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Selecting, Handling and Maintaining IBCs

By Uwe Bartels |

A number of factors are involved in selecting the right intermediate bulk container (IBC). An overview is presented here

An intermediate bulk container (IBC) is a large package for transporting chemicals into a plant or products from the plant. IBCs display different properties and must fulfill various functions. The selection of a suitable IBC to transport a particular product must always be determined based on the properties of the goods to be conveyed. The type of IBC that is used can be determined according to the requirements of the substances and mixtures involved. That means the properties and requirements of a chemical or product will specify both a container’s quality and the associated equipment (Figure 1).

Figure 1. IBCs come in a variety of sizes and shapes, and can have additional equipment attached, such as valves and couplings

The numerous characteristics that various products may show yield a series of criteria that must be examined carefully before selecting the correct IBC. One important example is the product’s toxicity and its general environmental risk. The requirements that a package must fulfill can be defined based on these properties. Based on them, either an appropriate standardized IBC model can be chosen, or it is possible to develop an individually customized solution corresponding to a specific product’s requirements. This allows goods to be transported to their final destination safely and securely.

The potential risk — the law talks about degree of hazard — that can emanate from a product determines the material of construction. An IBC can be made of plastic, stainless steel or some other material, such as paper or composite material.


Safety data sheets

Speaking about product properties leads immediately to the product safety data sheet (SDS). This important data sheet is defined by Article 31 and Annex II of (EU) Regulation 1907/2006 (the REACH Regulation), in conjunction with the provisions of the European Chemicals Agency (Guideline for Preparing Safety Data Sheets), possibly together with other national regulations, such as TRGS 220 (Technical Rules for Hazardous Substances) in Germany. The SDS contains all the safety-related information about substances and mixtures being transported or handled. In addition to safety-related information about products, the SDS also contains handling recommendations on the basis of which it is possible to take the actions required to protect health, for workplace safety and to protect the environment. In E.U. member states and in many other countries, a supplier, importer and manufacturer of substances and mixtures classified as dangerous must provide a SDS. The author of the SDS must take care to ensure that it contains all the information about the hazards of a substance or a mixture, together with information about its safe storage, handling and disposal. It is essential that this information is available when specifying and selecting a suitable IBC.


Selection criteria

A whole series of additional considerations must be taken into account when selecting an IBC, including testing the product’s compatibility with the IBC’s material of construction, as well as the specific gravity of the product, its viscosity and its requirements in relation to the package’s geometry. These involve its flow properties during filling and/or emptying.

Legal issues.Many different regulations apply to the handling of large packages, such as IBCs (for example the European Agreement concerning the International Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Road (ADR)).

To obtain an overview of legislative changes, it is absolutely essential to observe the constantly changing legal provisions and to continuously re-examine products to determine whether they are suitable for transport in an IBC.

Almost all users now employ a wide variety of databases, although these can only be as good as the maintenance of their contents or updating of changes or innovations.Taking these parameters into account yields a selection of suitable — and legally permissible — IBCs.

Added to this is the need to make sure that the dimensions or connections are compatible both for the organization doing the filling and for the recipient organization.

Sizes. The spectrum of different IBC types is highly diverse, so it is scarcely possible to present a total overview. However, certain volume categories have evolved, and these are customary in markets worldwide. Various differently designed containers in the 500-, 800- and 1,000-L volume classes are often used. Larger units are to be found in the market slightly less often. The reasons for this include their greater weight and the associated challenges when handling them. Therefore a tank container or road tanker is a more suitable means of transport when conveying rather large volumes of liquids, whereas a silo truck offers advantages for goods in powder form.

Geometry. Another distinguishing feature is the shape of the IBC. As a rule, a distinction is drawn between cube-shaped solutions and cylindrical containers. Both offer advantages and disadvantages, depending on the deployment scenario, for example, in relation to cleaning or the ability to stack them. An advantage of cylindrical IBCs is that they are easier to clean, whereas cube-shaped containers are easier to stack on a truck due to their shape. In the latter case, it means that larger volumes can be transported as a result.

In addition to the standardized IBC types offered by various manufacturers and leasing organizations, specially tailor-made designs are also developed for quite specific products in order to exactly meet the needs of the goods and the user. Temperature-controlled containers with heating or cooling systems are often fabricated for special product requirements.

