Gain a finite understanding of current, available, and useable returnable containers in the fleet and within each loop

Returnable Container Management

Millions of returnable transport items (RTIs) such as containers, bins, pallets, totes, racks, and kegs move through the global supply chain, providing the most fundamental way parts, materials, and finished goods reach their destination.

These containers exist within large, multi-supplier supply chains. Lack of disciplined process and poor visibility into the location and movement of these containers can create significant levels of container surplus and waste. Up to 30% of containers in manufacturers' supply chains are in excess, underscoring the need to streamline these processes and gain visibility into the movement of containers.

If you’re in the business of making chemicals, then you’ll likely need durable, reliable and chemically compatible storage containers to send your chemical products where they need to go. These intermediate bulk containers, or IBCs, are manufactured specifically with your company’s chemical storage needs in mind.

Here’s everything you need to know about the different types of chemical tote containers and how they can keep your business running as effectively as possible.

IBC Types

IBC bulk containers are rigid, industrial-grade tanks specifically engineered to hold large amounts of chemical products and raw materials in many forms, including liquid, powder, and solids. 

Depending on the type of IBC tank, you can store just about anything in these super-strong totes, including (but certainly not limited to): 

  • Liquid, granulated, syrup and other types of food ingredients.
  • Bulk chemicals, including hazardous materials.
  • Industrial raw materials.
  • Petrochemical products, including adhesives, solvents, detergents and more.

Chemical IBC Totes Types

Plastic IBC Totes

Plastic IBC totes are sturdy high-density polyethylene (HDPE), which can be used with many different chemical compounds. Many HDPE totes are even rated for food and other consumables, hazardous chemical solutions, and materials in Packing Groups II and III per UN standards.

These plastic IBC containers are also made with several essential features that protect the solutions stored inside them and help them withstand environmental damage. Some features include HDPE resin that makes these totes food-safe, UV stabilizers that counteract the potentially harmful effects of sunlight degradation, and regulation-compliant valves, gaskets, caps, and more.

These totes can often be reused (with some limitations, such as caged IBC totes, which are commonly used to transport hazardous materials) and come in various shapes and sizes. Capacities range from 120 gallons to 550 gallons, depending on the type of tote, and can come in specific gravity ratings up to 1.9 SG. You can get plastic IBC totes in various shapes, including an easily stackable cube and cylinders to get just the right shape for your compound.

Some of the key benefits and features of HDPE totes include:

  • Options of standard-sized mouths, wide mouths, galvanized steel cages, and other features.
  • Easily stackable, which can improve storage and make transportation more efficient.
  • It can be more cost-effective across work-life expectancy than cylindrical drums.
  • Can withstand corrosion, does not rust, and are incredibly durable against tough damage like punctures and impacts.
  • Usable for practically any material, including industrial chemicals, petrochemicals, paints and dyes, lubricants and greases, pharmaceuticals, and food and beverage materials.

Stainless Steel IBC Totes

Stainless steel totes are a type of IBC made with super-strong stainless steel. This material makes these tanks a very effective solution for storing and transporting bulk chemicals and materials, both hazardous and non-hazardous, flammable and combustible materials, solids, and more. These steel totes are cube-shaped, making them easy to stack and haul wherever needed.

A stainless steel IBC tote can carry all sorts of compounds and materials, including dense, corrosive, reactive, and acidic. They can be used across several industrial and manufacturing processes. They can be used for petrochemicals, mixing and blending, food manufacturing, beverages, wines, and spirits, as well as paints, pharmaceuticals, and more. These steel containers are also certified to ship via air, rail, sea, and motor vehicle.

Steel chemical tote capacities range from 110 gallons to 550 gallons. 

Some of the key features of steel IBC tanks that make them the best choice for many manufacturers include:

  • Advanced chemical resistance allows these tanks to withstand corrosion and safely store and transport food and consumables.
  • Self-repairing chromium oxide to better prevent rusting.
  • Excellent hygienic properties.
  • Heavy-duty material can withstand impacts, deflect punctures, and better protect materials.
  • Repeated usability and increased maneuverability.
  • Work-life expectancy of 20 years or more often makes them the more cost-effective choice in the long run.

Carbon Steel IBC Totes

Carbon steel IBCs are sturdy metal containers that are excellent for storing and hauling many chemical solutions and other compounds, including hazardous and non-hazardous materials, liquids, or solids.

You can use carbon steel IBCs for a variety of chemical processing, storing, and transportation needs for solutions and materials such as:

  • Oil, solvents, and lubricants.
  • Paints and dyes.
  • Cleaning and sanitation chemicals.
  • Petrochemicals.

Some features that make carbon steel chemical IBCs a good choice include quick-filling bungs, vent caps that allow for automatic pressure releases, and hoppers that allow for near-complete product draining (so you never waste a drop!).

These bulk containers are nearly as durable as stainless steel IBC tanks but weigh much less because the material, carbon steel, is a metal alloy of carbon and iron. They’re a cheaper alternative to stainless steel while still having many of the same benefits as their stainless steel counterparts, including:

  • Incredible corrosion resistance.
  • Can be used in mixing or blending.
  • Stackable for easy storage and transportation.

One thing that does make them stand out from stainless steel IBCs is the uber-efficient filling capabilities and full interior access that allows for deep cleaning or other processes. They are often 100% recyclable once they’ve reached their work-life expectancy.

Chemical IBC Totes

Chemical storage containers are engineered explicitly for chemical operations, storage, and transportation. You can get chemical totes that are high-quality HDPE plastic, commercial-grade stainless steel, or carbon steel. 

