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Transportation Technology

Are Folding Containers the Future of Shipping? 188

Posted by timothy
from the harder-to-turn-into-a-home-though dept.
swellconvivialguy writes "Earlier this year Maersk ordered 20 super-size container ships—each to have '16 percent larger capacity than today's largest container vessel, Emma Maersk.' But instead of embracing the bigger/more-is-better mentality, Staxxon, a NJ-based startup, has engineered a folding steel container (it folds like a toddler's playpen), which is designed to make shipping more efficient by 'reducing the number of container ship movements.' No one has yet succeeded in the marketplace with a collapsible container, but Staxxon has made a point of learning from the mistakes of others."
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Are Folding Containers the Future of Shipping?

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  • Advertisement? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Stephenmg (265369)
    So why are we posting ads written as articles on Slashdot? I fail to see how this is news for Nerds. It really has nothing to do with the normal topics of slashdot as well as being an ad.
    • by larry bagina (561269) on Sunday September 25, 2011 @01:42AM (#37506450) Journal
      If you drew a Venn diagram of "news for nerds" and "stuff that matters", you know what would be at the intersection? That's right: folding shipping containers.
    • Mmmm. I kinda feel like you do. But, while scratching my head over the submission, I got to thinking. Mankind wastes a lot of crap. Including shipping containers. See, I had smaller containers in mind - the stuff your local grocer has hauled to the landfill and/or a paper recycler every week.

      I was visualizing some kind of plastic or metal containers being hauled to the grocer, filled with everything from toilet paper to filet mignon, aspirin to floor wax. The staff unloads it, puts it on the shelves,

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        I was visualizing some kind of plastic or metal containers being hauled to the grocer, filled with everything from toilet paper to filet mignon, aspirin to floor wax. The staff unloads it, puts it on the shelves, and leaves the container sitting right where the truck dropped it. Next day, the truck returns, unloads a new container, folds up yesterday's container, and puts it in front of, or on top of, the rest of his load.

        Have you envisioned the way stuff gets to the store now, and considered why it's done that way? Because your idea throws all that out the window.

        • Actually, yes. I've considered it. And, I consider it to be extremely wasteful. As I pointed out already, every grocer in America has to haul off a truckload of waste every month. Larger grocers might have two or three truckloads per week.

          Since I am a former truckdriver, I am intimately familiar with how things are done, and why they are done that way. And, that does not change the fact that we, as a nation, generate millions of tons of waste, every day.

          Now, I've already said that my idea was half asse

          • by WorBlux (1751716)
            We can afford the waste because the industrial processes are so efficient.
            • That seems to be a staple of capitalistic propaganda.

              What capitalism is most efficient at, is the transfer of money from the general population into the coffers of the small percentage of people and corporations that actually run things.

              • by WorBlux (1751716)
                Depends on what you mean by capitalist. If by capitalism you means the system that we have now with all of it's distortions and monopolizations then your second claim is correct. If by capitalism you simply mean a free market then the claim is incorrect (Kevin Carson, The Iron Fist Behind the Invisible Hand) As for you first claim it's not propaganda it's simply the truth. If you can only grow wheat at 20-30 bushels/ acre yeild and half of it rots or is eaten by insects and rodent in storage, then you have
          • by drinkypoo (153816)

            Actually, yes. I've considered it. And, I consider it to be extremely wasteful. As I pointed out already, every grocer in America has to haul off a truckload of waste every month. Larger grocers might have two or three truckloads per week.

            No, I mean, really considered it. You need to examine the entire chain of goods. At some point the goods are going to come from a factory. They must be packaged for sale, and the packages and goods must be protected from damage, so they must be placed in a case. Since the factory produces only a few items, it makes sense to stack them together. The cheapest way to move a bunch of boxes is on a pallet. See where I'm going with this? Barring the development of the stasis field, the parts of the load that are

    • I don't think many ocean carriers read Slashdot. Therefore as an ad it would be utterly misplaced.

