Shipping bulk liquids while keeping product integrity and costs down can be a challenge. And with a number of shipping container options available, it’s not always easy to determine which will be the most efficient and cost-effective for you in the long run.

So, how do you choose a shipping method that best meets your needs? Keeping in mind how much volume you have and whether its hazardous or non-hazardous material, we've narrowed down the four best ways to transport liquid cargo.

ISO Tank

If you ship a large capacity of liquid cargo then these tanks are ideal. A 20’ ISO tank can carry 20,000 - 26,000 litres of material and a 23’ container up to a huge 33,000 litres. You can also ship a wider variety of liquid cargo with an ISO tank; both hazardous and non-hazardous materials, and in liquid, gas and powder form. This is because an ISO tank is built of strong steel or anti-corrosive materials for the long life and protection of your cargo during transport. 

There’s one key requirement for you to keep in mind when shipping with an ISO tank - it must be filled to 80% - 95% capacity. If the tank is under 80% full, liquids can dangerously surge in transit. And anything over 95% means there’s not sufficient room for thermal expansion - also known as the “ullage”.

Pros:

  • Can ship both harmless and dangerous products
  • Has a large capacity
  • Suitable for ocean shipping, auto and railway transport
  • Reusable

Cons:

  • High costs (rent, shipping, sanitation)
  • Costs to be repositioned
  • High dependence on cargo for return

Drums / Barrels

There are many different types of drums and barrels available, such as steel, plastic and fiber. But, they are all very similar in that they require a liner or coating for food hygiene safety, and a pallet and strapping for safety. With volumes ranging from 20 to 250 litres, these are better suited if you ship a lower capacity of liquid cargo.

It is possible to use drums to ship hazardous material, as they can be what is universally known as "UN Certified". On the downside, drums can be challenging to use in terms of manoeuvrability, safety and storage.

Pros:

  • Uniform size makes drums easily stackable on pallets
  • Can be certified for transporting hazardous products
  • Easily transported

Cons:

  • Expensive - high packing cost and working cost
  • Refilling process is time consuming
  • Significant space required to store, particularly for empties

IBC's

Intermediate Bulk Containers or "IBC's" are reusable, industrial containers made for transporting bulk liquid and granular substances such as chemicals, food ingredients, solvents and pharmaceuticals. The size and shape of an IBC makes them easily stackable and mounted on a pallet, so they can be moved using a forklift or a pallet jack.

In terms of volume, an IBC holds around 200 to 1,250 litres, which is in between the capacity of drums and tanks - hence the term “intermediate”. With both top & side discharge/loading points, they are generally quite easy to use, without the need to transfer cargo to another storage tank.

Pros:

  • Easily transported
  • Can get FDA and Food Contact approved containers & liners
  • Lower handling and storage space costs

Cons:

  • High working cost
  • Refilling process is time consuming
  • Difficult to manage with respect to logistics space

Flexitank

Flexitank's are a special piece of equipment produced from plastic material - a multilayer bag with a capacity of up to 25,000 thousand litres. These tanks are installed within a standard 20” container and the product is pumped into it, either from the top or bottom. Much like the ISO tank, you must fill a flexitank up to 24 - 25 tons to keep within the maximum pressure limits allowed on the side walls of a container. If you underload, it won’t be insured as it will be prone to leakages.

A key thing to remember with flexitanks is that they are only suitable for harmless (non hazardous) products. But in saying that, they are ideal for oxygen and moisture sensitive products such as wine, flat beer and chemicals, as you can get tanks with barrier coats or osmosis prevention systems.

Pros:

  • Fast loading / discharging 
  • Lower cost than other packing methods (IBC’s, drums & barrels) so you save money on packaging costs
  • No contamination of cargo
  • Low storage costs for empty tanks
  • Maximise payload due to low weight of equipment

Cons:

  • One-way - cannot be reused
  • Must be insured for the intended use
  • Not as ideal for railway transport as the rear walls can be damaged by heavy shaking or from sudden stops during train manoeuvres
  • Can’t be used for dangerous or hazardous goods

 

Another important thing for you to consider when shipping any form of cargo are the requirements under SOLAS, the CTU Code and other directives. When it comes to weight verification, you can easily use portable container scales to weigh ISO tanks or flexitanks, so you won't have to worry about wasting time and money on costly weighbridges or third party weighing providers.

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