Chemical IBCs range in capacity from 110 gallons to 550 gallons and come in both cube and cylindrical shapes (depending on whether you get steel or plastic).

How much does an IBC tote cost?

IBC totes can cost anywhere between $100 to $4,000 per tote. The cost of an IBC tote depends on what material it’s made of and how large it is. For example, plastic chemical totes tend to be the cheapest, especially when buying smaller sizes. You might pay $180 for a galvanized steel caged HDPE tote. 

Stainless steel totes tend to run in the thousands because of the cost of steel and the intricate engineering that makes these totes suitable for chemicals that can’t be stored or transported in plastic containers. For instance, you might pay closer to $2,500 for a 110-gallon steel tote and around $3,900 for a 550-gallon steel tote.


Suppliers struggle with reducing surplus stock, locating damaged or lost containers, and identifying solutions that resolve these issues.

These challenges exist because of the highly complex trading environments in which millions of containers are handled at high speeds without automated business processes: manual methods lead to tracking errors and mishandling. It is estimated that 5-15% of container inventory may be lost annually without effective tracking.

Visibility and traceability solutions provide a mechanism to share information about container movement.

These solutions offer advanced analytics and reporting capabilities, providing insight and driving business decisions. Traceability technology allows manufacturers and suppliers to share RFID- or barcode-generated information about a container’s state and movement. The analytics and reporting capabilities associated with these solutions help alleviate pain points for manufacturers and enable highly efficient business processes that ultimately lead to reduced ownership costs for returnable containers in the supply chain.

Improper container management leads to serious inefficiencies for the manufacturer, some of which can be addressed through container traceability:

Solution - SmartX HUB Container Tracking

Data from visibility technologies such as RFID or barcodes, when combined with new traceability and data analytics offered by SmartX HUB, can alleviate the pain points for manufacturers, enabling highly efficient business processes and reduced container ownership costs.
This visibility of and insight into new data also creates shared ownership of returnable containers that simplifies their management and transport and provides the foundation of a precious returnable container management solution.

Our Returnables Asset Management solution leverages analytics, geo-fencing, and IoT-RFID to accurately identify and monitor an asset’s location and movement within an industrial facility.
Assets are tagged with cost-effective beacons to provide a foolproof strategy to avoid shrinkage. When an asset crosses a geo-fenced border, an alert is issued identifying the asset as well as the precise location of the area.  Asset utilization data can be integrated to provide detailed insights into maintenance history.

The following video illustrates this shared, visible accountability of returnable containers.

SmartX HUB includes packaged reports

Real-world customer implementations of auto-ID-enabled RTI tracking solutions have demonstrated ROI in less than 12 months. More importantly, these solutions easily integrate into existing business processes to help provide a more seamless implementation and even more value. As early as the first complete turn, companies can leverage data to make smarter decisions, better manage supply chain partners, create process efficiencies and gain more control over the total supply chain costs.

Supply chain information has become increasingly generated by sensors, RFID/ Beacon tags, meters, actuators, GPS, and other devices and systems. In terms of visibility, supply chains are not only able to "see" more events, but they witness them as they occur. They are coming to rely less on labor-based tracking and monitoring, as objects like shipping containers, trucks, products, and parts report on themselves. Dashboards on devices display the real-time status of plans, commitments, supply sources, pipeline inventories, and consumer requirements.

SmartX HUB includes packaged reports that allow organizations to manage their returnable asset inventory and utilization more effectively. The SmartX HUB container tracking application includes several reports based on information that is, by default, refreshed hourly in the solution. 

Current Asset Inventory

This report shows the current asset inventory at each facility in the value chain. Use this report to assess inventory and expedite your shipping or substitution needs.

Current Asset List

This report lists the assets by type that are at a location. Use this report to understand which assets are at a particular location and determine what might be lost or missing.

Asset History

This report lists the event history of an asset. Use this report to determine when and where an asset was last observed or identify problems such as missing events, duplicate events, or cross events.

Asset Cycle Time History

This report shows how efficiently the assets cycle through storage locations. Use this report to compare the actual versus targeted cycle time performance for the specified storage locations.

Business Partner Cycle Time History

This report shows how efficiently each business partner (BP) and each business partner location turns assets. Use this report to compare actual versus targeted cycle time performance for the business partner facility.

Dwell Time History

This report shows the speed at which returnable assets move through a facility. Use this report to determine how efficiently assets are utilized throughout a supply chain.

Inventory History

This report shows the asset inventory at each business and location over time. Use this report to see how efficiently and effectively business owners and partners manage returnable asset inventories.


Traceability technology provides insight into container distribution, status, and supplier performance. SmartX HUB container tracking is part of SmartX’s Solution for Track & Trace and also leverages IoT-RFID and Cloud platforms for data capture. Smartx hub’s Solution for Track & Trace advances its past success in traceability technology by enabling multiple business use cases through applications and business intelligence.

Built on the SmartX HUB Platform, the Returnable Container Management application enables companies to manage their supply chains using new data, offering scorecards, dashboards, and reports to set expectations and identify cycle and turnaround times and inadequate performance by trading partners and suppliers.

SmartX HUB Cloud Platform integrates with customer master data systems to provide additional business context with the product, location, and supplier information.
By reducing turnaround time, loss, and expendable packaging and increasing the accuracy of cost allocation, a container management system can potentially produce a positive ROI in less than one year.

SmartX HUB’s global presence, coupled with its deep industry and business transformation expertise, has proven that the methodologies and experience gained from thousands of worldwide engagements help clients achieve accurate business results and innovation quickly and cost-effectively.


How can we help you?

Contact us at the SmartX office nearest to you or submit a business inquiry online.

Let us know how we can help you solve your business challenges!

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