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What Is an Intermediate Bulk Container?

By Paul Scott
Updated May 17, 2024
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An intermediate bulk container (IBC) is purpose built tank or container used to store or transport bulk fluid and dry materials. IBC containers are usually made of plastic, steel, or stainless steel and feature cages or bases designed for easy use with material handling vehicles such as fork lifts. Many intermediate bulk container designs allow the container to be collapsed and folded for compact storage. These containers are commonly used to store a range of materials, including loose components, powdered goods, and liquid soap, as well as food stuffs and hazardous fluids or solids. The advantages of using IBC containers include low transit costs, efficient space utilization during transit or storage, and good compatibility with a range of filling and discharge systems.

Intermediate bulk containers effectively bridge the gap between large bulk transit containers and unitized consumer packaging. With average dimensions and weights ranging between 27.6 and 52 inches (appx. 70 cm and 1.3 meters) and 198 and 2,646 lbs (90 and 1,200 kg), IBC containers present an attractive alternative to shipping containers for the transport and storage of bulk dry and wet goods. They are usually mounted on base units or placed within steel frame cages, which are sized to make them easy to move with standard material handling equipment such as pallet jacks and fork lifts. The containers themselves are usually made of various grades of plastic, composites, steel, and stainless steel. Many types of intermediate bulk container are also collapsible, allowing them to be folded up for easy storage.

The intermediate bulk container is used to store and transport a broad range of dry and fluid materials, including hazardous or dangerous goods where approved container types are used. Common intermediate bulk container-stored goods include chemicals and adhesives, liquid soaps, and loose components, as well as sugar and rice. As a matter of fact, IBC containers are suitable for most free-flowing materials. Fluid cargos, particularly hazardous materials, are typically stored and transported in double-walled containers designed to contain spills.

The use of intermediate bulk containers holds several unique advantages over conventional, large-capacity, cylindrical containers. These include efficient space utilization as the containers can be hold more material for any given floor area than cylinder-type containers. They are also a particularly cost effective way to transport bulk goods, as they are smaller than shipping containers yet allow suppliers to transport their goods in larger single volumes than the eventual consumer packaging units. This also allows buyers to package imported goods in country-specific volumes and in packages printed in local languages. IBC containers are also designed to make use of standardized filling and discharge systems, further enhancing their convenience.

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Discussion Comments

By ben44 — On Nov 12, 2013

Thanks for explaining this, as well as including the advantages of IBCs.

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