Intermediate bulk containers (IBCs) have various options when it comes to their engineering and total specifications. IBCs can differ in the manufacturing material of their tank, fittings, or gaskets, their max volume capacity, size dimension measurements, and permit certifications for UN/DOT transport and handling.
IBC Tanks, the IBC totes authority, provides our most frequently asked questions concerning IBC totes below.
An Intermediate Bulk Container, (also referred to as IBC, IBC Tote, IBC Tank, and simply Tote), is a versatile UN/DOT permitted shipping container. IBCs are manufactured to specific gallon volumes, dimensions, base footprint, maneuverability designs, pressure-relief, and engineering standards. IBC tank volume capacities range from 120 gallons up to 793 gallons while maintaining UN/DOT approval. IBCs can be used for the handling and freight transport of non-hazardous and hazardous materials belonging to Packing Group II and III, as defined within the HMR (Hazardous Materials Regulation), OSHA, and U.S. DOT federal regulations.
Rigid intermediate bulk containers are approved for manufacture from select materials according to CFR (Code of Federal Regulations) standards. These materials must meet selective design criteria permitting the material for use in an IBC container, especially IBCs for high purity applications with consumables, pharmaceutical ingredients, and high corrosives and caustic chemicals.
CFR Title 49 code standards approve the construction of:
- Rigid plastic IBCs of polyethylene, typically high-density polyethylene (HDPE), often fabricated with rotational-mold methods and technology.
- Composite IBC totes of a rigid metal cage, often galvanized steel, containing an inner HDPE liner fabricated through plastic blow-molding methods.
- Metal IBCs of carbon steel or stainless steel construction that must meet specific engineering criteria for tank thickness and metal durability.
*Note: we have specified our IBC totes as rigid intermediate bulk containers as Title 49 CFR codes approve the design and construction of IBCs made from other materials including: flexible, fiberboard, and wooden IBC containers.
- 110 to 793 Gallon Volumes
- $200+ to $5,000+ USD Price Range
- Composite, Rigid Plastic, Metal IBCs
- HDPE, Carbon Steel, Stainless Steel
- Manufactured, Tested per Title 49 CFR
The most common IBC container sizes (volume, capacity) are the 275 gallon and 330 gallon sized IBCs. These volumes are often chosen due to the IBC’s volume equivalence with 55 gallon drum-pallet volumes. They are selected as drum replacement options in logistic networks and for direct integration in applications and production operations.
For logistics, product handling, and delivery, replacing drum pallets with IBC tanks, can effectively:
- Reduce load times (both containers and trucks)
- Increase shipping efficiency (use less truck space with IBC one-pallet-footprint and stacking ability)
- Increase worker efficiency (one IBC is filled vs multiple drums; no drum-pallet loading)
- Speed up product delivery (IBCs feature quick disconnect discharge valves)
- Integrate into production lines (IBCs are stackable, pump and hose compatible, and have multi-directional access)
- Increase container longevity and service-life (IBC engineering tends to be more durable and longer lasting)
Intermediate bulk containers have an average size dimension of 45”L x 45”W x 50”H across available IBC models. Metal IBC containers have base dimensions around 48”L x 42”W. Another common IBC base size is 46”L x 46”W. The height of an IBC will vary on its rated volume capacity.
- Chemical Process Industries: Chemical Manufacture, By-Product Handling • Paper, Pulp, Whitening Chemicals • Electroplating, Waste • Fertilizer, Agricultural chemicals • Textiles • Electronics, Semiconductors
- Industrial Processing: Manufacturing Supplies • Process Ingredients, Chemicals, Gasses, Solvents • Oils, Greases, Lubricants, Hydraulic Fluids • Fuels, Diesel, Natural, Bio • Production Wastes
- Energy Sector and Power Generation: Resources, Base materials, Minerals, Fluids • Process Intermediates, Products, Wastes • Resource Acquisition Chemicals
- Food and Beverage: Water, Potable, Bottled, Pure, Ultrapure • Food Ingredients, Intermediates • Wine, Spirits • Dyes, Flavors, Fragrances, Additives
- High Purity Applications: Pharmaceuticals, Intermediates, Ingredients • Biotechnology • Chemical Manufacturing • Health Care Solutions, Materials, Wastes • Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF)
- Water and Wastewater: Treating Water and Wastewater, Chemicals, Minerals • Aquaculture, Hydroponics, Hatcheries, Farming • Rainwater Harvesting, Storage
- Agriculture: Water, Irrigation, Provision • Fertigation, Fertilization • Crop Performance, Pesticides, Herbicides • DEF • Greenhouses, Nurseries, Farms, Orchards, Groves, Vineyards
- Construction: Road/Highway Work, Paint Stripping, Water, Chemicals, DEF • Deliverance, Transportation, Repetitive Movement/Relocation • Painting, Cleaning
The following are some common advantages and benefits to IBC containers:
- Consistent product packaging
- Reliable product containerization
- Improved payload security
- Improved product distribution
- Hands-free discharge and transfer
- Sanitary product transfer
- Eliminate container spills and product loss
- Increased logistic handling and mobility
- Large volume, self-contained tank
- Easy to transport, maneuver, relocate
- Multi-directional movement access
- Limit contamination concerns
- Limit cross-contamination concerns
- Food grade storage and safety
- Restricts pollutant infiltration
- Space-saving cubical engineering
- Volume maximizing design
- Large capacity range
- Standardized dimensions
- Increased product safety
- Application versatility
- Long service potential
- Reusable, cleanable, recyclable
- Excellent cost-to-service life ratio
- Integration within process streams
- Improve logistics efficiency
- International use, standards and regulations
- International dimensions and acceptance
- Improve handling timelines
- Reduce bottlenecks and delays
- Reduce filling/dispensing times
- Increase worker efficiency
- Reduce operation costs
Specific gravity is the measure of a fluid’s density when compared to a reference fluid, usually water (often abbreviated: SG). In bulk volume handling containers, such as IBC tanks, a specific gravity rating serves as an indicator of the container’s engineering and the maximum specific gravity of a liquid the container can hold.
