By Dr Parul Thapar*, Riya
Intermediate bulk containers (IBCs) are the containers that consist of a pallet, an inner container, an outer cage (optional), a lid and a ball type bottom valve. In food industries, these containers can be used for storage, packaging and transport of food ingredients; also waste collection. The outer cage material is made up of galvanized steel or iron which is regarded as food-grade materials and can be used in IBCs according to the food safety standards. Depending upon their application for packaging, there are different types of materials used in pallet and inner containers as shown in the Table 1 below:
Types of IBCs
According to the applications in food industries, IBCs are of three types:
Rigid IBCs- These are cubical in shape. The inner containers are made up of HDPE or metals like aluminium or galvanized iron or hybrid. These IBCs have a tap or valve at the base where a hose can be attached to allow transfer of contents into small containers for easy packaging, distribution and sale in the target location. These are designed to maintain their shape during food storage and transport. These are cost-effective and can be easily carried from one point to another. They can carry most hazardous and precious chemicals across long stretches of land and water without leakage. These IBCs can be easily reinforced which prevents fumes from escaping. The diagrammatic representation of a cube shaped rigid IBC is shown in the Figure 1.
Fig. 1- Diagrammatic representation of Rigid IBCs
These IBCs are mainly used for storing of:
- Liquids such as syrups, crushes or other beverages.
- Powdered ingredients like flour.
- Drinking water
- Flammable liquids like alcohols used for sterilization purpose.
There are some specialized forms of rigid IBCs that are constructed for the storage of specific products, are mentioned in the Table 2 below:
- Folding IBCs (FIBCs)- In FIBCs, the inner containers are made up of durable plastics that can be folded inwards when empty. These IBCs do not have an outer cage. These have a capacity of about 1000 litres. Below the containers, there is a flexible pocket which is adapted for the storage and transport of liquid or free flowing powdered material. These IBCs can be used for more storage of both solid and liquid materials and easy transportation. They come in variable sizes according to the need. They use less space once empty even on return journeys.
- Flexible IBCs- Flexible IBCs are also called bulk bags that are made up of heavy materials such as polypropylene or polyethylene (woven polyethylene bags). They can also be made up of aluminium. They include four tubular elements sewn to one another longitudinally. When filled with food materials, the flexible IBCs transforms into cubical shape. On each bag, there is a discharge point at the bottom that helps to easily dispense the material. These are easy to manufacture and have high strength. They also improve in the flow control and eliminate spillage of the products. Similar to FIBCs, they also use less space once empty even on return journeys. They are mainly used to transport granular material like food grains. One of the modified and improved form of flexible IBCs has been created and patented, as shown in the Table 3 below:
As compared to rigid IBCs, the folding and flexible IBCs are not suitable to all kinds of substances and even not as durable.
With the increase in modification of forms of different food products, there has to be a modification even in the storage, packaging and transportation processes in food industries. Intermediate bulk containers can be an important mode to bring a revolution in this sector. As mentioned above, due to their compact and flexible construction, the IBCs can store large quantity of material without deterioration of the food products, especially during transportation. There are numerous brands that are working towards manufacturing IBCs and are dominating the market including Grief Inc, Schutz, Werit, Mouser, Scholler Allibert etc. In near future, these containers will certainly be in increased demand to bring the change.
The author is 1*Assistant Professor, School of Healthcare and Paramedical sciences, CT University, Ludhiana-142024
2Student, School of Healthcare and Paramedical sciences, CT University, Ludhiana-142024