto a single ice storage bin, as opposed to sites having to have two separate ice systems. Each machine can produce different types of ice – the bin’s storage compartment has a divider wall that keeps them separate.

Aspin concluded: “Scotsman continues to look at how to make current ranges more efficient and develop new technology to make the same quantity of ice, but in a smaller footprint.”

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