All IBC design types, excluding Excalibur IBCs, are manufactured to support fluids up to 1.9 specific gravity. Excalibur IBC totes provide a 1.35 specific gravity model. In transport, storage, and handling containers, a tank’s SG rating is often related to total strength, especially containers designed for harsh chemicals, such as IBCs. Higher tank specific gravity ratings generally indicate a stronger container that is more resistant to chemicals, impacts, as well as weight pressures and constraints.
We are often asked, does an IBC container needs to be depressurized, such as prior to unloading. The question arises due to the IBC’s exposure to elevated temperatures and fluctuations experienced during transport. The answer is no, not usually, and this answer also applies to general IBC operational handling, integration, and loading, in addition to unloading.
The reason: intermediate bulk containers are engineered with vented inlet caps, vent bungs, or both. Standard IBC vacuum vents are designed to automatically operate whenever the holding tank’s internal pressure reaches a specific force, 0.25 psig (1.72 kPa), releasing built-up gas or pressure and effectively moderating IBC containers’ internal pressure beneath safe handling levels.
Prior to regulated shipping of authorized materials, IBCs must be certified and permitted according to the requirements for IBC standards of the U.S. DOT, HMR, and Title 49 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR, Subs. B, Ch. 1, Pt. 178). These guidelines place specifications on the IBC material and design, enforcing certain engineering standards that the IBC model must meet through actual product testing prior to distribution and sale.
IBCs will be tested and labeled for use according to the UN/DOT permitting that is appropriate for the IBC’s designated use (liquids, solids), IBC construction material, and particular design. Some common IBC permit labels and meanings include:
- UN 31 for liquids;
- UN 21 for solids, discharged via pressure;
- UN 11 for solids, discharged via gravity;
- UN HA for composite plastic and metal IBCs;
- UN H/Y for rigid plastic IBCs permitted for shipping PG II and PG III;
- UN 31A for metal steel IBCs labeled for liquid handling;
- UN H1 for rigid plastic IBCs with structural equipment for load support when stacked;
- UN H2 for freestanding rigid plastic IBCs;
Prior to release for sale and use, all IBC totes sold by IBCTanks.com must undergo and pass the following design qualification testing: (1) Hydrostatic Pressure; (2) Drop; (3) Leakproofness; (4) Stacking; (5) Bottom Lift and/or Top Lift, and; (6) Vibration tests.
- Hydrostatic Pressure Test: IBC container vents are plugged or replaced with non-venting devices and stressed with an amount of hydrostatic pressure that varies with IBC type and intended cargo. Metal, rigid, and composite IBCs are often subject to pressure tests of at least 14.5 psig (100 kPa), with metal potentially of at least 36 psig (248 kPa). The Test ensures IBC integrity against sudden expulsion of hazardous cargo. This test can be very dependent on IBC model and designated cargo, hazards, and vapor pressures; always verify IBC type with coded regulations.
- Drop Test: Container is filled to near max capacity, stored to -18°C (0°F), effectively freezing IBC and contents, placing the IBC thermoplastic in stress, which is then dropped from approx. 6ft. to land with impact on the IBC base’s most vulnerable part, often the discharge valve. The Test evaluates an IBC’s resistance against potential work environment falls, rough handling, and accidents.
- Leakproofness Test: The IBC is closed, vents are sealed or non-vented, and air pressure is applied of no less than 2.9 psig (20kPa) while IBC seams are coated in a leak-detecting solution, with soap and water or heavy oil being common methods. The Test ensures an IBC tote’s seams, connections, potential weak-points, are secure with no air leakage.
