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

IBC Tanks (also called Intermediate Bulk Containers) 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.

In this article, we present all you need to know about IBC Tanks; rigid, flexible and for different industries.

Table of Content:

  • Background
  • What is an IBC tank
  • Choosing the Right IBC
  • Proper Marking of Composite IBCs


What is an IBC tank?

Composite IBCs (Intermediate Bulk Containers) are specialized containers primarily used for transporting and storing liquids, high-viscosity substances, powders, and granules.

What Are Composite IBCs?

Composite IBCs fall under the category of intermediate bulk containers. They are designed to safely handle and transport various materials, adhering to specific regulations set by organizations like the United Nations.

IBC containers large storage space

Here follows a breakdown of what these containers are all about.

Key Features of Composite IBCs

Composite IBCs have a few critical characteristics that set them apart:

  • Capacity: These containers are built to hold up to 3 cubic meters (m³) of materials. They are suitable for transporting solids and liquids categorized under packaging groups II and III.
  • Structure: Composite IBCs are engineered to withstand the stresses they encounter during handling and transport. They are both rigid and flexible, providing durability and flexibility where needed.
  • Components: A typical Composite IBC comprises several key components, each serving a specific function:
  • Inner Receptacle: Made of High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE), the inner receptacle acts as a secure barrier for holding the contents. HDPE is chosen for its consistent quality and compatibility with various products.
  • Outer Packaging (Iron Cage): Surrounding the inner receptacle, an outer cage made of durable materials, such as iron, provides protection against external impacts and structural support.
  • Pallet: Attached to the outer cage, a pallet makes it easy to handle the container using mechanical equipment like forklifts or pallet jacks.
  • Filling Opening with Screw Cap: The container features a tight-sealing filling opening equipped with a screw cap to prevent leaks and contamination.
  • Outlet Valve: To safely and efficiently empty the container, an outlet valve is typically located at the bottom.

Additional Considerations

Depending on specific requirements and regulations, Composite IBCs may include additional components:

  • Protective Devices: These are added to enhance safety during transport.
  • Support Cushions: These provide extra protection for the contents.
  • Inlet or Outlet Nozzles: If permitted, extra nozzles may be added to facilitate specific filling or emptying requirements.
  • Pressure Relief Devices: Some products may require these devices to ensure safety during transport, especially when dealing with hot-filling.

Choosing the Right IBC

When it comes to Intermediate Bulk Containers (IBCs), one size does not fit all.

Selecting the appropriate IBC for your specific requirements is crucial to ensuring the safe storage and transport of liquids, powders, and other materials.


Understanding Composite IBCs

Composite IBCs consist of two essential components: an outer casing and a rigid plastics inner receptacle.

Once these components are assembled, they become a single unit, capable of safely containing, transporting, and emptying various substances. Composite IBCs, whether returnable or non-returnable, are versatile and can handle both hazardous and non-hazardous liquids up to packing group II.

Certification and UN Approval

IBCs designed for transporting dangerous goods must undergo rigorous testing and receive certification.

The UN approval certifies that the IBC design, including any specialized components, meets the necessary safety standards.

This approval is granted only to those composite IBCs that have successfully passed several design type tests as per the UN Model Regulations (Chapter 6.5.6).

Consulting Your Supplier

Selecting the right IBC type for your needs is a collaborative effort with your supplier. To make an informed decision, consider the following factors:

Weight and Type of Filling Product: The nature of the material you plan to store or transport is a critical factor. Different IBCs are suited for different types of products.

Filling, Transport, Storage, and Emptying Methods: How you plan to fill, transport, store, and empty the IBC plays a significant role in your choice. Some IBCs are better suited for specific methods.


Special Requirements: If your IBC needs to meet specific requirements, such as transporting dangerous goods, use in hazardous environments (ex-zones), or handling food products, you should communicate these needs clearly to your supplier.

Managing Electrostatic Discharge

For products with a flashpoint of 60°C/140°F or less, precautions must be taken to prevent dangerous electrostatic discharge.

Quick filling and emptying operations, stirring, and mixing can lead to electrostatic charging. In ex-zones, explosion-protected IBCs are recommended to prevent electrostatic discharge.

Compliance with Food Safety Guidelines

If you plan to transport food products, pharmaceuticals, or similar items, it's essential to comply with national and international guidelines for packaging materials that come into contact with food.

