Market Analysis of the Intermediate Bulk Container
The Intermediate Bulk Container is an efficient, multi-use, versatile, and inexpensive shipping container. Invented to solve the problems of weight and inefficiency of previous shipping containers, the Intermediate Bulk Container is lightweight and holds the shape of a cube, allowing it to be packed tightly in transfer. Current models can be customized as needed for the products being shipped, including variation in the lining material, reinforcing materials, or the metals used in the wire cage. Because of the variability of the containers’ designs and purposes, they can be obtained at a variety of price points. These traits have made the Intermediate Bulk Container a widely popular shipping container in a number of manufacturing industries.
Introduction to the IBC
Before the modern IBC, shipping options were costly and inefficient. Some of the most common, including the crate, barrel, and drum, were made of heavy materials that limited the potential weight of each load, and the rounded design of the barrels and drums prevented them from being packed tightly. These problems spurred innovations that would result in the modern IBC.
The first product which resembled the modern IBC was patented in 1990 by Dwight E. Nicols. The patent described a plastic bottle contained in a wireframe that could collapse and fold. The true modern IBC was patented just two years later in 1992 by Olivier J. L. D’Hollander. With its cubic shape, lightweight, and durability, the modern IBC allowed for the efficient and inexpensive shipping of everything from powders to pastes and liquids.
To earn the title of Intermediate Bulk Container, the container must fit a set of characteristics. First, it must fit within a certain range of capacity, no less than 400 litres and no more than 3000 litres. This places the “intermediate” container between the sizes of a shipping drum and an intermodal tank container. Second, all IBCs are cubic in shape, which achieves peak efficiency in shipping and allows the containers to pack more materials than the pallet system could in the same space. Finally, the standard IBC is equipped with a spout near the bottom to allow for easy pouring.
In the years since 1992, companies have made a multitude of changes to the original design, allowing for the shipment of a variety of materials. From crafting liners from tougher plastics for food shipments to opting for a metal bottle for the transfer of hazardous chemicals, these innovations have resulted in a battery of shipping containers as varied as the purposes they serve. Despite this, all IBCs can be grouped into two larger categories: Rigid IBCs and Flexible IBCs.
Overview of the Rigid Intermediate Bulk Container (RIBC)
First patented in the 1990s, the RIBC is the sturdiest IBC. Optimized for the shipments of liquids, syrups, and pastes, the RIBC is made of a plastic bottle and wire cage which lends stability. While all RIBCs ship liquids, variations in the component materials change to meet the needs of different products. Some containers boast extra dense plastic options for food-safe shipping while others provide a steel lining of the bottle for chemicals. Most variations lie with the bottle itself, but some choose to modify and lighten the metals in the wireframe. Regardless of the changes in design, the RIBC is a shipping container that fills roles in many markets and industries.
Standard Markets of the RIBC
The RIBC is used widely in nearly every industry involved in shipping goods, but it plays a particularly central role in a few. The industries that most commonly use RIBCs are listed alphabetically below.
- Chemical— The RIBC is ideal for chemical transport due to the options in materials that allow chemical producers to select the RIBC that will most safely transport their chemicals. Regardless of the volatility of the liquid, there is a material to contain it.
- Disaster Relief— The RIBC has become highly popular as a receptacle for drinking water in disaster relief. Clean water is protected from potential contaminants by the tight seal, and water can be dispensed gradually through the spout located at the bottom.
- Food— The RIBC helps keep liquids in and contaminants out, two ideal traits for storage and shipping in the food industry. These hardy containers have made their way into maple syrup farms, molasses companies, and breweries and wineries Some companies even provide the option to purchase products by the IBC tank.
- Pharmaceutical— The ability of the RIBC to resist damage, minimize product waste, and prevent contamination makes it ideal for the production and shipping of ingredients in medicine. Though the products can be expensive, cost-efficient containers help keep prices down for manufacturers and clients alike.
- Storage—Every industry which ships with the RIBC also uses it for storage. The design of the RIBC makes it highly mobile by pallet jack and forklift, perfect for stacking in a warehouse. The seal and spout of the containers make products accessible.
Prices of the RIBC
The variation in design and materials of the RIBC results in a wide price range. Despite this, most models can be purchased in an array of conditions, allowing clients to choose a price point that best fits the product being shipped. The prices for the various conditions of the standard model, the 1000 litres with a plastic bottle and steel cage, will vary depending on different factors.
- New—A fresh 1000 litres RIBC can be purchased. Because neither bottle nor tank has been previously used, this is the most expensive version of a standard model. A new RIBC can be used for any product with no fear of contaminating goods.
