IBC Tanks in the Chemical Industry
Since the earliest days of the shipping industry, manufacturers have searched for ways to optimize the shipping process. Early containers created more problems than they solved and limited the types of materials that could be shipped and stored while using them. With the introduction and eventual patent of the intermittent bulk container in the 1990s, manufacturers were able to ship a variety of goods in light, sturdy, and cost-effective containers. The Intermittent Bulk Container has positively affected a vast number of industries, including the food, adhesive, and chemical industries. Keep reading to learn more about this unique shipping option, how it came to be, and how it continues to be an ideal solution to problems faced by the chemical industry.
Early History of the IBC
Though the IBC is a relatively new option on the shipping container scene, variations of the IBC have served manufacturers for much longer. The first official IBC was patented in 1992, but similar models were seen as early as the 1940s. The original and heavy FIBC bag, made of PVC plastic, was used to transport materials that were also used in the manufacture of plastic itself. By the 1960s, the invention of polyethylene plastic and the improvement of weaving techniques radically changed the IBC forerunner, resulting in a much sturdier, more durable, and lightweight shipping bag which some companies relied upon with great success.
Though the shipping bags had come close to their current form by the 1960s, they truly took off in the 1970s in response to the booming oil industry in the Middle East. Cement companies relied on the tough yet lightweight bags to ship massive amounts of cement powder in order to satisfy the growing needs of construction. In the following half-century, IBCs have continued to evolve in response to industry needs, resulting in versatile shipping containers that are essential to transporting and storing powders, liquids, and everything in between.
Traits of the Modern IBC
The appearance and purpose of the IBC has changed greatly since the first official model hit the markets after 1992, though some of the traits used to distinguish the containers have become standardized in the IBC world. To earn the title of “Intermediate,” the tank must have a volume that is greater than 400 litres (the volume of a standard shipping drum) and less than 3000 litres (the volume of the intermodal tank container). Further, while some variation exists in size, most IBCs measure around 114 cm by 114 cm with a variable height. This size optimization, combined with the container’s stackability, ensures that the containers will pack more efficiently than a standard pallet shipment would in the same space. Finally, each IBC has a spout near the bottom, loops or a pallet piece for easy lifting by pallet jack or forklift, and holds the general shape of a cube. These traits ensure that each container can be emptied cleanly, moved quickly, and packed tightly in the shipping process.
Beyond these traits, IBCs can be found in nearly any shape and size depending on the intended purpose of the tank. Some containers boast customized linings to make them food-safe and even Kosher. Others utilize combinations of materials or even specially crafted metal alloys and compounds to guarantee that the container is exceedingly light while maintaining durability, and still others weave specific materials into their fabrics to prevent the dangerous buildup of static electricity. Though the appearance of an IBC container is often as specialized as the problem it solves, IBCs can be easily divided into two separate groups, each uniquely designed and intended for a certain type of transport in the shipping industry.
Introduction to the Rigid IBC (RIBC)
Perhaps the most familiar type of IBC, the RIBC or rigid IBC, is a shipping container composed of a plastic bottle, a metal cage, and a spout for easy emptying of materials. The sturdy plastic liner keeps goods safe while shipping and the metal cage makes the container sturdy enough to be stacked. The RIBC generally carries liquids and is optimized to prevent the contents from sloshing while in transport. The cost of the RIBC is generally low, as clients have the option to purchase new containers, units with washed bottles, or containers with an old cage and a replaced bottle. The versatile containers find homes in a number of industries ranging from disaster relief and food transport to the chemical and adhesive industries.
Materials of the RIBC
Most RIBCs are made up of two distinct components: a bottle or liner for containing the liquids being transferred, shipped or stored, and a stabilizing piece, usually in the form of a wire cage or base pallet piece. The two components are often made of plastic and steel, though different containers vary the materials to best fit the intended purpose. Some RIBCs favor a metal bottle to protect the hazardous fluids inside and the people transporting them, while others opt for a cage made from a combination of carbon and steel to balance strength and lightness. To prevent damage to the unit and its contents from rust, some companies offer to replace the wire cage with one made of stainless steel. The basic design of the bottle and cage generally doesn’t vary, but companies are often willing to customize the RIBC to ensure that the customer gets a unit that is perfect for the intended job.