Inspection. Furthermore, containers must always be inspected for external or internal damage before being used (Figure 2). Additional safety examinations should also be carried out if special solutions are used for heating with electrical energy, hot water or steam. The same applies when using IBCs that can be cooled, or when using auxiliary mixing and stirring solutions (internal or external agitators).

Figure 2. All IBCs need to be inspected for external and internal damage before being used

Hazardous areas. Special care is advisable when using IBCs in areas where there is an explosion danger. Special ATEX (Equipment Intended for Use in Explosive Atmospheres) solutions are available on the market and offer increased safety for personnel, products and the environment.

Handling. Whichever type of IBC is suitable for the product, the container should always be operated and used by specialist personnel and/or based on proper instruction and complete operating instructions. This can prevent accidents and damage to the equipment and to the product being transported. When handling IBCs, it is absolutely essential to ensure that the containers are transported or lifted using approved conveying equipment. Incorrect handling or exceeding the permissible total weight can cause damage to the transport equipment and subsequently to the product. Based on design differences, IBCs with an almost identical design are approved for different total weights. In most cases, these distinctions are not visible purely externally. The only thing that gives reliable information about the permissible total weight is the identification marking, known as the type plate, which is a mandatorily required identification and is attached to the IBC.

The following information is affixed permanently and in a clearly readable manner to the type plate of every IBC:

  • Manufacturer’s name and address
  • Type description or series name
  • Year of manufacture
  • Manufacturing number
  • Container number
  • Tare weight
  • Tank construction material
  • Filling and emptying pressure
  • Volume
  • UN Number
  • Test data

Before every use, a container must be grounded (earthed) against electrostatic charge, and venting must be ensured both during filling and during emptying. The most common sources of error include incorrect connection to a pipework or hose system and incomplete closing of fittings or failure to check the filling level, or both.


Maintenance and cleaning

Another absolute necessity is that arrangements must be made for cleaning, repairs and maintenance works to be carried out by appropriately qualified specialist personnel. Depending on the product, a large variety of different preparation and cleaning steps are necessary. The SDS provides information about the product’s properties. The safety of the personnel and the avoidance of unwanted chemical reactions and the avoidance of escapes of product with negative impacts on the environment have topmost priority. The IBC must be clearly identified, and product residues that may possibly be present must be emptied out. Only then can the actual process of cleaning the IBC take place. Here again, various steps are necessary, such as selecting a suitable cleaning medium, defining the type of cleaning, choosing the cleaning additives, specifying the cleaning temperature and so on. The measures that are required also depend on the container’s level of contamination.

Depending on their approval, IBCs must be subjected to tests, inspections and maintenance at regular intervals. The statutory regulations can be found in the ADR, Chapter 6.5, Construction and Testing Regulations for Large Packages (IBCs). Special attention must be devoted to compliance with time limits/intervals and documenting the testing/inspection (in addition to the certificates) in such a way that valid documents can be produced at any time.

As a rule, the administration of all the container information with regard to the use of the IBC is dealt with by trained personnel. Database-assisted software is almost always used to administer a container. The complexity lies in the interaction between the individual factors: the product and its properties, the choice of a suitable IBC, and the IBC’s filling and transport, emptying, cleaning, servicing and reuse and storage. This turns what is actually a simple large package into a product that is complex when being used. 

Edited by Gerald Ondrey



Uwe Bartels

Uwe Bartels is the European sales manager IBC Logistics at Hoyer Group (Wendenstraße 414-424, 20537 Hamburg, Germany; Phone: +49-40-21044-0; Email: uwe.bartels@hoyer-group.com), where he provides technical advice to users on portable pressure vessels (mini tank containers), tanks containers and wagons and IBCs. He also has expertise in tracking solutions, such as RFID and GPS, as well as all kinds of cleaning solutions, transport concepts and international codes and regulations. Prior to this, he was business development manager at Hoyer Group (for over two years), and head of technology at ACT International (for five years). Bartels hold a degree in business economics from the Helmut Schmidt Universität — Universität der Bundeswehr Hamburg.

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