The IBC: Functions, Areas of Application, and Today’s Requirements

Intermediate Bulk Container: The All-Rounder for Transport and Storage Needs an IoT Update.

Everyone knows them, the cuboid containers that can be seen on construction sites, factory floors or cow pastures. You find them standing alone, stacked on top of each other, lined up or side-by-side.

The intermediate bulk container, or IBC for short, is considered a universal genius for storing and transporting liquids and powdery substances. The containers are robust reusable containers made of plastic and steel and can hold volumes of 500 to 3,000 liters, depending on the construction or design. The sturdy construction withstands mechanical loads and thus ensures a high degree of safety for the stored and transported substances.

A Simple Solution to a Big Problem: The Success Story of the IBC

Intermediate Bulk Containers were conceived in the 1970s by German entrepreneur, Udo Schütz, from Selters in Rhineland-Pfalz as an improved industrial storage container. Previously, 200-liter drums were used to store liquids and powders, but their cylindrical shape made them inefficient for storage and transport. A maximum of 800 liters could be transported per pallet, whereas the IBC manages 1,000 liters in the same footprint. IBCs are therefore more space- and cost-efficient and their cubic shape make them easier to store and transport.

After the first IBC design was patented in 1993, many companies began manufacturing the containers, and the modern IBC quickly became the industry standard for storing and transporting goods. Since then, the number of containers on the global market has steadily increased. A study conducted by Future Market Insights (FMI) even talks about a global volume of 681 million intermediate bulk containers by the end of 2021, and the trend is to grow. The study results also indicate that the market will continue to grow and is expected to reach a total value of US$21 billion in 2021.

Flexible to Use, Durable and Reusable

Today, there are numerous IBCs with different features and specifications for various industries. The substances stored and transported include, for example, paints and varnishes, chemicals, fragrances, food ingredients, pharmaceutical ingredients and also quite a few beverages. Among other advantages, IBCs are easy to handle, durable and reusable.

The most common IBCs consist of a pallet with a plastic bladder and a simple mesh frame. In some cases, the container is also made of materials such as aluminium, galvanized iron or similar. The outer lattice cage of an IBC container is usually made of a strong material such as steel or iron. When an IBC is used in a hazardous area, the outer enclosure is designed more like a shell and completely encloses the container itself with a steel sheet.

Transport of Dangerous Goods - What Requirements Must an IBC Meet?

For the transport of dangerous goods, legal regulations were developed with the ADR, which are intended to help prevent accidents and protect people, materials and the environment. ADR stands for “Accord européen relatif au transport international des marchandises dangereuses par route” (“European Agreement concerning the International Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Road”).

An IBC must be able to withstand a wide variety of environmental influences. For example, a plastic IBC must be able to withstand UV radiation without becoming brittle. Also, the product must not react with the plastic of the container. The IBC must also be able to withstand the internal pressure that may be caused by the contents.

Before an IBC can be used for the transport of dangerous goods, it must be tested to see if it meets all the requirements described in the various regulations. To check this, there are various test procedures, such as a drop test, a leak test or a water pressure test.

Modernization Through IoT Technology: Sensors Provide Better Control

Stable and tested IBCs alone are often not enough these days to ensure the safe transport of goods. This is because containers are rarely networked in supply chains and can hardly be monitored during the delivery process. Important information on location, temperature, filling quantity or pressure is therefore usually not available. The proven product needs a technological update because the lack of transparency leads to delivery bottlenecks or damage to the IBCs. This leads to delays in the often closely timed supply chains, and enormous additional costs and economic losses are the result.

In addition, IBCs are often not used efficiently, which means that they sometimes stand empty for up to 80% of their operating time. Furthermore, due to the global networking of markets and the constant growth of fleets, it is estimated that around 20% of IBCs are lost during delivery processes. This not only has a negative impact on business owners’ investments, but also harms the climate.

The practical containers that have stood the test of time for decades need a technological upgrade so that 21st century supply chains can become more efficient and benefit from digitalization. The remedy here is the use of IoT sensor technology. With the help of retrofitted sensors, IBC measurement data can be collected in real time and accessed online. This closes information gaps and optimizes digital logistics processes to make industrial supply chains safer and more profitable. These solutions help from the minute they’re put into use.

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Max Drechsler
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