      • by onepoint (301486)

        I would think you are wrong, logistics's is a problem that computers are great at solving. There are many idea's on slashdot that support the transport industry, the one above is a good example

    • Really, folded empty containers, use less fuel to ship empty, and therefore less CO2 emissions, less CO2 emissions mean less AGW according to the only settled science in existence. I really think that amongst slashdotters, belief in AGW has surpassed even the Flying Spaghetti Monster in number of adherents, so I can see how its apropos.

      • by rtb61 (674572)

        That is still rather wasteful. Far more sensible to redesign shipping containers so that they can readily be re-purposed at the delivery destination. Make the container part of useful cargo rather than a cargo burden.

        So excess containers at any location globally are simply and cost effectively re purposed, problem solved.

        • I have looked into getting a large 40 foot container to use as a hunting cabin when I get some land of my own. They are corrugated so you have voids where you could insulate them, they are durable, and reasonably water tight. They are about the same size as a standard trailer home that so many people have for a cabin but are probably an order of magnitude more durable. Get it up off the ground, and prime and paint it with some good rust resistant paint, attach some siding and a pointed roof and the thing wo
    • The post is not an advertisement. It is a DDoS attack on vigneshwaran.net!

    • by couchslug (175151)

      Because Slashdot is turning to shit.

      BTW I have a SEVERE ISO container fetish and don't care about this Slashvertisement.

      The design is asking for leaks. People who handle containers BEAT THE FUCK out of them. Ask any welder who does container repair.

      Steel is cheap. The solution to accumulation is repurposing.

      Unfortunately, container sales outfits want top dollar. I have three (one 20' standard, two 40' High Cubes) and they make great shop structures. Paint the roof white, camo the sides to blend with local f

  • Tradeoff (Score:4, Insightful)

    by PhattyMatty (916963) on Sunday September 25, 2011 @12:34AM (#37506254)

    Looks like a cool concept, though it looks like it takes much more human contact than regular shipping containers do (when being folded). This could be a problem, as a lot of the bigger shipping yards are automated and/or move containers around using large machines.

    We'll have to see if the increase in human contact is worth the space saved when shipping empty containers around.

    • by geogob (569250)

      You are spot on the point. It seems to required are lot of complex manipulations to fold and pack these containers. I see how this technology may be very useful in some case, but it won't really help for shipping. It's simply too much human interaction for a system that fought to bring such interactions down to a minimum.

      • by peragrin (659227)

        the problem is it is cheaper to build more containers than it is to ship the empty ones back.

        If you can reduce the space required to ship the empty ones back by a significant margin, then it becomes cost effective to not build new and waste, but simply stack 4 empties int he space of one regular container.(no I didn't read the article on how far it packs up.

        automating the folding later if engineered correctly shouldn't be hard to do.

        • The ship still has to go back and the additional cost of carrying containers is probably quite small. A bit of extra handling and air resistance I suppose. Maybe the ships could be recyclable and the crew could fly back on planes?

          • by xantho (14741)

            Actually, TFA mentions that the cost of shipping empty containers is very close to the cost of shipping laden ones.

            • the big cost is time and the lift on and lift off.

              a good crane operator can do a steady 34 to 36 lifts per hour, so every empty has a lift on and lift off cost. plus the 2 minute cycle that might be associated with it.

              Now we have more empties in the USA than in Asia, so we have to lift them and move them from the east and west coast USA for discharge Asia... so if the container folds where we can carry 2 instead of 1 on the lift, it's a 50% lift on/lift off cost, back in the 90's we had a charge call THC

    • by hedwards (940851)

      It's a bad concept. All it does is encourage trade deficits. Traditionally the way that it works is that a container is shipped from say China to the US, the contents are then emptied and it is refilled with something from the US which then goes somewhere else.

      The only reason that this is being tried is because containers are starting to collect in one place or another, and the solution isn't foldable containers, the solution is getting rid of free trade agreements and enacting policies to correct the syste

    • Nigel Tufnel: But if you keep folding it, then it keeps breaking...
      Ian Faith: Why would you keep folding it?
      Nigel Tufnel: ...and then everything has to be folded... and then you have... this. And I don't want this.
  • by YesIAmAScript (886271) on Sunday September 25, 2011 @12:35AM (#37506260)

    Having to slide 4 very heavy folded containers onto those bars seems like it might be difficult. It seems like it would get a lot worse after the container has made several trips across the ocean in the salt air.