- Rebottled—This RIBC is a step below the new model. The bottle of this container has been completely replaced, making it ideal for customers looking to prevent contamination but without the higher cost of replacement.
- Washed—This is the least expensive tier of RIBC, as the cage and bottle have been washed but cannot be considered truly sterile. Some industries may avoid this kind despite its low price, but others appreciate the lower costs of shipping when the product itself doesn’t need to be perfectly sterile.
Though the prices of the standard containers vary a great deal, the range is even greater if one accounts for containers that have been customized. Despite this, even the most specialized containers can be found in a range of conditions like the tanks listed above, so potential clients can be sure to find a Rigid Intermediate Bulk Container that best suits both their product and their price point.
Overview of the Flexible Intermediate Bulk Container (FIBC)
Unlike the RIBC, the Flexible Intermediate Bulk Container is soft-sided, allowing the container to flex as needed and making it ideal for shipping solids that flow, such as powders, granulated substances, and seeds. Made of tough polypropylene fabric, the FIBC folds flat when not in use, saving even more space in shipping. The FIBC has roots in the 1940s when materials used to manufacture plastic were shipped in PVC plastic sacks. The bags became much sturdier in the 1960s when polypropylene plastic was invented and manufacturers innovated the weaving process. The bags became more common in the 1970s, shipping concrete used for construction in the Middle East. Since then, the bags have gradually evolved to better fit specific niches in a number of industries.
Standard Markets of the FIBC
The RIBC and the FIBC share many of the same markets, though the products that they ship for each are vastly different. Despite this, industries that rely on the RIBC also select the FIBC because it is efficient, optimizes costs, and is sturdy and lightweight. Listed alphabetically below are a few of the industries which rely on the FIBC.
- Chemical— The FIBC is ideal for shipping solids that flow, making it a strong candidate for shipping powdered chemicals. Some models prevent the spread of dust, while others incorporate materials to keep down static. Both traits make the FIBC perfect for transmitting chemicals which could prove dangerous in transit.
- Disaster Relief—Much like the RIBC, the FIBC has earned a role in times of natural disaster. Filled with sand, the bags pack tightly to hold back floodwaters. The size and shape also make the RIBC sturdier, more watertight, and more efficient than standard sandbags.
- Food—Farmers and food producers rely heavily on the RIBC after harvest when goods must be shipped and stored. The duffel top bags with bottom spouts minimize the amount of goods lost both while loading and while emptying the bags. The bags also help keep costs down, as they can be reused for future shipments of grains and seeds.
- Pharmaceutical—IBCs serve pharmaceutical companies by shipping and storing both liquid and dry goods. FIBCs serve as storage units for medicines in the packaging process and have even been used as mixing containers to combine various ingredients of the medicines.
- Storage— The tight weave of the fabric makes these excellent storage options for dry goods. The bags are resistant to puncture and their design makes them easy to fill, empty, and store in warehouses. Additionally, their capability to fold flat ensures that any storage location can consistently achieve max capacity if needed.
Price of the FIBC
Like the RIBC, the FIBC is available in many styles, sizes, and materials. For consistency, these prices regard the 90 cm by 90 cm bag, which is available with differing heights from different companies. Below are a few of the standard bag design options.
- Open top—As its name indicates, this bag does not have a closing top. While this can keep the price low, the lack of a closing mechanism on top and a bottom spout limits the potential uses of this style of bag. This bag is best suited for larger goods, such as construction debris or firewood.
- Duffle top—This bag boasts a drawstring top to ensure that the products are kept safe, dry, and inside of the container. The price increases slightly to account for the specialized top. The lack of a bottom spout still limits the potential products, so this type tends to be best for products that will be emptied immediately after arrival.
- Duffle top, spout bottom—Slightly more specialized than its cheaper neighbors, this bag costs a bit more than the duffle top. The duffle top and spout on the bottom mean that this bag is highly versatile and can ship most dry goods.
- Duffle top, spout bottom, lined—This high-tech bag boasts a lining which helps keep finely-ground materials from escaping. The design benefits make this a more costly option, but the lining can be customized with the purpose of the bag in mind, making this the most versatile option of the bunch.
With an array of options in design, material, and size, the FIBC is just as versatile as its rigid cousin. Presenting both higher and lower-cost solutions, the FIBC is a highly efficient and optimized shipping option, saving clients both space and money throughout the shipping process.
The Value of the IBC in Shipping
Because of its versatility in material and price point, the IBC has been solving problems in the shipping industry since 1940. Optimized for storage and filling roles in the chemical, food, and pharmaceutical industries, it is clear that this unique container will continue to evolve to address and solve the problems of the manufacturing industry for decades to come.
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