Intermediate Bulk Containers (IBCs) are a popular chemical packaging choice with sizes that lie between traditional bulk containers and 55-gallon drums. The size of an IBC tote can range from 110 to 550 gallons and cost between $180 and $3,500. Given the high cost of chemical totes and the fact that many models are reusable, many owners track these valuable assets throughout their entire lifetime.
In this post, we’ll discuss a few important steps that should be taken to properly track chemical totes as part of a container fleet. We’ll also describe the benefits of these tracking systems to fleet operations and simple steps you can use to implement improved tracking. A chemical tote tracking system does not need to be complex but should address several fundamental practices that can be deployed across your entire asset fleet.
Benefits of Using a Tote Tracking System
IBCs perform a critical role in moving goods between material suppliers and manufacturers. Suppliers that use reusable totes will often sell or lease these containers during the purchasing process to help ensure they are returned promptly. When a supplier establishes a tote tracking system, it provides a clear and transparent method for organizing these resources. In addition, companies that utilize totes within their own organizations must also develop a tracking system to properly manage these assets. A few major benefits of IBC tracking are:
- Creates a clear chain of custody
- Allows for identifying the current location of each tote
- Reduces tote idle time and underutilization
- Helps maintain regulatory compliance
- Allows for easily tracking lot numbers and avoiding cross-contamination
- Establishes clear maintenance records and action plans
- Tracks totes located at customer or partner sites
- Helps ensure proper safety and chemical handling practices
Establish an Asset Tracking System
To properly track chemical totes, it’s necessary to establish a dedicated system for asset and inventory management. A popular choice for many applications is an Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) platform. EAM software can be integrated with other platforms and configured to work with scanners, sensors, barcode labels, and RFID tags. Selecting the right system requires a deep understanding of the software capabilities, hardware interfaces, and unique applications that include tote storage.
Many advanced sectors that are responsible for expensive equipment, such as the aerospace industry, use several barcode and RFID schemes to properly track their raw materials, supplies, and finished products. An EAM platform may also allow the use of sensors and other in-line automation tools to verify tote dispensing activities and real-time supply volumes. The goal of these platforms is to automate routine tasks and provide a single repository to capture relevant information for each asset.
Identify and Tag Bulk Containers
Before tagging your chemical totes, it will be necessary to complete a thorough inventory of all container types and quantities. This may include new totes that will be put into service and any existing IBCs that are being used as part of the current chemical container fleet. After the part numbers and quantities are identified, you can then select asset labels that are well suited for each bulk container type.
Asset tags that are commonly used for tote tracking include barcode labels, durable data plates, RFID tags, and custom label designs. Since some totes are used to transport hazardous materials, it’s also important to choose asset tags that can withstand exposure to these substances and have the right level of durability. You’ll also want to ensure that these containers are properly labeled according to the relevant safety data sheets. A popular barcode label material for demanding applications is Metalphoto®, which can offer over 20 years of useful life under extreme indoor or outdoor conditions.
Manage Your Chemical Transportation System
With a central asset tracking platform and tagged chemical totes, you will have the first parts of a complete inventory tracking system. After verifying that your inventory and asset information is accurate, the system can then be used to optimize your current material handling practices. This can include optimizing storage locations and conditions and integrating sensors to provide information such as weights, dispensed volumes, and temperatures. Chemical totes should also be properly segregated from incompatible materials, and your asset management plan can include procedures for proper storage and disposal as well.
One of the most important reasons for implementing a chemical tote tracking system is the complete visibility it will provide for your container fleet. A centralized asset management platform is an excellent resource for management, technicians, and facility employees to identify improvements and new ways to streamline operations. The system will also give you confidence that all chemical totes are accounted for and in service.