    Also, the folding process seems like a drag, although high volume sites would probably have a specialized rig just to fold them and unfold them if these becomes accepted.

    It's too bad shipping containers are higher than they are wide, because it would seem like flattening 5 and turning them on their side and stacking them up would be more straightforward than this rod stuff.

    What happens if you only have 3 or 4, can you still fold them, or only in 5s?

    • by rolfwind (528248)

      While somewhat time consuming, I could see this being beneficial for the train and trucking industry (if they're not too heavy).

      With trucks especially, you could send a convoy of 5 or so out, and then have 1 bring it back, and the other 4 haul something else. With trains, weight is less of an issue, but it's always good to use less cars just for empty space, as the frames themselves add weight.

      • by wvmarle (1070040)

        The folding/unfolding is what bothers me too.

        They will not make too much difference for trucking: a container truck can carry a shipping container, not much else. Not likely that if you send out two trucks that one can take back both empty boxes, and the other something else. There is just not much "something else" to carry.

        Difference is made in storage yards: less space taken. And on container vessels: there is much much more volume of cargo going from China to the US and EU than the other way around, a

        • Difference is made in storage yards: less space taken. And on container vessels: there is much much more volume of cargo going from China to the US and EU than the other way around, and liners routinely ship empty containers all the way back to China. Finished products simply contain much more air than raw materials, one container of raw materials can easily become five containers of finished product.

          For trucks, there is also a potential reduction in fuel use, if empty containers have to be transported a significant distance.

          Container carrying ships also can't carry much other than containers. It's hard to see the benefit, since the number of containers transported to and from each port (allowing for triangle routes and other route differences) must balance. Empty containers remain empty. Even if you came up with "disposable" containers, there would likely not be much change in the ship movements; ju

          • by wvmarle (1070040)

            Send out two trucks, they both have to get back. With or without container on their trailer. And besides most unloading points don't have the equipment to take a container off a trailer, let alone do the folding. Folding and unfolding will be exclusively done in container yards (either at the dock or inland).

          • by cynyr (703126)

            There is another benefit. Even if they re load the ship with the same number containers, the weight would be lower down, and should mean a more stable ship on the return trip. Not losing a few containers per trip could pay of in the long run.

        • by sFurbo (1361249)

          Finished products simply contain much more air than raw materials, one container of raw materials can easily become five containers of finished product.

          Plus, many raw materials are transported in the bulk, not needing containers.

        • by Thing 1 (178996)

          And on container vessels: there is much much more volume of cargo going from China to the US and EU than the other way around, and liners routinely ship empty containers all the way back to China.

          This bothers me. Why does China contain raw materials that are better than those contained in North America? The answer is that it doesn't; it's that the politics have made it cheaper to ship products from there, than to create them here. So my scientific nature would state that the politics are the part that is inefficient. And that scares me, because if science is against my politics, then we're doomed.

          Of course, the other aspect to it is that China is developing nanotechnology spy devices, and are fi

    • by wvmarle (1070040)

      The beauty of this roof/bottom collapse is that you still retain the stackability and full strength, containers are routinely stacked seven layers high. With an allowed gross weight of about 24 tons for a 20' unit, and about 28 ton for a 40' unit, that's a lot of weight the bottom container has to carry.

      And according to the article 2, 3, 4 or 5 can be folded in a single unit. Just don't fold them completely wiht less than 5 units, so at least you have two walls where the outer walls should be.

  • by perpenso (1613749) on Sunday September 25, 2011 @01:00AM (#37506318)
    Or perhaps we could sell things to asia. If the containers going from the US to asia were not empty then there would be no need for them to fold.
    • That's just crazy talk.
    • by green1 (322787)

      We do sell things to asia, but they don't require containers, they require bulk cargo holds...
      And here lies the problem, we ship empty both directions, just with different types of ships.