- Stacking Test: Often performed one of two ways. IBC tote is filled to its max gross mass rating and submitted to either one or more of the same IBCs filled to max mass being stacked on top of for 5 minutes, or stacked on by a *superimposed test load. *From the CFR for all IBCs: “Calculation of superimposed test load. For all IBCs, the load to be placed on the IBC must be 1.8 times the combined maximum permissible gross mass of the number of similar IBCs that may be stacked on top of the IBC during transportation.” The Test ensures an IBC will not collapse under the weight strain associated with stacking for storage or transit.
- Bottom Lift Test: IBC is filled to 1.25 times its max permitted gross mass rating and lifted from all angles. The Test ensures container maintains its integrity during normal use without deformation. Top Lift Test: IBCs with top lift capabilities are filled to 2.0 times its max gross mass rating and then lifted and held for five minutes at various orientations to induce container stress. The Test ensures IBC will maintain its structural integrity during lifting and hoist type handling.
- Vibration Test: IBC container is filled as if for transit and subjected to specific frequency vibration via a platform designed for the process. The Test ensures an IBC will not rupture or leak during transport due to the container stress endured in transit.
Do not be led by company sales pitches into thinking that their IBC products are somehow superior due to passing these design tests. All UN/DOT approved IBCs listed and certified for sale must receive and pass these engineering tests to certify the IBC container’s strength and durability for use with PGII/III hazardous, non-hazardous cargo across national shipping networks.
Additionally, all “in-service IBC totes” must be retested and pass UN/DOT re-certification tests every 2.5 years in order to maintain the IBC’s shipping permits and be certified safe for continuous duty.
Differences in an IBC tote’s performance abilities depends on the manufacturing method, technology, equipment, and largely on engineering understanding, application, and experience. IBCTanks.com offers IBC totes made by manufacturers with extensive engineering knowledge and reputation within the field.
CFR §178.803 | Testing and Certification of IBCs.
The following is an excerpt from the CFR Title 49: Tests required for the certification of each IBC design type are specified in the following table. The letter X indicates that one IBC (except where noted) of each design type must be subjected to the tests in the order presented:
|Performance test||IBC type|
|Metal IBCs||Rigid plastic IBCs||Composite IBCs||Fiber-board IBCs||Wooden IBCs||Flexible IBCs|
|Vibration||6 X||6 X||6 X||6 X||6 X||1.5 X|
|Bottom lift||2 X||X||X||X||X|
|Top lift||2 X||2 X||2 X||2 5 X|
|Stacking||7 X||7 X||7 X||7 X||7 X||5 X|
|Leakproofness||3 X||3 X||3 X|
|Hydrostatic||3 X||3 X||3 X|
|Drop||4 X||4 X||4 X||4 X||4 X||5 X|
|Righting||2 5 X|
1Flexible IBCs must be capable of withstanding the vibration test.
2This test must be performed only if IBCs are designed to be handled this way. For metal IBCs, at least one of the bottom lift or top lift tests must be performed.
3The leakproofness and hydrostatic pressure tests are required only for IBCs intended to contain liquids or intended to contain solids loaded or discharged under pressure.
4Another IBC of the same design type may be used for the drop test set forth in §178.810 of this subchapter.
5Another different flexible IBC of the same design type may be used for each test.
6The vibration test may be performed in another order for IBCs manufactured and tested under provisions of an exemption before October 1, 1994 and for non-DOT specification portable tanks tested before October 1, 1994, intended for export.
7This test must be performed only if the IBC is designed to be stacked.
Per CFR guidelines, the IBC stacking test load for specific IBC design types will be listed:
- On UN/DOT labels immediately after the manufacturer’s information and before the total maximum permissible gross mass.
Note, this value is given in kilogram (kg) units. To convert kg to U.S. pounds (lbs), multiply the UN/DOT label value by 2.2.
Example, IBC Stacking Test Load: 4462 kg x 2.2 kg/lbs = 9,816 lbs
Per CFR guidelines, the maximum permissible gross mass for specific IBC design types will be listed:
- On UN/DOT labels immediately after the specified stacking test load and before the total volume capacity.
Note, this value is given in kilogram (kg) units. To convert to U.S. pounds (lbs), multiply the UN/DOT label value by 2.2.
Example, IBC Max Gross Mass: 938 kg x 2.2 kg/lbs = 2,064 lbs
Per CFR guidelines, the tare weight for specific IBC design types will be listed:
- On UN/DOT labels immediately after the total volume capacity and before the rated gauge test pressure.
Note, this value is given in kilogram (kg) units. To convert to U.S. pounds (lbs), multiply the UN/DOT label value by 2.2.
