Shipping containers revolutionized commerce and the transportation of goods, and almost singlehandedly made globalism possible through a dramatic reduction in shipping costs, time and losses. But they are not problem-free; unless trade is balanced they tend to pile up at one end of the line. They are expensive to move when empty, particularly on trucks, where it costs the same to move an empty one as a full one.
Now the Dutch company Cargoshell has introduced a collapsible shipping container made from composite materials that could revolutionize the industry.
The Cargoshell container folds down to 1/4 the height of a conventional container, so four could be returned to port on one flatbed instead of one. Perhaps even more, because since the Cargoshell is made from composite materials, it is lighter empty than a conventional container. Because a normal swinging door isn't going to fold very well, they substitute a rolling door. Although there is no information on this on the site, I suspect that there is a rolling door on either end or the thing wouldn't fold properly.
The Manufacturer promises a lot of other innovations:
- the composite walls act as an insulator, eliminating condensation.
- it is low maintenance; the composites don't corrode.
- GPS can be built into the container because the composite, unlike steel, does not block the signal.
- Steel containers need a lot of paint, with a lot of toxic rust inhibitors that are pollutants; the composites need no paint.
To top it all off, they even have float bags built in so that if they go over the side of the ship (not an uncommon event) they will float, and can be traced back by the built-in GPS system quickly.
The global savings offered by a collapsible container are difficult to calculate, but they are unquestionably huge. Cargoshell has done the sums based on the known patterns of traffic in its home Port of Rotterdam, and if all current steel containers were replaced by foldable Cargoshells, it would result in a reduction of 10,000 trips annually.
Dutch video about containerization; see the cargoshell in action at 1:07. It's amazing.
Gizmag points out the one major catch in the whole thing: It costs three times as much as a conventional shipping container. But it does not cost three times as much as a reefer (insulated and refrigerated container) or many of the other specialized containers (some have bladders inside to bring bulk liquids like wine) that have always cost more.
1965: early attempts at intermodal container handling
They could also play a big role in the relocalization of the container industry; when it started in the sixties, it was assumed that containers would be used locally, moving easily from train to flatbed. The transport trailer and piggyback system won out here, so we have empty trailers being deadheaded around the country, and have trailers sitting on railway cars instead of double-stacked containers. This market could justify a more expensive box if four of them could be deadheaded in the space of one. It could change the economics of intermodal transport of goods, helping get transport trailers off the roads and the goods onto rail.
And of course, think of the possibilities for housing.....