      Raw materials go one way, finished products go the other. empty container ships going back to asia pass the empty bulk carriers going back to north america.

    • by rolfwind (528248)

      It's just not going to happen. Some, like this article, argue that it's a good thing:
      http://cafehayek.com/2011/09/artificial-scarcities-are-not-wealth.html [cafehayek.com]

      While I'm not convinced, I see economics knows no borders. So while people get impoverished in the US, many more in China are having their standard of living raised.

      IMO, the real problem of the US was not so much no longer producing things, but that we are a consumer society rather than a saving one to it's very core. I'm not even talking about buying

      • compared to a country like Germany, we spend use 4x the oil per capita. That means so much more capital going out of the country to squander on a resource when we don't have to.

        That has to do with our geography more than anything else. Germany is about 3/4 the area of the state of California but has over double the population. Countries like Germany are basically filled with people. There are people everywhere, which means everything to fill your necessities are always nearby. Not so around here. I live in the North Bay. The nearest fairly-populated city to mine is 10 miles down the 101. The nearest metropolitan center is San Francisco, about 60 miles south of me. My job is 90 mil

        • by drsquare (530038)

          It's not geography, it's urban planning. Just because you have a big country doesn't mean you have to commute across three state lines. Germans don't live in Munich and work in Berlin. The population distribution is more important than the density. Public transport would be viable in America if Americans didn't all hate each other and build their suburbs so they're as far away from other people as possible.

          Once the oil runs dry you'd better hope they've come up with a viable electric car, otherwise you'll h

          • Once the oil runs dry you'd better hope they've come up with a viable electric car, otherwise you'll have to knock down and rebuild your entire country.

            We're already working on this; see Detroit for an example of teardown/rebuild or just teardown and giving back the land.

          • by Vellmont (569020)


            Once the oil runs dry you'd better hope they've come up with a viable electric car, otherwise you'll have to knock down and rebuild your entire country.

            Yes, this is certainly a problem. It's one of the reasons I don't feel so bad when gas prices skyrocket. But I'd say it pales in comparison to the problem of much of our economy being dependant on low oil prices. People living in the middle of nowhere, and commuting 40 miles each way every day is part of that larger problem.

          • It's a lot easier to hate your neighbors when you live in a "melting pot" society, as opposed to a country where 85% of the population has a common ethnic heritage. I'm not saying it's right to hate each other, just that it makes it easy to hate each other when the guy next door looks, sounds, and acts completely different from you.
            • by drsquare (530038)

              So how would that explain English-speaking Christian Americans trying to get away from English-speaking Christian Americans?

        • But wouldn't such a geographically spread out area profit even more from an effective and dense public transport system?

          • The problem is if you want people to use public transport links you need to make them more attractive than driving. In a rich country where private cars are affordable to buy and run that means you need to make the public transport option at least comparable in time terms.

            If transport links only run occasionally passengers lose a lot of time waiting (both to set off initially and at change points) but to justify running them frequently you need a LOT of passengers trying to go the same way. The more people

        • There is a decent light rail network through the South and East Bay and Silicon Valley, but there is literally no way for me to get to San Francisco via public transportation unless I go by bus,

          We could have a Bart train across the Golden Gate, but Marin County prefers to use the Pacific Ocean as a moat to keep out all the "skeezy people" (as one friend of my mom's put it) from SF and Oakland.

          • by joss (1346)

            > Marin County prefers to use the Pacific Ocean as a moat to keep out all the "skeezy people"

            Yeah, that place is.. uh... something. Last time I was there I was pulled over and quizzed on suspicion of driving without a BMW.

            • I wouldn't recommend anyone drive in Marin County, my wife's grandmother lives there and she still drives. Personally I think she learned to drive from another Hungarian, John Von Neumann [wikipedia.org], as she seems believe a car is either stopping or speeding up and has been known to lock up the brakes after coming over the Golden Gate bridge into Marin county where there is a dip in the road as you round the curve.
        • by rolfwind (528248) on Sunday September 25, 2011 @06:16AM (#37507006)

          That has to do with our geography more than anything else. Germany is about 3/4 the area of the state of California but has over double the population. Countries like Germany are basically filled with people. There are people everywhere, which means everything to fill your necessities are always nearby.