Your packaging should not introduce impurities, alter the composition of the contents, or affect their quality. Read more about this topic in our article about Food-grade containers.

Permeation Barrier Consideration

Depending on the filling product, you may need to use a composite IBC with a permeation barrier.

Permeation refers to the transfer of substances through solid materials, particularly plastics, due to concentration or pressure gradients. A permeation barrier minimizes the transfer of the filling product or specific ingredients both in and out of the IBC. This can include water vapor, oxygen, and other gases.

To determine whether a permeation barrier is necessary, consult your supplier.

Rigid and Flexible IBCs

Now that you have a better understanding of the considerations for composite IBCs, it's worth noting that there are two major categories of IBC totes: rigid and flexible.

  • Rigid IBCs come in various materials, including plastic, metal, cardboard, or a combination of plastic and metal. They are known for their sturdy construction.
  • Flexible IBCs typically have a plastic inner liner and a flexible outer shell made of durable plastic fabric for support. They are gaining popularity due to their efficiency in packing and shipping when empty.

Both types of IBCs have integrated pallet base mounts for easy maneuvering and stacking with a forklift. Additionally, some flexible IBCs, like folding IBCs, fold inwards, making them more space-efficient.

Choosing the Right Type

Flexible IBCs, particularly those with features like squeezing during discharge, are becoming more common for transporting liquids. They offer cost savings in logistics, storage space, and reduced carbon footprint, especially when empty.

Depending on the type of product you're handling, you can choose between dry goods transported in flexible jumbo bags with larger bottom openings or liquids, pastes, and semi-solids suitable for flexible IBCs that allow squeezing during discharge.

Proper Marking of Composite IBCs

When marking composite Intermediate Bulk Containers (IBCs), it's essential to follow the UN Model Regulations for both Europe and the United States to ensure safety and compliance. Here's a straightforward guide on how to mark your composite IBCs accurately, using units suitable for both regions:

Primary Marking:

  • United Nations Packaging Symbol: Display the United Nations packaging symbol on your IBC, signifying compliance with international safety standards.
  • IBC-Code: Include the IBC-Code, a unique identifier for your container, making it easily distinguishable.
  • Packaging Group Designation: Use a capital letter to designate the packaging group for which the design type of your IBC has received approval. This helps identify the types of materials your IBC is suitable for.
  • Month and Year of Manufacture: Clearly indicate the month and year when your IBC was manufactured. This information is crucial for tracking and ensuring product integrity.
  • State of Design Approval: Mention the state (for the US) or country (for Europe) in which the design type of your IBC was approved. This adds another layer of traceability and accountability.
  • Manufacturer's Name or Identification: Include the name of the manufacturer or any other identification specified by the competent authority. This identifies the source of the IBC and aids in quality control.
  • Stacking Test Load (in kg/lb): Indicate the stacking test load in kilograms (Europe) or pounds (US). This information helps determine the safe stacking capacity of your IBC.
  • Maximum Permissible Gross Mass (in kg/lb): Display the maximum permissible gross mass in kilograms (Europe) or pounds (US). This is the maximum weight your IBC can safely handle.

Additional Marking:

  • Capacity (in Litres/Gallons): Clearly state the capacity of your IBC in liters (Europe) or gallons (US). This informs users about the container's volume, aiding in proper product handling.
  • Tare Mass (in kg/lb): Mention the tare mass in kilograms (Europe) or pounds (US), which is the weight of the empty IBC. This is essential for calculating the net weight of the product inside.
  • Test Pressure (in kPa/psi): Specify the test pressure in kilopascals (Europe) or pounds per square inch (psi) (US). This measurement is related to the structural integrity of the IBC and its ability to withstand pressure.
  • Date of the Last Leakproofness Test: Include the date of the last leakproofness test. This ensures that the IBC has been tested for any potential leaks, promoting safety during transport and storage.
  • Date of Last Inspection: Display the date of the last inspection. Regular inspections are crucial for identifying any wear and tear or potential issues with the IBC.

By following these marking guidelines diligently, you ensure compliance with international and national regulations. However, please always be aware of local recommendations and applicable laws.

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. IBC tanks for the food industry 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: More info,  Buyer's Guide

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


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