Both rigid and flexible IBCs are gaining ground on drums as users see the many benefits they can bring to their supply chains
Global revenue in the intermediate bulk container (IBC) market is set to cross the US$10B mark by 2020, according to research by Future Market Insights (FMI).
FMI estimated that revenue at the end of 2018 was some US$8.8B.
The study, which included flexible intermediate bulk containers (FIBC) as well as rigid IBCs (RIBCs), said that both types have emerged as efficient, relatively economical alternatives to conventional drums in bulk packaging. Demand for IBCs remains concentrated in food and beverages, industrial chemicals and the construction industry with food and beverages witnessing the highest annual growth rate, according to FMI.
Paper and paperboard IBCs have recently gathered traction in food and beverages, not least because of concern over the use of plastics. In addition, these relatively new entrants offer economical handling costs, and significantly less
filling and discharging time, which makes them suitable for that sector.
But when it comes to chemicals and hazardous materials logistics, HDPE-bottled RIBCs remain the only viable option in the IBC market, and this market, too, is set for healthy growth.
RIBC manufacturers have made significant strides in recent years to increase the number of times that a single IBC can be reused before it needs to be scrapped. They have introduced innovations in materials, established wider networks of safe cleaning facilities, and instigated collection and return systems to make it easier for end users to recycle their equipment, rather than buying new units.
As such, reusable products are driving growth in the global bulk packaging market, according to another research firm, Freedonia.
The product mix will increasingly favour packaging that offers performance advantages, such as ease of filling and emptying, as well as greater compatibility with automated packaging processes, said Freedonia.
But while performance and cost remain the top priorities for bulk packaging, sustainability continues to move up the list. This is increasingly true in developing countries where upfront costs have traditionally been paramount. In more affluent markets, sustainability has been a priority for some time. Manufacturers and consumers are more cognisant of packaging materials and their potential environmental impact. Companies are also keenly aware that packaging choices reflect on their products and themselves.
Most bulk packaging products are able to make at least some sustainability claim. Bulk boxes can be made from recycled fibre, and are readily recyclable themselves. RIBCs can be reused for years, reducing raw materials that would otherwise be used to produce many single-use products. In the end, careful lifecycle assessments are needed to make informed product selections.
Germany-based RIBC manufacturer Schütz has been making a virtue of the reusable nature of its products for many years. In recent years, the company has been rolling out its Recobulk programme, under which collected Schütz
IBCs are exclusively fitted with original Schütz inner bottles and components in a globally standardised, environmentally friendly process.
Schütz said a Recobulk in the standard specification is on a par with its Ecobulk RIBC in terms of safety and quality. The company is now steadily building a network of selected companies that are licensed to manufacture the Recobulk to the original Schütz quality.
The sustainability and product integrity factors associated with RIBCs become particularly important when the packaging is used to support industrial supply chains that are in the spotlight more than others. That applies to the automotive industry. The sensitive coatings used on today’s vehicles are applied in layers that are only 0.1mm thick.
It is crucial to avoid any kind of contamination with surfactant substances, such as silicone oils and fats. These products frequently lead to wetting defects in the coating that impair both the appearance and the perfection, and can also severely compromise the coating’s protective function. This leads to follow-on processes that generate considerable additional costs.
An especially critical issue is that viscous coatings require stirring before they can be used. However, even the immersion of a stirrer carries the potential risk of contamination, and each time the packaging is opened or closed can also cause contamination, along with any form of contact with other equipment.
Schütz has been supplying IBCs to coatings manufacturer Karl Wörwag Lack- und Farbenfabrik since 2003. Headquartered in StuttgartZuffenhausen, the firm develops and produces high-quality paints for a wide range of industrial applications, from vehicle interiors and exteriors to car bodies, commercial vehicles, household appliances and furniture.
The relationship with Schütz has grown steadily over the years. Schütz also works closely with Samvardhana Motherson Peguform (SMP Automotive), a major customer of Wörwag. The plastics-based components specialist supplies readycoated bumpers and other car body parts to major automotive manufacturers in Europe, China, Mexico, Brazil and the USA.
Wörwag and SMP were looking to minimise the risk of contamination during filling and subsequent processing of clear coatings and primers. Schütz suggested that the ideal packaging was an IBC from the Cleancert line, configured to support the process with an impeller and an S56x4 bung. Thanks to the integrated impeller, the container can remain closed throughout the entire supply chain from filling to emptying.
Creating a stir
At the same time, the contents can be easily stirred. Conventional stirrers are no longer required and the risk of contamination is significantly reduced. The system is available for all 1,000 and 1,250-litre Ecobulk types with DN 150 and DN 225 filling openings. “These advantages absolutely convinced us, and that is why we use Schütz’s Cleancert IBC for clear coatings and primers, as these products are particularly sensitive to surface defects,” said Benno Beuter, application engineer at Wörwag. The coatings specialist orders empty IBCs that are delivered and stored in-house as a further safety and hygiene measure.