          But this goes back to suburbanization which occurred mostly post-WWII. America has the geography, but there is no reason to have a large portion of the population spread out across most of it, Just like Canada is HUGE, but 90% of the population lives 100 miles from the US border (for various reasons, much of it temperature). Have it as farm land or what not.

          I mean, it's probably too late now, way too much of our economy is still invested in the idea of ever-increasing real-estate... but think for a moment if America remained more urbanized. We'd have better mass transit, and our demand for fuel would be lower, which in turn wouldn't have us station our armed forces in outposts throughout the world so much to ensure steady supply (more than world peace). An armed force, which btw, is uses the same amount of oil as a decent sized nation just by itself.

          When politicians talk about us "maintaining our way of life", I wonder how much of that is maintaining our freedoms, or if they simply mean that Suzy Homemaker can commute her SUV an hour each day 20 miles to and fro from work? Nationally, It's an expensive lifestyle to keep, yet people don't see that.

          As far as houses go, good insulation adds maybe 5% to the overall cost (something that contractors often skimp on as it cuts into their margin) but would save the homeowner that amount many times over. And planning would go down close to 0 if it became the norm.

          • We spend much of our energy on simple heating and cooling. California and Florida have the lowest household energy usage rates among the 50 states, because they have the mildest climates. Personally, our 70's era house uses about $1400 worth of electricity and gas over a year. Half of that--- half!-- went to the A/C and gas furnace. But what can be done? We've had quite a few salespeople try to persuade us to spend $10000 to upgrade the windows to dual pane. Also had a few float other ideas such as a

          • by roman_mir (125474)

            That's why taxes kill infrastructure [slashdot.org] and instead of improving the economy they destroy it. [slashdot.org]

            That's why basic income ends up hurting the economy rather than helping it. [slashdot.org]

            Any government activity should be heavily monitored and authorized only after all other options have been fully exhausted. Any government activity that relate to economy (and most of them do) end up hurting the economy in direct and indirect way.

            Gov't 'building' infrastructure in reality creates subsidized infrastructure that cannot survive on

          • by khallow (566160)

            America has the geography, but there is no reason to have a large portion of the population spread out across most of it, Just like Canada is HUGE, but 90% of the population lives 100 miles from the US border (for various reasons, much of it temperature). Have it as farm land or what not.

            People choose to do that, hence, there is ample reason for suburban sprawl.

      • To amass wealth, one actually has to save. When you save, your opportunities and possibilities expand as well as society being able to use your savings to make investments.

        And then you run smack dab into the brick wall known as "the paradox of thrift". If everyone is saving, then nobody takes advantage of the increased investment capital available because nobody is buying and there will be little to no return on investment.

    • by cffrost (885375)

      That's a good idea. We could fill the containers with cash, America's #1 export. =)

  • by raahul_da_man (469058) on Sunday September 25, 2011 @01:13AM (#37506356)

    While this company's idea is interesting, it is still two years away from even being approved for commercial use. There are at least two competitors with easier, simpler to use technology:

    Indian Shipping Company

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CV-R5jlf6bQ&feature=related [youtube.com]

    Dutch variant

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vHlTrOVv9gs&feature=related [youtube.com]

    The problem, so many shipping containers just pilling up unused in the Western world, and forcing the creation of countless new containers in Asia, is certainly worth solving. But so many companies have tried and failed before. For my money, the Indian or Dutch version seems that more likely to win out. India has far lower steel costs, and is at the centre of shipping between Asia, Europe, Africa and Australia.

    • by YesIAmAScript (886271) on Sunday September 25, 2011 @01:26AM (#37506400)

      The Dutch one is too lightweight. And having the sides fold might seem like a great idea, but when you stack 4 more containers on it and go crashing through waves, you have to start wondering if it's going to fold up when it isn't supposed to.