Example, IBC Stacking Test Load: 74 kg x 2.2 kg/lbs = 163 lbs
With current regulations, an IBC needs to be inspected for recertification every 30 months (2.5 yrs) of service. IBC containers must be retested to update UN/DOT shipping labels every 2.5 years before they can be certified for continued service.
An IBC’s work-life expectancy will depend on the IBC type, what it is being used for use and the IBC’s ability to pass regular, DOT-shipping inspections approving it for continued use.
- Poly caged totes have seen greater than 7 years successful service within select fields.
- Rigid HDPE IBCs have seen over 10 years of service.
- Carbon and stainless steel IBC tanks have seen over 20 years of work life.
Stress conditions of heat, handling high corrosives/caustics, use with semi-compatible materials, holding sustained pressures, extreme weather exposure can all potentially contribute to shortening an IBC’s service life.
The engineering of an IBC intends for a poly IBC tote to be reused, but the extent of the capability is highly dependent on the IBC type, its cargo, and work use scenario. All IBCs should be inspected prior to fill and use to ensure tank integrity and structural soundness, especially in IBC reuse situations. When reusing intermediate bulk containers, reuse with the same cargo is often best for tank longevity.
Conditions favoring poly IBC tote reuse include the transit and handling of inert, non-hazardous commodities that otherwise are not expected to react with HDPE. Examples of such materials are water, sand and similar earthen minerals, ionic salt compounds, granulated plastic materials, agricultural products, grains, seeds, food and beverage industry ingredients, as well as a multitude of various compatible chemicals and solutions.
Additionally, limiting the amount of work-stress on the IBC container will also contribute to IBC reusability by improving lasting tank integrity. Example conditions to avoid include extreme hot/cold temperature fluctuations, use within strong pressure systems, lack of proper tank maintenance or handling, work environment exposure to incompatible materials, and repeated physical impacts.
Other materials, IBC cargo, and work conditions may warrant a more selective approach to IBC reuse. A more detailed pre-fill/use inspection is also recommended. Commodities that chemically attack or have reactivity with high density polyethylene or the IBC’s fitting materials should be scaled based on its incompatibility for whether the material is acceptable for reuse within the poly IBC tote. Some potential examples include strong acids and bases (alkalis), organic solvents, oxidizers, alcohols, petroleum products, oils, and waste products.
The number of times an IBC has been reused, as well as conditions of temperature and pressure, can greatly affect the reactivity between the cargo and IBC tank wall.
These recommendations are made for general IBC reuse in the handling and transport of commodities. Whenever considering an IBC container for reuse applications, always consider the IBC’s prior service record, work conditions, and the compatibility characteristics between the IBC’s manufacturing material and its intended cargo.
Plastic IBC totes and steel metal IBCs may be acceptable for recycling given they meet select cleanliness standards. Plastic IBCs are made from high-density polyethylene, HDPE, a thermoplastic, which can be broken down, melted, and reused. Metal IBC tanks—carbon and stainless steel—are iron-based alloy containers that similarly can be melted down for reuse.
Yes, a poly IBC tote can be cleaned. A dilute bleach and water solution is recommended for cleaning the inside of an IBC. The tote can be cleaned after handling inert commodities such as sand, food ingredients, granules, water or mild chemicals that will not hazardously react with bleach or be insoluble due to non-polar or hydrophobic characteristics.
Never clean a polyethylene IBC with a chemical that indicates incompatibility with high density polyethylene (HDPE) as cleaning with such chemicals would potentially cause chemical attack, tank surface damage, and eventual sidewall weakening and loss of strength.
The short answer to this: abide by applicable NFPA fire codes and recommendations and OSHA guidelines for the storage, handling, and use of Class I, II, and III flammable/combustible materials within IBC containers. Given proper IBC handling, certain totes are approved for use with specific classes of flammable materials without experiencing an increased fire risk. General compatibility between the flammable commodity and the IBC material should always be verified.
- Metal IBC tanks–carbon and stainless steel–are the only IBC material approved for Class I flammable materials with a closed cup flash point < 100°F and that carry UL 142 certifications for above-ground flammable fuel storage.
- Metal, rigid plastic, and composite poly IBCs are approved for compatible Class II and Class III materials with closed cup flash points > 100°F and with proper IBC labeling and listing for the stored material.
IBC Tanks is a leading industry authority concerning intermediate bulk containers. We have more than 25 years experience in storage, handling, and transport IBC containers used for chemicals, water, food ingredients, solvents, oils, and greases, for a few examples. The IBC totes we offer are made by leading North American manufacturers with decades of experience in plastic and metal-working construction of intermediate bulk containers.
Our IBC tanks are manufactured by either Snyder Industries or TranStore Custom MetalCraft, who have an almost 100 years of collective industry experience and knowledge insight. Synder Industries has over 55 years of providing and engineering top-quality products. TranStore provides over 40 years of knowledge and manufacturing know-how.
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