In this blog post, as the title suggests, we’re going to be covering everything you need to know about IBC tanks including what they are, what they can be used for, what they are made from and of course, how to clean them.
What is an IBC tank?
Let’s start by explaining that IBC is an acronym for the term “intermediate bulk container”. As well as being known as IBC tanks, they are also sometimes referred to as IBC totes, IBC pallet tanks or simply just IBCs. In other words, there are lots of different terms used to describe the same type of container, so it’s no surprise there can be some confusion around what an IBC tank is!
In a nutshell, an intermediate bulk container or an IBC is a multi-use, industrial grade container that is reusable and typically (although not always) square in shape. The square shape makes it easy to stack, store and ship these containers in a space efficient way, that makes them a low-cost shipping option for businesses around the world. Cylindrical IBC’s are typically used in some food applications, specifically to ensure that there are no “corners” for food to remain in during the cleaning process.
What can an IBC tank be used for?
IBC tanks can be used to store and to transport materials in a liquid, paste, semi-liquid or solid state. Lots and lots of industries use IBC tanks for their storage and transportation of goods but here are a few of the use cases we commonly see in our work here at Fleetclean:
- The food industry uses IBC tanks to store and transport foods such as sugar, syrup, and wine
- The construction industry uses IBC tanks to store and transport items like paint
- The pharmaceutical industry uses IBC tanks to store and transport things like bio-waste
- In agriculture IBC tanks can be used to store and transport fertilizer
- The chemical industry often put IBC tanks to good use storing and transporting hazardous and even toxic materials such as solvents, Petro-chemicals, and adhesives
- And last but by no means least, IBCs are also ideal for rainwater storage across multiple industries too!
So, you can see, IBC tanks offer a huge amount of practical applications for a wide range of businesses across lots of different industries. In cases where IBC tanks are being used to store and transport hazardous materials, it is important that the ADR regulations in the UK and Europe and the 49 CFR regulations for the US market are adhered to fully. For even more information about the different types of IBC tanks and what they can be used for, we highly recommend this article here.
What are IBC tanks made from?
In short, IBC tanks are most commonly made from either plastic, stainless steel or carbon steel and each type of material offers different benefits:
- Plastic – these IBCs can be used to hold solids and liquids; they are available in a vast range of sizes and metal cages can be added for extra stability. They are also made from non-toxic plastics, so there is no risk of contamination between the container and the contents
- Stainless steel – this material is highly resistant to corrosion, capable of withstanding high temperatures and is generally ideal for heavy duty use. Like plastic IBCs, stainless steel IBCs are available in a large range of sizes too
- Carbon steel – this is a highly durable type of IBC that is also lightweight and affordable, the IBC can be recycled successfully when it reaches its end of life, it is shock resistant and ideal for holding substances that are flammable, strongly scented or that are combustible
How do you clean an IBC tank?
Cleaning your IBC tanks thoroughly is a serious business and it’s something that we here at Fleetclean pride ourselves on doing to the highest standards. From our point of view, an IBC clean should always start with reading the labels. That means checking the product labels attached to the tank and establishing the last use of the IBC, so it’s clear what’s being dealt with.
Professional IBC cleaning like the cleans we do here at Fleetclean, are performed by skilled experts who understand hazardous chemicals and therefore have the safety measures, equipment, and infrastructure to handle them. The clean itself typically uses high pressure water, delivered through an omni-directional set of spinner heads and powerful pump sets. This ensures every inch of the IBC’s surface is cleaned thoroughly. Once the clean is complete, a Cleaning Document such as the EFTCO Cleaning Document (ECD) is issued to prove that your IBC has been cleaned professionally and does not pose any environmental or hazardous threats.
If this sounds like a service you need for your IBC tanks, then please contact our team today. For even more information on how to clean an IBC tank safely, you can read our step by step blog here.
What are the different types of IBC tanks?
There are two main types of IBC tanks: rigid IBC tanks and flexible IBC tanks. Rigid IBC tanks are the stackable and reusable IBCs that can be easily maneuvered using forklifts and pallet jacks. Often, they are made from metal and plastic, and they come in a range of different sizes depending on what you need to store, ranging from 400 litres at the smaller end and up to 3,000 litres at the larger end. Most commonly IBCs hold 1,000 litres.
Flexible IBC tanks are slightly different. They can be made from metal or plastic, but also wood too. They range in size from a capacity of 500Kg to 1000Kg and often the sides of these containers can fold inward when the tank is not in use, for more efficient storage when they are empty. The reason flexible IBC volumes are measured in weight, is because they tend to be used for storing dry products like sand.
What is the anatomy of an IBC tank?
The main part of an IBC tank is known as the drum or the barrel and this is the part that holds the contents. You’ll often see plastic IBCs with a steel cage wrapped around them for extra support and balance when in use and sometimes, pallets can be added to the bottom of an IBC to aid maneuverability and stack-ability.
To remove liquids from an IBC tank once transportation is complete, most IBCs have valves where a hose can be attached to control the flow of liquid out of the tank into another container. Clamps can be used to pressurize IBC valves to prevent leaks, while gauges can be used to measure the volume in the tank at any time. Gaskets, that are corrosion proof are used in between the component parts in the IBC tank as another measure to prevent leaks. Last, but by no means least, an identification plate is included on all IBC tanks, and this is where the IBC’s model number and relevant specifications are recorded so they are always to hand.
Some IBC’s are fitted with heater elements in order to liquefy product that has solidified in the IBC, or to keep product at a set temperature. These IBC’s are available for both foodstuff and chemical IBC’s. Typical of products that would be used with heatable IBC’s are things like chocolate, jam, high-viscosity chemicals and the like. These tanks are always made of stainless steel, feature a control panel to set and maintain temperature and are invariably fully insulated.
Why do IBCs need periodic testing?
IBC tanks need to be tested, inspected, and certified due to international regulations. These regulations state that all IBCs should be tested at least once every 30 months and stainless-steel IBCs manufactured with UN markings, also need a thickness test once every 60 months. The dates for the test and retest must be clearly marked on each IBC unit. It’s a vital part of safely owning and using IBC totes and it’s important the testing is handled by experts like our team here at Fleetclean. If you need an IBC test or inspection, you can find out more about how we do that and contact our team just here.
Are there special requirements for IBC totes that store food and drink?
When shipping and storing goods that are meant for human consumption, it’s critical that these goods are properly protected and insulated so they’re not contaminated and cause harm to a person’s health. Therefore, there are IBCs that are specifically manufactured as food grade IBCs. Food grade simply means that the material the IBC tank has been made from has been deemed safe to be in contact with food and drink. Typically, food grade safe materials for IBC tanks are steel and plastic, specifically polyethylene.
For even more useful information about IBC tanks, we recommend doing some further reading here and here.
In conclusion, IBC tanks are the go-to container type when it comes to efficiently packaging, storing, and transporting virtually any kind of material. They can save your business space, time and money making them well worth the investment and when you need to clean, test, and inspect your IBCs, you have experts like us here at Fleetclean on hand to help.