      Also, a roll-up door on the end? You must be kidding me. What happens when the contents shift? You may end up with something leaning on the door and keeping it from rolling up or just flat out bending the door so it won't roll. The sturdy doors of a standard container (or the Indian one) are stronger and open outward so you don't have to give up space inside for the door tracks and stowage space.

      • by couchslug (175151)

        Heavy cargo could punch through that rollup door like shit through a duck.

        I own ISO containers AND ducks, hence the comparison.

        • Somewhat off topic but what does a 40' container cost? I have been looking to get one to use as a hunting cabin once I get some land up north and am curious what a used 40' one costs.
          • by couchslug (175151)

            Containers tend to be in the teens/low twos no matter what the size.

            If you can get a refrigerated container or trailer body, their insulation would serve you well in Northern climates.

            If logistics is a hassle and/or you want an L or square structure, bring two twenties instead. They are short enough and light enough to load on a towed flatbed trailer and pull off by attaching a deadman to a tree and driving out from under them.

            They are supported by the ends, so no foundation required. A railroad tie under e

      • looks like a death trap!
  • by Solandri (704621) on Sunday September 25, 2011 @01:27AM (#37506408)

    Staxxon, a NJ-based startup, has engineered a folding steel container (it folds like a toddler's playpen), which is designed to make shipping more efficient by 'reducing the number of container ship movements.'

    You can't do that. Imbalances in amount of cargo going East vs West are inevitable because of trade imbalances, but Kirchoff's laws also apply to container ships: Every container ship going East must return West.

    Say there are 5 container ships with containers full of cargo which travel from China to the U.S. On the return trip, say there's only one container ship's worth of cargo. So you load one container ship with cargo for the return trip. The containers from the other 4 ships you collapse and load onto a second ship. You've now loaded all the containers needed for the next 5 ships worth of cargo onto 2 ships heading back to China. Great! You've eliminated the need for 3 ships on the return leg, right? Wrong. Once those containers get back to China and are loaded up with cargo, you now have 5 ships worth of cargo containers, but only 2 ships to transport them. Those 3 ships you left in the U.S. have to make the return trip to China regardless of whether they're loaded or empty.

    The number of container ship movements is dictated by the maximum amount of cargo traveling between two destinations one-way, not the minimum. The minimum is irrelevant since you need the empty containers and container ships to make the return trip anyway to ferry the next batch of cargo along the maximum one-way route. The only way you can reduce the number of container ship movements is to scrap the 3 container ships you left in the U.S., and replace them with 3 new ones built in China. That's just not economically feasible. You might be able to shaft some of the ship captains into having to make an empty trip back to China, but all that'll do is cause them to raise the price they charge for the next trip from China to the U.S. The net result is no reduction in container ship movements, and no reduction in fuel consumed, and no reduction in overall cost.

    • Drive past any major port in the US. Chances are you will see acres of empty shipping containers stacked up doing nothing. Those ships are going back empty anyway because its cheaper then moving the now empty containers back to their source. Even if the collapsible containers don't return to Asia, they will certainly take up less real estate here in the USA.
      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        It's cheaper to produce new containers not just because of weight, but because of port restrictions. Once a container with a wooden floor (i.e. most of them) has entered certain ports, it has to be gassed before it can re-enter certain other ports, allegedly to prevent the spread of certain pests. This is more expensive than just buying another container. Since people are starting to warm up to container-based architecture, there's even a use for the discarded containers.

    • by roskakori (447739) on Sunday September 25, 2011 @02:56AM (#37506616)

      Once those containers get back to China and are loaded up with cargo, you now have 5 ships worth of cargo containers, but only 2 ships to transport them. Those 3 ships you left in the U.S.

      Good point. Seems they need to find a way to fold ships, too.

      Similar to bikes [wikipedia.org], planes [wikipedia.org] and (to some extent) cars [automotto.com].

