The GE Opal Nugget ice makers are fascinating machines that consistently create small nugget ice cubes that are perfect for drinks or chewing on. The machine only takes about 15 minutes to make its first ice cubes vs hours for a regular ice machine in your freezer.
So how exactly does the Opal Nugget Ice Maker work? It's actually a really fascinating and clever design.
The Opal Nugget ice maker makes ice by pumping water into a freezing cold metal cylinder. Ice forms on the walls of the cylinder where a spinning auger scrapes the ice off and pushes it upwards where it is compressed and pushed through small holes where a metal cone breaks the ice creating the nugget ice cubes we know and love.
Understanding how your Opal Nugget Ice Maker works gives you a greater appreciation for the device and also explains why it's so big, so expensive and can even give you insights into how to fix it if something goes wrong.
In this article we'll go in-depth into exactly how this machine makes ice so you can understand it fully.
How The Opal Nugget Ice Maker Works
The GE Opal Nugget Ice Maker is a masterful device and it's actually incredible to see how quickly it begins making ice and how a constant stream of little ice cubes come out of it.
It works very differently to a traditional ice maker in your freezer or even commercial ice makers that make larger ice cubes. It doesn't pour water into a mold where it slowly freezes and then releases the ice into the basket.
If you're like me and love understanding exactly how things work let's take a deep dive into the Opal Nugget Ice Maker and exactly how it makes ice.
It Starts With An Extremely Cold Metal Cylinder
At the heart of the Opal Nugget ice making is a metal cylinder that is filled up with water.
Pipes containing refrigerant are wrapped around the outside of the metal cylinder making the walls of the cylinder extremely cold.
Water is pumped into the bottom of the cylinder where it comes in contact with the walls and freezes extremely quickly, forming a layer of ice.
In the below video you can see a commercial nugget ice machine (similar to the Opal but bigger) and the guy shows you the metal cylinder that creates the ice.
Ice Is Pushed Up Using An Auger
Inside the metal cylinder is an auger. This is a spinning spiral device very similar shape to that of a drill.
Ice forms on the walls of the cylinder as we discussed and then as the auger spins it scrapes the ice off the walls of the cylinder and funnels it upwards towards the outlet.
Initially ice comes of in a flake like consistency similar to snow however the process of funneling the ice up the auger and out through the top compresses the ice together to form ice blocks.
You can see an ice machine auger in action in the video below. It's not specifically the Opal but rather a commercial machine, however it'll give you a good idea of how it works:
Small Holes Form The Shape Of The Nugget Ice
At the top of the cylinder the auger pushes the ice out and there are holes in the metal the exact diameter of the nugget ice.
The ice is then forced upwards through these holes making multiple long nuggets of ice which you can see in the video below.
An Upside Down Cone Breaks The Ice Into Chunks
The Opal Nugget Ice Maker doesn't appear to have any blades that cut the ice into the correct size.
Rather the ice is pushed out through the nugget sized holes when it meets and upside down cone shaped piece of metal.
As more ice is pushed up from the bottom the ice higher up hits the cone and is forced outwards because the cone is in the way.
This then causes the ice to break and individual nuggets of ice to form.
Above you can see a video where someone has opened up their Opal Nugget Ice Maker and you can see it making and breaking ice. The ice is pushed up from the auger through the holes and then broken by the upside down cone until it falls down the chute.
Ice Is Pushed Down The Chute
As the nugget ice breaks off gravity (and the new ice being created) pushes the nugget ice cubes down a chute and into the ice bin where the ice is stored.
Once in the tray, it should remain individual nuggets.
Nugget ice cubes are ideal for food coloring and flavorings. This is why they have become so popular when making slushies. Nugget ice is also popular amongst older people. Because it’s smaller it’s easier to chew and won’t place as much pressure on your teeth.