Chemical-Specific Uses of the RIBC
While many RIBCs are used to carry safe materials, some are designed to ship and store dangerous chemicals, such as those which could be flammable or explosive. Because there is a greater risk for a warehouse fire when large amounts of flammable liquids are stored together, specialized containers are used to prevent the risk of fire and explosion. Some companies even use RIBCs to store pharmaceutical materials, while others use the versatile containers to mix correct ratios of the components needed for the medicines. RIBCs have become extremely popular for their role in the safe transport and storage of everything from adhesives to dyes and even hazardous and toxic chemicals.
Introduction to the Flexible IBC (FIBC)
The Flexible Intermittent Bulk Container or FIBC is a shipping bag that takes a cubic shape when packed full. Much like its rigid cousin, the FIBC is ideal because of its shape, weight, and storage capabilities. Made from lightweight woven plastic, the container itself weighs very little and folds flat when not in use. An FIBC designed to hold up to a ton of loose material weighs under 5 kg. Unlike the RIBC, the FIBC is designed from a softer, more flexible material, and the cubic shape is sustained by the dense packing of the material within. It is designed to be easily portable, equipped with loops on the top for lifting by a pallet jack or forklift, and durable enough to withstand stacking after being filled. The FIBC is ideal for shipping and storing dry materials that flow, such as powders, granulated substances, seeds, and grains, though it has also been used as a highly effective barrier against extreme flooding.
Materials of the FIBC
To maximize flexibility, the FIBC is not made of a combination of sturdy plastic and metal, but rather of a woven polyethylene or polypropylene fabric. This ensures both the durability and lightweight nature of the container while giving it strength and structure. Certain varieties of FIBC incorporate materials that further specialize the bags, making some ideal for transporting hazardous materials and others for shipping substances that accumulate static. The FIBC is sometimes reinforced with aluminum, wood, or plastic, which all add durability without compromising the container’s lightness. While these bags boast increased strength and durability, they are still capable of folding flat when empty. With several loops on the top for easy lifting and a spout on the bottom for mess-free emptying, the FIBC is ideal for a variety of shipping and storage purposes.
While the RIBC tank is probably more famous for carrying chemicals, the FIBC has been known to share this role. From transporting chemicals used in plastic manufacturing to powdered forms of dyes and medicines, the FIBC has proven itself a worthy storage and shipping option in the chemical world. A tight weave and sturdy materials prevent the bags from being punctured or from general leakage, an essential trait when the contents could be dangerous to those carrying the container. Due to the introduction of other materials into the fabric, certain variations of the FIBC can be a safe choice even for long-term storage of hazardous chemicals, minerals, and powders.
Why IBCs are the Best Solution
IBCs have earned the high praise they’ve received in the world of shipping and are acknowledged as some of the best choices when it comes to manufacturing and shipping for several reasons. Their unique sizing and cubic shape make them far more efficient than other shipping options, such as steel drums and barrels, which cannot be packed tightly. They are designed with both shipping and long-term storage in mind and equipped with a spout that allows for gradual emptying. This is especially convenient in the world of chemicals, where substances are often used gradually. When a chemical is not used or needed in large amounts immediately upon arrival, a container that allows for controlled and gradual release/use is highly valuable.
IBC containers are also designed with potentially dangerous chemicals in mind. The spout ensures that chemicals will not spill during the pouring process while minimizing potential waste. Each RIBC bottle and liner can be customized with various types of metal and plastic to prevent chemicals from damaging the bottle and escaping. FIBCs also utilize customization by means of specialized materials, implementing substances that can prevent the dangerous accumulation of static electricity in dry chemicals. The design of each container ensures the safety not only of the contents but also of the person carrying the load.
Finally, each IBC container is designed to lower costs at every step of the production process. Materials are selected with both economic and environmental costs in mind, and some companies offer programs that allow for proper recycling of containers. Clients who do not want to use washed or recycled containers have further options, such as just replacing the bottle, which saves material waste on a grand scale. The containers themselves allow for load and storage optimization, lowering costs in both the shipping and storage phases.
Overall Value of the IBC in the Chemical Industry
The IBC has been acknowledged as an ideal solution to the problems of the shipping world since its invention and patenting in 1992. With designs under constant innovation, the IBC promises optimized prices and storage for substances of all kinds, including hazardous materials. Clients who choose to use the IBC container can be sure that they are paying the lowest prices for the best shipping options currently on the market. With each passing year, companies work to ensure that the field of IBCs remains innovative and continues to pursue solutions to common problems faced daily in the shipping industry.
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