IBC Tanks for Storage
The Intermediate Bulk Container (IBC) is a lightweight and efficient shipping container created to optimize the shipping process. Designed to minimize costs of production, shipping, and storage, the cube-shaped IBC provides a versatile and efficient shipping method to manufacturers and clients alike. With a focus on innovative problem-solving, the IBC has revolutionized and optimized the shipping industry. The containers pack tightly and prevent leakage of various materials, solving problems created by the materials and designs of previous shipping options. While the many types of Intermediate Bulk Containers are generally used to transport material goods ranging from powders to liquids and everything in between, they also provide a highly convenient and cost-effective method of storage for the same materials they were used to ship. Keep reading to learn more about how these unique containers are especially suited to long-term storage.
History of the IBC Tank
The earliest versions of the IBC were created in response to problems commonly faced by the shipping industry. Before the IBC, shipping containers, commonly barrels, drums, and crates, served to carry materials but proved to be inefficient throughout the process. The crate, made of heavy wood, could pack tightly due to its shape but load types and amounts were limited by the weight of the container itself. The barrel, though perhaps constructed to be slightly lighter than the crate, could carry liquids but could not be packed tightly due to its round shape. The steel drum, though capable of carrying even dangerous chemicals, combined the worst traits of each, as it was heavy even when empty and created inefficiency at the packing level.
As a result, manufacturers rejoiced with the invention of plastic in the early 1900s. Plastic was moldable, lightweight, and in some cases less expensive than alternative materials. In theory, the lighter material could be used in crafting more lightweight shipping containers, though in practice, that reality was years off. Despite the potential of the plastic as well as the modifications made possible by its flexibility, the plastics of that time were limited and could not at that time fully replace the older shipping materials used in manufacturing.
This changed again in the 1940s. Shipping companies began to use bags made of PVC plastic, which was somewhat more durable and flexible than previous plastics and served as an effective transport option for the chemicals used in the plastic industry. With the 1960s came the invention of polyethylene and more advanced weaving techniques. Manufacturers took advantage of the advancements in technology, producing a shipping bag that closely resembled the FIBC models of today. While the bags became popular in the 1960s, they truly took off in the 1970s, playing a central role in the concrete and oil industries as producers shipped tons of concrete for construction across Europe and into the Middle East.
Since then, the Flexible IBC has remained largely the same, opting for only a few modifications in design and material in the following years. The solid IBC, on the other hand, was not seen in its current form until the early 1990s. The modern IBC was based on a similar patent by Dwight E. Nicols in 1990 for a plastic bottle in a wire cage and was patented by Olivier J. L. D’Hollander in 1992. In the nearly 30 years that have passed since the creation of the modern IBC, companies producing IBCs have designed creative solutions to respond to all manner of shipping needs.
The modern IBC is a highly optimized shipping container which varies greatly from model to model. Despite the variations in design and purpose, the IBC bears some standardized traits, such as size, capacity, and contributing pieces. The title “intermediate” comes from the volume capacity of the container, as it must fall between 400 litres (the capacity of a standard drum) and 3000 litres (the capacity of an intermodal tank container), though most fall between 750 and 1250 litres in volume. Further, the IBC gains its efficiency from its largely standardized size. Most IBCs measure 114.3 cm by 114.3 cm and vary in height, which allows them to occupy the same space as a standard pallet while shipping more goods than the pallet system could. Finally, the IBC is generally cubic in shape, equipped with a spout for easy pouring, and portable by means of pallet jack and lift. These characteristics allow it to be stacked tightly, emptied cleanly, and lifted or moved with ease.
Beyond these generally required traits, the IBC can take a variety of appearances. Some consist of bottles in a steel cage, some look like fabric sacks filled out to make a cube, and some even have a steel or high-density plastic lining to allow them to be used in food-grade or Kosher shipping. While the name IBC is general, it describes a series of containers that are each as unique as the purposes that they serve in shipping. Despite the extreme variation in appearances, IBC containers fall into two larger categories, each intended to solve a unique set of problems in the shipping industry and specialized for storing certain types of products.
RIBC Traits and Purpose
The standard Rigid IBC or RIBC consists of a plastic bottle liner supported by a metal wire cage or a pallet piece. This specialized container is often used in the shipping and storage of liquid and semi-liquid goods, such as syrups, alcohols, and liquid chemicals. The combination of the bottle and cage results in a container that is lightweight, strong, and reusable. The stability of the wire cage ensures that the containers can be stacked, even when full of heavy liquids. Offering a variety of price points, the RIBC is available for purchase as a new unit, partially new, which possesses a washed bottle and cage, or semi-replaced, where the cage is the same but the original bottle has been replaced with a new one. This allows various clients to take part in an RIBC recycling system depending on the needs of production, further lowering the price of the container. Highly durable and stable, the RIBC is an excellent choice when it comes to shipping and storing liquid goods.
