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July 9, 2018

History of FIBC Bags

In many industries, supervisors struggle with the question of how to transport materials in an efficient, cost-effective way. Historically this was limited to pure bulk (entire truck, train car, or barge), small bulk (drums, 50-100 lb. bags), and large boxes (Gaylords).  In many cases these simply didn’t provide enough flexibility, efficiency, or economic feasibility. This conundrum gave rise to the invention of flexible intermediate bulk containers (commonly abbreviated to FIBCs), which are also known as bulk bags, Super Sacks®, jumbo bags, or big bags. FIBCs are industrial containers created from flexible fabric, and they are great at moving and storing dry powders and materials. For example, you might use FIBCs to transport sand, plastics, dry cement, and foodstuffs like flour, rice, beans, sugar, salt, etc. Although they’re exceptionally common these days, bulk bags have not always been around. Below we explore the history of FIBC bags.

Bulk bag isolated on the white background

History of FIBC Bags

1950s and 1960s

We don’t know exactly when bulk bags originated, but it’s clear it happened sometime in the late 1950s or early 1960s. In this early stage, FIBC bags were mostly used in the Europe and Japan, and only later in the United States.

The first bulk bags looked a little different than their modern counterparts. They were typically made from heavy-duty, PVC-coated nylon or polyester, and the cut sheets were welded together. The bags either contained lift swings, which were integrated into the container, or attached to a pallet. These bags were very rugged and had high weight capacities, but were very expensive. This led to the sewn, woven polypropelene bags we see today.

1970s and 1980s

The popularity of FIBCs increased dramatically in the 1970s, particularly in Europe due to the global oil crisis. Countries producing oil required a large amount of cement for building programs, and this cement was often transported in bulk bags from Northern Europe, Italy, and Spain to the Middle East.

Demand for FIBCs in the United States grew more quickly in the 1980s, when the U.S. Department of Transportation agreed to grant exemptions so that bulk bags could be used for the shipping of hazardous materials. To ensure safety, the Chemical Packaging Committee of the Packing Institute established and issued performance standards for bulk bags.

Today

The FIBC industry has continued to grow, adding another chapter to the history of FIBC bags. Today, FIBCs transport over 1/4 billion tons of product each year in a wide range of industries. Fifty million bags were used in 2017 in the US alone. In addition to being used to transport and store products, bulk bags are used in some areas, including Thailand and North America, to create temporary walls used for flood prevention.

Why have bulk bags endured through the decades? They offer several benefits:

  • They are lightweight and strong. Typically bulk bags weigh between five and seven pounds. Despite their low weight, they are strong. They can hold between 2,000 and 4,400 pounds of bulk materials.
  • They are easy to handle. FIBCs are constructed for ease of use, typically featuring straps or handles so they can be lifted by equipment with ease. Additionally, they are filled from the top but discharged from the bottom – eliminating the need to invert or dump from the top like drums, bins, and Gaylords.
  • They save space. When not in use, FIBCs can be folded flat and easily moved and stored. When filled, they have a very low ratio of packaging to product weight.
  • They can be customized. Bulk bags can be designed to fit the consumer’s specific needs. You can customize your bag’s height, diameter, length, fabric, and spout construction.
  • They are economical. The price of bulk bags is extremely competitive. In addition, when bulk bags are put into action, other supplies (like pallets and packaging) may not be necessary.
  • They are recyclable. FIBCs can easily be reused or recycled. For more information on this topic, check out the Recycling Resources provided by the Flexible Intermediate Bulk Container Association (FIBCA).

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With over 50 years of combined experience in the dry materials field, FormPak can assist your company with bulk bag filling, unloading, lifting, as well as fully integrated batching systems, bag break stations, and flexible screws. To discuss the requirements of your bulk bag or dry material handling project, please give us a call or contact us online today.