    • An empty ship uses way less fuel to travel than a full ship. It moves way less water due to the weight not pushing the boat in deeper. In the real world, lots of containers get stuffed with less profitable goods to be transported to the far east, because that still slightly more profitable than shipping empties. The price of the return trip is usually calculated into the the price of shipping goods from the far east, so it's already paid for.
      • by Ecuador (740021)

        So, the foldable containers help in what way? Either you ship back folded or unfolded empty containers, the weight of the ship and thus the water displacement is the same. The folding improves only on volume so the gp is correct, the only think that could possibly be affected is the returning ships being a bit more aerodynamic (which obviously will not make up for the folding/unfolding overhead), and of course land storage (but good logistics might help more than folding for this).
        You have to fold ships too

    • but Kirchoff's laws also apply to container ships: Every container ship going East must return West.

      The obvious solution then is folding cargo ships!

    • by Chuckstar (799005)

      I think you missed the point. They are not trying to reduce the number of container ship movements, they are trying to reduce the number of container movements.

      They are trying to reduce the time and energy associated with moving containers around the port. Containers get moved from a staging area, to near the ship, then onto the ship, then off the ship (but still near the ship), then out to a staging area again. And on top of that, many cargo routes include multiple ports on each continent, so ships are

    • by goodmanj (234846)

      Hear, hear. I came here to post *exactly* this thought, but I wasn't clever enough to come up with "Kirchoff's Laws apply to container ships".

  • The ships still have to go back. Sending them back with collapsed containers and empty space rather than full stacks of empty containers doesn't seem to save much. Also, at the moment there's a shortage of empty containers.

  • by RubberDogBone (851604) on Sunday September 25, 2011 @01:41AM (#37506446)

    Folder containers is not a new idea but it is not used enough.

    Back about 15 years ago, I worked in a TDK plant where they made VHS cassettes, among other things. Everyday, several dozen tractor trailers would unload container loads of bulk videotape shipped in from Japan. The US plant would take that and make individual cassettes for several different brands.

    The tape had to be shipped in these special blue crates to keep it from getting contaminated or loose or damaged. Each crate had special fittings and holders for giant reels of tape. Once each crate was unloaded, it was folded up and about four or five of those folded crates could fit into the space of one fully-assembled crate. The crates were designed to disassemble, interlock and fit without any extra parts needed. Meanwhile all the reel holders and things were tucked inside. It was kind of a transformer box.

    The combined stacks of five took up exactly as much space as a single full crate. As one unit, that stack of five was then sent back to Japan to be reloaded with more blank tape. This saved a lot on the container space going back and meant they significantly reduced costs.

    I've never again seen anything quite like those TDK crates. Sure, there are folding crates and the like, but this was something else beyond any of that. It was clearly designed to do that from the start and you don't often see that kind of integration in a process. Walmart comes close with the way they reuse cardboard boxes.

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      I've never again seen anything quite like those TDK crates.

      Check this out, Subaru used to make a new piece of styrofoam for shipping every engine to the USA. Now they use them like four times and saved millions of dollars. However, that's lightweight to ship...

  • by PPalmgren (1009823) on Sunday September 25, 2011 @01:49AM (#37506466)

    The way containerships are built now, empties are frequently used to balance the weight distribution of the vessel. Folding them up won't create more capacity because they aren't built with the expectation of being loaded to the brim with fully loaded containers, and condensing empties creates space but condenses weight. A containership taking on full loads will only hit about 70% of its slot capacity due to weight constraints.

    Also, wear and tear on moving parts in the shipping industry should not be overlooked. Twist locks, the things that lock containers together on ships, are very simple mechanisms that are built with extreme robustness. Doesn't matter, they constantly break and have to be replaced during ship operations. This solution is much more suscpetible to breakage than twist locks.

    The only thing these containers do is make trade lane management more fluid and make empty storage more efficient for shipping terminals/container yards, but at the cost of equipment maintenance, labor, and reliability. The costs won't offset the benefits until the worldwide port infastructure or shipping capacity is bursting at the seams (creating space issues and a premium on crane productivity). That simply isn't the case.