Materials Used for an RIBC
A standard RIBC is made of polyethylene plastic and metal. Polyethylene, the plastic used in milk jugs, is a sturdy, long-strand plastic that resists damage and puncture. Containers are often specialized by incorporating high-density polyethylene or metal linings as needed. Further customizations are available in the metal pieces, including the use of a variety of metals and alloys for the cage itself. Some RIBCs use carbon steel, a lighter combination of carbon and steel, to reinforce the bottle. Others use stainless steel for the cage, which prevents rusting and damage to the containers and the contents. Some RIBCs even offer a metal bottle for particularly dangerous fluids and chemicals.
General Usage of an RIBC
The RIBC is particularly useful in the transport and storage of liquids. Designed to minimize sloshing in transport, the RIBC can carry and store even the most volatile of liquids. The value of the RIBC extends beyond that of just shipping, as the sturdy cube stacks and holds firm even under great weights, serving as an efficient storage tank in addition to a shipping container. The RIBC serves its purpose long after the shipping process has ended, keeping goods contained, airtight, and neatly and efficiently stacked. RIBCs have proven useful in food companies to store syrups and wine, in the chemical industry to store substances not immediately in use, and even in disaster relief situations to hold clean drinking water for volunteers.
FIBC Traits and Purpose
The FIBC or Flexible IBC handles the shipping needs not solved by the RIBC while ensuring that packing materials are lightweight and take up the least possible space. Made of tough, woven polyethylene, the FIBC flexes to best fit the material packed within, ensuring that no space is wasted when the bags are packed closely together. The FIBC has loops on the top for easy carrying by pallet jack or forklift as well as a spout mechanism on the bottom to make emptying simple while minimizing potential spills. With its flexible sides, the FIBC is particularly suited for shipping solids that flow, such as powders, granulated substances, and grains.
Materials Used for an FIBC
The primary material of the FIBC is generally woven polyethylene fabric, but the additional components can vary greatly in composition. Some FIBCs use wood, aluminum, or plastic to add greater rigidity to the bag and increase the weight that it can support. These reinforcing materials expand the potential capacity of the bag without sacrificing the light-weight nature of the container. Other bag options incorporate materials used for grounding electricity into the weave of the fabric, preventing the buildup of static which can start fires. Even when a bag has been reinforced with non-fabric materials, the design of the bag itself ensures that it can still fold flat once emptied, saving space and shipping costs for the producer and customer.
Usage of an FIBC
The FIBC is most famous for its utility in shipping, but also makes itself useful in the storage arena. Farmers use FIBCs to ship and store grain, manufacturing companies rely on FIBCs for carrying pharmaceuticals, and chemical companies ship and store dry chemicals in the specialized bags. The specialized design of the bags makes them ideal for storage, as goods can be packed extremely closely and empty bags do not take up much space once folded. Further, the bags account for the risk of long-term storage of potentially flammable materials by ensuring that static electricity cannot start a warehouse fire.
Why Choose the IBC for Storage?
The same traits that make the IBC an excellent shipping choice also recommend it as a long-term storage option. The containers lack their own structure, relying on the contents to fill them out into the standard cubic shape. This allows them to be packed as tightly as possible, whether in a truck or a warehouse. The RIBCs prevent liquid from sloshing whether the container is on the road or at rest, and the tight weave of the FIBC protects goods both short-term and long-term. The sturdy build of the containers helps them to withstand the potential damage sustained both in travel and at rest.
Further, the IBC is particularly useful for storage because of its intentional design and materials. RIBCs are designed to seal tightly, preserving the contents inside, while FIBCs can be folded as soon as they’ve been emptied, allowing for a consistent 100% capacity storage solution. Both types possess spouts that allow for gradual dispensing of contents if the complete load is not needed at once. Finally, the lightweight design of each container ensures that it can be easily lifted and rearranged by pallet jack and lift, an ideal trait that allows for easy access to any product in the warehouse.
Overall Benefits of the IBC Storage Option
While initially intended to solve problems generated in the shipping industry, the IBC has gone on to exceed expectations by proving itself a viable storage option. Ideal for containing liquids as well as powders for long or short term, the IBC is efficient both on the road and in the warehouse. The innovation required to solve shipping problems created a container that is mobile, efficient, versatile, and fully equipped for every type of use in the shipping and storage industry.
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