Your ice machine bin control plays a very important role in determining how much ice your bin can hold. Most importantly, it ensures that your ice machine bin doesn’t overfill with ice and create a freeze up, which can cause costly damages.  

In this post, we will cover the different types of bin control sensors, and then dive into the potential problems each can face. 

What Does the Ice Machine Bin Control Do? 

An ice machine has two cycles, the freeze cycle (when it forms ice) and the harvest cycle (when ice drops into the ice storage bin). These two cycles continue over 24 hours in regular intervals. As these cycles run throughout the day, your ice maker continues to fill your ice bin with a steady flow of ice. The number of intervals and amount of ice produced depends on the make and model of your ice machine and the surrounding air temperature 

The ice machine bin control works like an automatic off switch, measuring how full your commercial ice bin is and signaling to your ice maker when it’s time to stop producing ice. Without this mechanism, your ice maker would continue to deposit ice, eventually filling the bin beyond its capacity, which can cause damage to the ice machine. Instead, when the level of ice in your ice bin reaches the bin control, ice production stops until someone levels the ice in the bin or the ice melts. Once ice moves away from the bin control, the harvest and freeze cycles begin again.  

There are two types of bin controls typically found in commercial ice machines: Mechanical and Thermostatic.  

Mechanical Bin Controls 

Mechanical bin controls work on a simple premise. A small paddle hangs off the bottom of the ice maker inside the ice storage bin. As ice drops into the bin, it piles up. When the ice reaches high enough, it physically depresses the bin control which shuts the ice maker off. 

The ice machine will stay off until ice stops depressing the bin control. When ice is removed from the bin, or when it melts, contact with the mechanical bin control sensor is interrupted – and the ice machine is turned back on. The ice maker will then begin to cycle through harvest and freeze cycles, resuming ice production until it reaches the bin control. 

Thermostatic Bin Controls 

Thermostatic bin control sensors tend to be in larger ice machines and use a more complicated process to measure ice levels. 

A thermostatic bin control sensor uses a thermostatic bulb hanging from the ice maker to determine the ice level in the bin. The bulb contains temperature-sensitive fluid that expands when the temperature drops. When the ice piles high enough in the bin, the thermostatic bin control sensor measures the temperature drop. When the temperature drops below 32 degrees, the ice maker is automatically turned off.  

As the ice melts or is scooped out, the ice level drops away from the thermostatic bulb. When the bin control sensor measures the rise in temperature, it signals to the ice maker to start the freeze and harvest cycles again. 

What Problems Can Occur with a Bin Control? 

Both types of ice maker bin control sensors are equally effective at managing ice capacity, but improper installation can cause serious problems with either device.   

Installing a mechanical bin control at the wrong angle can prop the paddle open, rendering the sensor useless. In this state, ice makers continue to make ice until it builds up in the drop zone and up to the evaporator plates. If ice continues to build upon itself, it will damage your evaporator plate, requiring a costly replacement. A broken evaporator plate can end up costing thousands of dollars to replace.  

Thermostatic bin control sensors can face problems when you install your ice machine in an area that’s too cold. An environment under 50 degrees Fahrenheit can cause thermostatic bulbs to register a false reading that the bin is full. If this happens, the ice maker will stop producing ice, even when the bin is empty.  

Dirt, mold, or scale can reduce the effectiveness of any ice maker bin control. Regardless whether you choose a mechanical or thermostatic bin control sensor, it’s imperative you have them routinely serviced and cleaned at least twice a year to continue working efficiently.   

An Easy Ice subscription includes scheduled biannual cleanings, preventive maintenance, plus all ice machine repairs and service. Routine service is the only way to keep ice machine components working, which prolongs the overall lifespan of your ice maker.