Customers’ focus on efficiency and new techniques drives better ice quality in water and beverage markets.
by David Webber, Xylem

The history of ice-making can be traced back to the mid-1700s. More than 250 years later, ice is available wherever and whenever a consumer wants. Ice machines are commonplace, from hotel hallways and sporting venues to restaurants, bars and cafes.

During the past two centuries, the ice-maker has gone through several changes and continues to evolve. Commercial-grade ice machines found under counters, installed in soda machines or as stand-alone units, are receiving upgrades to keep up with industry standards, water regulations and consumer trends.

Branching Out

When designing early machines, ice-maker manufacturers commonly approached their pumps with a one-size-fits-all attitude. If a pump worked in a washing machine, it could work in an ice-maker, since both had the same end use—moving water. However, industry leaders quickly learned that the pressure differences between washing clothes and making ice required more diverse pumping solutions.

Until recently, shaded pole centrifugal pumps were the standard for many large ice-maker manufacturers. These pumps suffered serious wear and tear well before their replacement dates, because they were not built for ice-making. When motors failed in the pump’s mechanical system, owners lost production time, and manufacturers and maintenance providers paid for expensive service trips.

Continued pumping frustrations initiated extensive testing on how common failures could be reduced or eliminated. The result—a magnetically coupled centrifugal pump.

This pump uses magnets rather than the shaded pole’s direct mechanical shaft to couple the motor and pump. Magnetic coupling eliminates the mechanical seal and potential leak path, decreasing service issues and increasing lifetime use. By investing in magnetically coupled technology, manufacturers will increase equipment life cycle and decrease service calls, driving down total cost of ownership.

Filtration Takes Center Stage

The U.S. Congress passed the Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act on Jan. 4. The amendment to the Safe Drinking Water Act calls for all pumps, pipes and fittings in beverage production to follow new lead-free standards. Most current and new pumps are lead-free, but the recent changes to federal and state regulations have ice-maker manufacturers paying greater attention to clean water.

The ice-making industry faces other pressures besides water laws from end users and ice machine manufacturers, such as service breakdowns and poor ice quality and taste. A filtration system solves these problems, intercepting water before it enters the machine and delivering consistent, recipe-quality water.

Filtration can improve odor and taste by removing sediment and chlorine. Carbon block technology within the cartridge can remove chlorine up to four times more effectively than carbon powder, which is still commonly found in the industry. The filtration system can be used almost immediately after installing a new cartridge, instead of waiting several minutes to flush water through a cartridge without a carbon block. The carbon block saves time when replacing cartridges and decreases wasted water.

A cartridge with an optional scale inhibitor filters sediment and reduces scaling, or the buildup of calcium carbonate, magnesium hydroxide and calcium sulfate. These chemical buildups clog pipes and harm the appearance and taste of water or ice. Clogs from scaling can also wreak havoc on an ice-maker, wearing down components and shutting down service. Service calls from scaling clogs have become so costly for some manufacturers that they have stopped honoring warranties for machines without filtration systems.

Beverage providers and business operators are also pressuring ice-maker manufacturers to filter water before turning it into ice, because ice can influence the taste of a drink. By installing filtration systems into ice-makers, the machine will release purified ice into a drink, ensuring a consumer will have the clearest form of the beverage with the intended taste. Filtration also prevents unnecessary buildup within machines, decreasing harmful conditions and health risks.

Chlorine vs. Chloramine

Municipalities in the U.S. are shifting from chlorine to chloramine to filter water. Chloramines are a subtle change, but like chlorine, they can alter the taste and odor of water and ice. Most filtration systems, including those with carbon block technology, filter out chloramine, but producers of ice machines should ask their filtration provider if their systems have this functionality.

The New Ice Age

Many pump customers are focused on energy efficiency. Efficiency, while not yet a driving force in ice-making, could be on the industry’s horizon.

Varying the motor speed and controls based on energy draw saves energy and reduces costs. Many bars, particularly in the U.K., have implemented pump motor systems with built-in controls that monitor demand and control energy use. The same technology could soon be applied in ice-making.

A broad portfolio of products and strong applications expertise has also become more desirable to customers than discrete manufacturers. No longer does a supplier have to go to one vendor for beverage cooling, another for carbonation and another for filtration. A provider with a global manufacturing footprint will be well-positioned to meet customers’ needs.