    • by thegarbz (1787294)

      The way containerships are built now, empties are frequently used to balance the weight distribution of the vessel. Folding them up won't create more capacity because they aren't built with the expectation of being loaded to the brim with fully loaded containers, and condensing empties creates space but condenses weight. A containership taking on full loads will only hit about 70% of its slot capacity due to weight constraints.

      While true you're assuming that this is targeting a fully (70%) loaded ship. It's not. This product is targeting ships returning often with a small fraction of their cargo hold full, or do you think the USA has a massive export industry to places like China?

      But you do raise another interesting concern, how do you get the containers back to the USA? If a full container ship travels to the USA and takes back to China 4 or 5 times as many empties as it took over eventually the empties will start collecting at

      • by dkf (304284)

        But you do raise another interesting concern, how do you get the containers back to the USA? If a full container ship travels to the USA and takes back to China 4 or 5 times as many empties as it took over eventually the empties will start collecting at terminals of countries with huge export and little import trade.

        This happens. Then someone buys up the (by now, going cheap) empty containers for other uses. For example, if the price of the metal the containers are made from is high enough, it becomes worthwhile to recycle as scrap. On the other hand, the filling up of storage space for empty containers also encourages port (or storage) owners to charge higher amounts for their part in all this; after all, the port owners want trade to continue and storage for empty boxes is just an irritating land-hungry sideline.

      • While true you're assuming that this is targeting a fully (70%) loaded ship. It's not. This product is targeting ships returning often with a small fraction of their cargo hold full, or do you think the USA has a massive export industry to places like China?

        But you do raise another interesting concern, how do you get the containers back to the USA? If a full container ship travels to the USA and takes back to China 4 or 5 times as many empties as it took over eventually the empties will start collecting at

  • It seems that Holland Container Innovations was actually the first company that recently passed the safety regulations regarding foldable containers. http://www.hcinnovations.nl/news.html [hcinnovations.nl]
  • Watching the video, there are a LOT of actions to be taken. Doing them by hand seems bound to cost someone their fingers. Doing them with a robot is going to restrict the folding to only a handful of locations.

    Those who think it might restrict truck movements, this is rarely the case. Trucks haul trailers with a container on it, a new trailer with container is delivered and an old empty one is taken away. You have to be a pretty big customer to be able to afford to unload containers with what is after all a

    • by Chuckstar (799005)

      I agree. I made a similar post above, but thought I'd comment here as well.

      These guys (and even the competitor you mentioned) have all missed the boat on this one. The only way to have significant cost savings from this is if many/most empties are handled this way. If you imagine hundreds of empties a day needing to be collapsed, the idea of any system that isn't entirely automated quickly becomes ludicrous. Watching the video of how Staxxon containers collapse and imagining trying to handle hundreds of

  • No one has yet succeeded in the marketplace with a collapsible container

    Sure they have. Their invention is called 'cardboard boxes'.

    • No one has yet succeeded in the marketplace with a collapsible container

      Sure they have. Their invention is called 'cardboard boxes'.

      There is a reason you don't see cardboard boxes on the back of a flatbed truck or sitting on the deck of a container ship. I'll leave it to you to figure out the actual details.

  • Ideally you should have fair trade, and full containers going both ways.

  • The new ship design [worldslargestship.com] fits many more containers into a hull that's only one container wider than the previous record. They've played with the placement of the deckhouse and engines, and they've changed the hull shape.
    The new design also reflects the current economic reality: it's designed for a lower top speed (22.5 instead of 25 knots), most current containers ships aren't operated anywhere near their top speed to save on fuel (and, I suspect, to fit the smaller supply of containers into the current fleet, i

  • Seems like nobody read the articles. Don't know why I should be shocked. Here are some facts from the various articles and some additional searching around:

    1. It collapses, side to side, somewhat like an accordion. There's a hinge in the middle of the roof and the floor, and (my guess) some cables linking the two. Here's video http://youtu.be/QTdgZ2YuAM8 [youtu.be] of (an animation of) it being folded and stacked.
    2. 5 folded ones fit in the space of one full one.
    3. It costs roughly as much to ship an empty as a full.

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