Bulk bags which are also known as Flexible Intermediate Bulk Containers (FIBC) are a great instrument for shipping products, but they seem to have a hard time proliferating within some industries. In Europe, the bags are much more widespread, and the uses are greater across many more industries. In the United States, the bags are used extensively in some industries, while others have not adopted them as the go-to for their intermediate packaging of choice.
What is an FIBC?
An FIBC or bulk bag is essentially a bag made from woven polypropylene strands of thread. The bag fabric is made the same way you would produce cotton clothing where the strands are produced and then woven together. The difference is that these bags can hold a great deal of weight. Normally they are shipped with about 2200 – 3000 lbs of various materials. However, when the correct handling equipment is in place, these bags can be produced to hold 12,000 lbs of material (FIgure 1).
Figure 1: Industrial strength forklift carrying a 12,000 lbs of frac sand
What types of products or materials can be stored in FIBCs or bulk bags?
Many industries already use bulk bags such as agriculture, aggregate, grains, fertilizer, plastics, chemicals, powders, mining, etc. The most common markets using bags are food, pharmaceuticals, agriculture and chemicals. https://fibca.com/faq-page-1/ All of these markets would prefer to ship in large bulk but it is not always possible. Some customers cannot take bulk trucks and require a smaller amount of material. For example, a farmer wanting only 2,000 lbs of seeds or fertilizer would not accept an entire truckload, so bulk bags are perfect. Another instance is when shipping overseas in shipping containers, bulk bags provide a way for under-industrialized countries to receive products. Shipping chemicals to be used in gold mining to Africa would not lend itself to bulk shipments. The product must be in either small bags or bulk bags which enables them to handle them even in a primitive infrastructure (dirt roads, poor equipment).
Why aren’t FIBCs or bulk bags more widely used?
Some reasons why FIBCs are not used in more industries are either skepticism or misconceptions about the product. As for skepticism, many do not believe a 5 lbs plastic bag can safely hold 3,000 lbs. until they are in an industry where they see it all the time being done. Misconception comes into play because many do not understand how they are used and believe an extensive infrastructure is needed to load or unload the bags. Bulk Boxes are easier for some industries to identify with, as they know how a box works. In addition, some companies have substantial investment already for equipment for unloading boxes such as box tippers. Stacking can influence the decision as well. Many companies stack on the floor three high, so boxes can be stacked three high without much planning while bulk bags take more planning and understanding of the product.
Why Should You Use Bulk Bags?
Easier to store
On average, bulk bags that equal the same volume as a bulk box have around 200 bags on one normal sized pallet. Therefore, on average 7,000 bags take up the same footprint as 500 bulk boxes. For companies who are tight for space, this could be a huge advantage.
Easier to procure
For new boxes, procurement managers must continually procure boxes to fill demand. With used boxes, which many industries use, these are sometimes not available and the need to search with many suppliers (each month) is necessary. Finding used gaylord boxes is dependent on the volume of production who are producing the boxes being discarded. If the industrial production is down, there will be fewer boxes on the secondary market to purchase. With bags, the procurement could happen much less frequently, as the space used for one load of bags will equal the same space as one truckload of boxes.
Easier to handle
A bulk bag weighs from 4-6 pounds on average, so one female worker could handle them with ease. Conversely, an octagon bulk box takes two people to prepare for loading and can weigh from 30-45 pounds. https://fibca.com/portfolio-items/fibc-history/
New bulk bags cost anywhere from $9-$12 and used bags can be purchased for around $4-$6. New bulk boxes will cost between $25-$35 to purchase and used boxes from $12-$16 depending on the market at the time. With companies using thousands of these a year, it would add up to considerable savings.
Ability to hold more weight
A 4-5 wall bulk box can hold around 1,800-2,000 lbs. whereas a bulk bag can be built to hold up to 4,000 lbs. with the same footprint as a bulk box. Therefore, you have the same footprint but twice the weight. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intermediate_bulk_container
Who Should Use Bulk Bags?
Landscaping Supply Companies
A small number of companies deliver mulch, rocks, stone, sand, dirt, etc. in bulk bags. Many more should employ these bags, as they could easily send a load of 5 or more materials to the same job site in individual bags which keeps each product separated. Also, each bag could be taken to the exact location where it will be used. Most use bulk trucks which means they will have materials mixing on shipment or they will have to send multiple trucks. In addition, they will dump it in one central location, and then it must be moved by hand or some other means to where it is needed.
What types of building products? Construction companies could benefit by using bags, as they could place the bag right where the material is either being used or discarded. Thus, eliminating the need to handle materials multiple times which takes much more labor. For example, pipe fittings, concrete ties, rebar, mortar, bricks, etc. Also, if materials are being discarded in a remodeling project, the bags could be close to rehab location and loaded one time and then hauled out to a dumpster. Bulk bags could save considerable time.
Whether you are recycling metal, plastic, or clothing these bags could be a huge advantage over bulk boxes. If you are shipping these materials overseas, the bags can easily be stacked two high on a shipping container and fitted to eliminate any unused space. Also, you can eliminate the need for expensive heat-treated pallets. With boxes, you must use pallets, so the costs are higher.
Charitable organizations take in a vast number of materials whether it be clothes, books, toys, shoes, and many others. They must manage all this material to either resale it in a retail outlet or prepare it to ship overseas. Bags could be made at different heights/widths to accommodate the different types of materials to be handled. For example, a bag could be made 84” tall, so there would only be a need for one bag for every two boxes to go into an overseas container. Likewise, the bulk bag could be 24” high to fit near a table for sorting into, so there is much greater flexibility.
As described above, there are many advantages to using bulk bags, so some industries or companies should look at what is required to make the switch. They will not be disappointed. If you require more information, contact a bulk bag supplier for more information.