Intermediate bulk container

A typical plastic composite intermediate bulk container (IBC)

An intermediate bulk container (IBC), IBC tote, or pallet tank, is a reusable industrial container designed for the transport and storage of bulk liquid and granulated substances, such as chemicals, food ingredients, solvents, pharmaceuticals, etc.


Intermediate bulk containers are stackable containers mounted on a pallet designed to be moved using a forklift or a pallet jack. IBCs have a volume range that is situated between drums and tanks, hence the term "intermediate“. The most common sizes are 1,040 liters or 275 U.S. gallons or 229 imperial gallons and 1,250 liters or 330 U.S. gallons or 275 imperial gallons (the 1040 liter IBCs are often listed as being 1000 liters). Cube-shaped IBCs give a particularly good utilization of storage capacity compared to palletized drums - one 275 gallon IBC is equivalent to five 55-US-gallon (208 L; 46 imp gal) drums, and a 330-gallon IBC is equivalent to six 55 gallon drums.

The most common IBC is the one-time use plastic composite IBC; a white/translucent plastic container (typically polyethylene) housed within a tubular galvanized iron cage that is attached to a pallet. IBCs can be made from many materials depending upon the needs of the shipper and the legal requirements that must be met. In addition to the plastic composite IBC, intermediate bulk containers are also made of fiberboard, wood, heavy gauge plastic, aluminum, carbon steel, and galvanized iron. Heavy-gauge plastic IBCs are made of reinforced plastic that requires no steel cage; they have a pallet molded into the bottom so the entire unit is a single piece.

Folding IBCs are also made of heavy plastic. Their sides fold inward when the unit is empty allowing the IBC to collapse into a much smaller package for return shipment or storage. Flexible intermediate bulk containers, made of woven polyethylene or polypropylene bags, are designed for storing or transporting dry, flowable products, such as sand, fertilizer, and plastic granules. Almost all rigid IBCs are designed so they can be stacked vertically one atop the other using a forklift. Most have a built-in tap (valve, spigot, or faucet) at the base of the container to which hoses can be attached, or through which the contents can be poured into smaller containers.

Shape and dimensions

IBCs can be manufactured to a customer's exact requirements in terms of capacity, dimensions, and material. The length and width of an IBC are usually dependent on the pallet dimension standard of a given country.[1]


There are many advantages of the IBC concept:


IBCs may ship and store:

Acquisition and disposal

Intermediate bulk containers may be purchased or leased. Bar code and RFID tracking systems are available with associated software.

Type of Purchased Units [Plastic Composite]: An IBC can be purchased as a new unit (cage and bottle), a rebottled unit (new bottle and washed cage) or a washed unit (both bottles and cages have been washed). A washed is typically less expensive with the new unit being the most expensive and the rebottled unit near the mid point. In many cases a customer may purchase a blend of these type of units under a single price to simplify the accounting.

The customer's choice of unit is primarily a factor of the either actual/perceived sensitivity of their product to contamination or the overall ability to clean their specific product type from the bottle. Those with a lower risk are prime candidates for the washed units. With the exception of products produced in "clean rooms" (GMP - good manufacturing practices), the decision of a washed over a new is really a matter of availability or appearance.

Type of Leased Units [Plastic Composite]: An IBC can be leased as a closed loop (where only the IBC that were used by them are washed or rebottled) or the most common open loop system (where the origin of the rebottled or wash unit is flexible). As it relates to the plastic composite unit, the trip lease has, for the most part, been replaced by a blended purchase.


When exposed to fire, plastic IBCs containing combustible or flammable liquids may melt or burn rapidly, releasing their entire contents and increasing the fire hazard by the sudden addition of combustible fuel.[2]

For metal IBCs, test reports by the German Bundesanstalt für Materialforschung und -prüfung (BAM) show that a metal IBC can withstand fire for at least 30 minutes, if it is equipped with a pressure venting device.[3]


The concept of the IBC was patented in 1992 by inventor Olivier J. L. D'Hollander working for Dow Corning S.A.[4] It was inspired by the patent of a "Fold up wire frame containing a plastic bottle", patented in 1990 by Dwight E. Nicols for Hoover Group, Inc.[5]

See also

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Intermediate bulk containers.

Further reading


  1. "Pallet Dimensions". Retrieved 2013-10-14.
  2. "NFPA Fire Protection Research Foundation, Assessment of Hazards of Flammable and Combustible Liquids in Composite IBC's in Operations Scenarios". Retrieved 2013-10-14.
  3. "BAM Reports on IBC Fire Tests". Stainless Steel Container Association. Retrieved 2016-07-27.
  4. "Patent US5269414 - Intermediate bulk container". 1992. Retrieved 2013-10-14.
  5. "Patent US5002194 - Fold up wire frame containing a plastic bottle". 1988-11-21. Retrieved 2013-10-14.
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