How Does an Ice Maker Work?

Reading Time: 5 minutes Ice Machines 101

how does an ice maker work

Commercial ice machines have advanced since John Gorrie first created them in 1845. Like the Manitowoc NXT series, many of the newer models include digital technology to help customers keep their machine in the best condition. While these advancements are helpful, they are not central to how ice makers work. Despite the advancements in ice machine functions, the ice-making process has remained relatively unchanged since it was first designed.

Easy Ice has managed over 20,000 ice machines and counting. We understand how ice makers work – and how to keep them running well. Here is a high-level explanation of how an ice maker works.

The Components to Ice Making

Modern refrigeration systems consist of four major components, the compressor, the condenser, the expansion valve, and the evaporator. Refrigerant circulates through each of these ice machine components, changing temperature throughout the process.

If any of these components fail, your machine will not perform to specifications. In many instances, industrial ice makers won’t produce enough ice to meet customer demands. In some cases, the ice machine will even stop making ice all together. For this reason, caring for these components through routine maintenance and cleaning is a top priority.

At Easy Ice, our ice machines receive at least two preventive maintenance and cleaning visits per year to ensure these vital components stay in the best working order.

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The Role of Ice Machine Refrigerant

Refrigerant is vital to the function of an ice machine. Modern refrigeration systems use some form of refrigerant to get water cold enough to freeze.

Throughout the refrigerant’s journey, it heats and cools. During the heating and cooling cycles, the refrigerant changes physical states, from liquid, to a vapor and back to a liquid again.

By the time the refrigerant reaches the evaporator, it should be in the form of a low-pressure, low-temperature liquid. At this stage, the heat in the water migrates towards the cold refrigerant, lowering the temperature of the water to the freezing point.

The Ice Machine Compressor

The compressor is where an ice machine works to heat and pressurize refrigerant. This is a crucial step in preparing the refrigerant for rapid expansion later.

Once in this state, the vapor needs to convert to a high-pressure liquid before it passes through the expansion valve.

The Ice Machine Condenser

The ice machine condenser cools refrigerant to change its state from a vapor to a liquid.

An ice machine condenser is a series of metal tubes within the ice machine. As the refrigerant passes through the metal coils, heat migrates away from the refrigerant, effectively cooling it.

The ice machine completes the cooling process by forcing air (air-cooled ice machines) or running water (water-cooled iced machines) over the hot coils. The heat migrates into the air or water, where it is ejected out of the machine. Eventually, the temperature of the refrigerant lowers enough to change it from a high-pressure vapor to a high-pressure liquid.

The Expansion Valve

The thermostatic expansion valve (or TXV) releases the pressure in the refrigerant through rapid expansion.

Ice machines work to produce a batch of ice through a process known as adiabatic cooling. When a highly pressurized substance expands, the change in pressure causes the substance to cool quickly. It’s the same reason why the pressurized air you use to clean your keyboard becomes cold when you hold down the trigger. As the air exits, it releases the pressure in the can, causing the liquid in the can to cool.

In the ice making process, the rapid expansion turns the refrigerant from a high temperature, high-pressure liquid to low pressure, low-temperature liquid.

The Ice Machine Evaporator

The evaporator is where water freezes to produce an ice cube. Once the low-pressure liquid makes its way to the evaporator, heat from the water migrates through the evaporator plate and into the refrigerant.

As water flows over the evaporator, it begins to cool to the point of freezing. Over time, the water freezes into the shape of an ice cube.

Once the full cube is frozen, the ice machine starts a harvest cycle to gather the ice for use. The ice machine uses either hot gas or room temperature water to warm the evaporator, causing ice to melt and release into the commercial ice bin.

An Ice Maker Works Only as Well as Its Components

Now that you know how an ice maker works, you can see how involved the refrigeration process really is. This process continues until your ice bin is full, so you have plenty of ice for your customers and employees.

If any of these vital ice machine components fail, your ice machine will struggle to make ice. This is why ice machine maintenance procedures are so essential to producing a reliable ice supply.

At Easy Ice, we’ve managed and maintained over 20,000 ice machines. We designed our all-inclusive ice machine subscription program to ensure commercial ice machines stay in peak condition year-round. Preventive maintenance and cleaning are vital to keeping ice machines in working order.

Are you looking for a no-hassle alternative to owning an ice machine? Our ice machine subscriptions come with the best commercial ice machines from Hoshizaki and Manitowoc. Our team of experienced ice machine technicians will keep your equipment in top shape by providing maintenance and cleaning on your machine twice a year. It’s all included in a low, monthly cost. Contact us for a quote today!

Our team is available to help you get started today!
866-easyice(327-9423)

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