At Wörwag’s customer SMP, the filled containers are also delivered to a covered area and stored under the roof. The Cleancert IBCs offer further benefits at the automotive supplier’s central warehouse, particularly in comparison to
the steel containers that were often used previously. Up to four IBCs can be stacked on top of each other, instead of only two steel containers, meaning that the Cleancert models also ensure that the available space is used more
efficiently. The downtime of empty containers is also reduced to a maximum of seven days, thanks to collection by the Schütz Ticket Service. Empty steel containers remained in the plant for up to a month, which occasionally caused bottlenecks in the company’s warehouse.
During processing in the air-conditioned paint mixing room, clear coats, primers and base coats are continuously stirred to ensure a homogeneous consistency. In order to determine the advantages of the Cleancert IBC and impeller closed packaging system in practice, SMP conducted a series of tests, each lasting several weeks. The disposable stirrer is connected to the screw cap of the IBC and is fitted at the Schütz factory. A conventional drive system can be connected without requiring major modifications or conversions.
In the SMP test series, a model by agitator manufacturer Planetroll was used. If required, as part of its services, Schütz will arrange contact with Planetroll, which is very familiar with the system, and the company’s portfolio includes complete drive solutions with all necessary components, such as transverses, couplings and steel shafts.
The drive is placed above the screw cap and fixed to the steel grid with a frame. The drive shaft is inserted into the hollow shaft of the impeller and fits in the hub. The rotation of the shaft is passed on to the impeller inside the
container. The three moveable blades of the impeller’s bucket agitator change their position depending on the centrifugal force. The speed can be individually adjusted to the filling level.
The result of the comparative test showed that, with external steel stirrers, 140-200 rpm was required for homogenisation. This high speed led to increased microfoam formation due to air intake into the product. When stirring with the Schütz impeller, however, 80-110 rpm was sufficient. The lower speed ensured gentle stirring with optimum results.
Anton Krojer, the SMP application engineer in charge of the series of tests, said: “Thanks to the efficient stirring processes, we no longer need preparatory homogenisation measures prior to a container change.”
Since the IBC, including the impeller and traverse drive, can be transported flexibly, and considerably less time is required for homogenisation, it was possible to connect the container directly to the production line after the drive had been installed to feed the paint in directly. This eliminates the need for a previously required preparatory step at an additional station. The company uses the S56x4 bung to take samples for viscosity measurement and/or to add setting or correction agents, if necessary, during the stirring process.
“The use of the impeller as a disposable system completely rules out the risk of contamination due to residual product adhering to the stirrer. This greatly increases process reliability,” explained Manfred Guttmann, head of the paint
shop at SMP. “This eliminates the complex and time-consuming cleaning process for the agitator, as well as other risks. Employees no longer have to handle solvent-based cleaning agents, which greatly improves workplace safety.”
The multiple-week test phase in the production of components for car bumpers using Cleancert IBCs and impellers confirmed all theoretical aspects of the optimisation and revealed business management advantages. For example, MP was able to reduce dramatically the amount of work spent on corrections.
In the past year, packaging group Greif has made a number of investments in its production facilities. Most recently, it installed a second state-of-the-art blow moulding machine to double its in-house production capacity for IBCs at ts facility at Ede in the Netherlands.
Also located in a clean room environment, the new blow moulder machine operates with food-safe hydraulic oil, active carbon filtered air, and bacteria-free cooling water, and will allow Greif to meet its growing demand for food-grade IBCs.
The investment adds to the existing machine installed last year, boosting the output capacity of the Ede facility to over 1,500 units a day.
“Demand for IBCs continues to grow in the food sector where product integrity and shelf life storage are becoming increasingly important,” said Luca Bettoni, Greif’s manager EMEA for IBCs and plastic products. “This additional investment boosts our in-house capacity and offers customers the reassurance of product protection against contamination.
Prior to this, Greif put in a new IBC line at its San Roque facility in the Cadiz region of Spain. The existing plant has been producing large steel drums for more than 30 years.
The upgraded facility is now equipped to produce the full Greif GCUBE IBC portfolio, currently available across 12 sites around the world. The San Roque facility will be well-placed to deliver products to the olive oil industry, one of the most important economic sectors in the region. Production of the GCUBE is expected to reach up to 150,000 units a year.
Finally, an IBC line is expected to be launched this year at Greif’s steel drum production plant at Vorsino Industrial Park in Kaluga, Russia, which opened last year. The Kaluga facility is situated 80 km southwest of Moscow and is the company’s ninth production facility in Russia.
The 6,000 m2 facility employs a team of 50 people and features an automatic steel drum line with an annual capacity of 2M units. The location places the plant within the Moscow transport hub and in close proximity to several key customers including Gazprom Neft and Obninskorgsintez.