All you need to know about Intermediate Bulk Containers, IBC Tanks

Keeping liquid content compact IBC containers large storage space

Intermediate Bulk Containers (IBC tanks) is a collective name for tanks in the shape of a rectangle or a cube, with the purpose to store or/and transport mainly liquids, paste, powders and granulate. An IBC tank is normally equipped with a tap or a valve at the bottom for discharging the content and at the same time keeping the rest of the content free from contamination.

IBC tanks are a cubic problem solver

The concept of the IBC tote was patented in the USA in 1992 by the inventor Olivier J. L. D'Hollander, who was at the time working for the chemical company Dow Corning. Before the invention of the IBC tank the manufacturing industry used mainly 200 litres drums to store and transport liquids and powders. With drums there were several practical problems, not least the logistic handling of their cylindrical shape. Drums were also complicated to discharge, because they were opened only from the top. The design of the IBC tank solved many of the problems associated with cylindrical intermediate containers.

Built for demanding conditions

IBC tanks come in many sizes and there is a variety of models with capacities from 200 litres up to 3 000 litres. The average IBC tote is 1,14 metre high and has a capacity of around 1 000 litres. A standard flexible intermediate bulk container can hold weights between 500 and 2 500 kg.

Foldable plastic IBC containersRigid and flexible IBCs

There are two major categories of IBC totes, rigid and flexible. Rigid IBCs are made from plastic, metal, cardboard or from a composite of plastic and metal. Flexible IBCs normally have a plastic inner liner, and an outer flexible shell made of a stronger plastic fabric for support. Both options have integrated pallet base mounts they can be easily maneuvered and stacked with a forklift. Folding IBCs is a subgroup of flexible IBCs, made of durable plastic with sides folding inwards.

Flexible IBC tanks for liquids are getting more and more common today, the advantages being that they can be packed and shipped much more efficiently when empty, so savings are obtained in logistic costs, storage space and the carbon footprint is smaller as well. Some models of flexible containers such as Fluid-Bag can be squeezed during discharge to ensure lower residue levels of liquids and semi-solids.

Flexible IBC tanks for dry and liquid goods Jumbo big bags in warehouse

Flexible IBC tanks can also be categorized according to the type of product packed. Dry goods are usually transported in flexible jumbo bags, which have a larger bottom opening for rapid discharge of powders, grains and granulates etc.

Liquids, pastes and semi-solid products can be handled in most types of IBC tanks, but if the product is high-viscous or a semi-solid, a flexible container that can be squeezed during discharge is the preferred choice.

IBC tanks for high hygienic and safety standards

Many different industries prefer IBC tanks for a variety of reasons. In the food industry IBC tanks are often used because they are hygienically reliable. IBC tanks are commonly used in wine production and for storing and transporting ingredients, food products and drinking water in general.


Fluid-Bag flexible container at Bayer HealthcareFlexible IBCs for product integrity and low wastage percentage

The petrochemical industry appreciates IBC tanks because they have high safety standards. Bulk grease users often choose flexible IBCs in order to save on logistics, grease waste and maintain lubricant integrity.

In the adhesive industry flexible IBC tanks are preferred since oxygen and moisture barriers are superior, and there is no need to open the container at any stage during discharge.

In the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries IBC tanks are often used in the internal production process for intermediate storage. Also, in this case flexible containers have an advantage since expensive lotions and ointments can be discharged very efficiently to the last drop.

Smaller carbon footprint

It was earlier mentioned that IBC tanks have advantages in logistics. The cubic or rectangular shape enables stacking of IBC totes, which gives an overall increase in shipping and packing efficiency.

There are also environmental advantages since an IBC tank can transport larger volumes of content with a much smaller carbon footprint, compared to cylindrical-shaped containers and especially to consumer packages.

Foldable and flexible IBC tanks have an even smaller carbon footprint, since they can be packed and transported much more efficiently when empty.


Industrial use of IBC tanks with pumps Fluid-Bag flexible container, Discharge Roller Raasm Pump

In an industrial context the user always use a pump to discharge the IBC tank. The content must be moved to for example a mixing station, an assembly line, a filling line for consumer packaging or similar. The IBC tanks are similar when it comes to pumping. The pump pulls the product out by suction.

There are however some differences from the barrier and cleanliness point of view. The rigid IBC tanks maintain their shape during discharge, which means that air must be let in to compensate for the content being pumped out. The flexible IBC and the foldable IBC tank will simply collapse in size when the content is pumped out, and because of that no air needs to be let in. The risk of moist or contamination getting in contact with the content is avoided.


More information

For more information about which IBC option could be suitable in your case, you can start by downloading our guide about which points to consider when choosing the right bulk container for your needs:

You can also book a meeting with our engineers to evaluate your packaging needs:


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