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Paper or FIBC?

Paper is well-established for delivery of bulk ingredients, but flexible IBCs have their advantages.

Increased production demands, cost-cutting measures and safety issues are driving food processors to examine the benefits of handling dry powder ingredients in bulk bags - better known as flexible intermediate bulk containers (FIBCs).

For years the standard shipping containers for powdered ingredients headed to small- or medium-sized food plants have been the 50- to 80-pound double-walled paper sacks stacked on a pallet. Use of sacks is labor intensive, creates housekeeping and disposable problems, and can increase worker compensation and safety issues.

Once the only alternative was bulk shipments transported by rail and unloaded into silos - an expensive setup for the smaller food plant.

But the past decade has seen the growing use of FIBCs, generally one- to two-ton bags that, when filled, ship in a 3-foot x 3-foot x 4-foot-high space. FIBCs offer the benefits of shipping, moving and feeding large quantities of powdered product into a food processing stream with a minimum of labor.

"The majority of our products are still shipped in the 50-pound double-walled paper bag," says Gwen Bargetzi, communications manager for New Zealand Milk Products Inc., headquartered in Santa Rosa, Calif. The firm is one of the largest suppliers of milk protein in the world.

"We are also using some bulk bags. A lot of companies now are consolidating, especially in the dairy industry. We are seeing increasing requests for shipping in FIBCs, particularly as the larger companies try to cut production costs in specific areas."

Many companies take a hard look at the safety issues.

"I think the safety consideration is a big factor in going to bulk bags, aside from the fact that it just makes sense to haul more material in one big bag vs. more than one bag," says Richard C. Wahl, vice president and technical manager of Vibra Screw Inc., Totowa, N.J. The firm has been manufacturing and selling bulk bag handling equipment for 12 years and recently added bags and bag-filling equipment to its product line. "People have to bend down to pick up paper sacks, which can mean back injuries. They drop the bags on their toes. When you open up the paper bags, you get a whiff of dust in your face, so you've got dusting problems."

But FIBC handling equipment minimizes these problems. Unloading machines range from the simple receiving hopper and frame for supporting the bags to a complete bag handling station with bag hoist and trolley and dust collection.

A well-designed bulk bag unloading system eliminates dust and spillage to protect machine operators. Most equipment manufacturers provide complete systems that enhance process efficiency. Firms such as K-tron of Pitman, N.J., offer a smart system for feeders, and Flexicon of Phillipsburg, N.J., offers several types of weigh systems so every need can be met.

"If you ship an FIBC via truck or rail, it tends to bounce along the roadway and the product settles," explains Joe Durlach, vice president of sales and marketing for Hapman Conveyors, Kalamazoo, Mich. "Or the product can pick up moisture along the way so by the time you get to the unloader, you have a very large solid mass that you have to discharge."

Flow into the hopper may be interrupted when the released product bridges (arches in the container). Or the product may rathole - flow from the center of the container only - leaving product packed against the sides.

To solve discharge problems there are agitators, vibrators, activators, extension devices, screws and vacuum-powered devices that promote material discharge.

Shipping may also cause other problems with the product.

"The form of the material may actually change when the material is vibrated during shipping," adds Durlach. "It may get denser, so product on the bottom of the bag can be totally different from the top of the bag. Degradation of particles on the bottom may also occur. These are all issues that can be addressed in the overall design of the system."

Going from paper sacks to FIBCs is a big step, requiring capital expense for handling and feeding equipment. Where are the savings? Reduction in labor cost is one possibility. Another area is in the disposal of bags. Most FIBC systems recycle the bags to some degree.

"I think the typical number of times a bag can be reused is something like five to eight times," says Wahl of Vibra Screw. "There's a tremendous savings."

Converting to an FIBC system might be done in stages to make the expense and the experience less painful. But there are a number of factors to consider before a plant forges ahead with the conversion.

"The way we are growing, we are going to have to do something different between now and a year from now," says Glen Hietpas, vice president of operations for Natural Ovens of Manitowoc, Wis. The bakery makes whole-grain breads, bagels, buns, muffins and cookies. "But bread is our mainstay. We do about 20,000 to 22,000 loaves a day, five days a week. We're not huge, but we have these mid-range problems."

Currently Natural Ovens is using a vacu-lift and a conveyor to dump ingredients from paper sacks into a hopper with an auger system. They haven't experienced many back injuries or cut fingers in their labor force. But disposal of the paper sacks is a problem.

The factors they must consider are the willingness of their suppliers to go to the bulk bag system and whether they have the floor space to run a forklift or a trolley with a crane in the mixing area. Or whether they should install an auger to move the ingredients from one place to another.

"We're looking into a lot of things," Hietpas explains. "Our problem is that we use so many different types of flours because we make whole-grain products. We wouldn't count out having the silo for the one type of flour, FIBCs for others and sacks for others."

It seems that the paper sack will continue to be a viable container in the food industry. Low volume required for some ingredients simply can't justify the FIBC.

"Some of our specialty ingredients run $1,000 a pound," points out Bargetzi of New Zealand Milk Products Inc. "Can you imagine that in a bulk bag?"
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Title Annotation:flexible intermediate bulk containers; Plants of Tomorrow: Material Handling
Author:Madi, Linda
Publication:Food Processing
Date:Jul 1, 1999
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