Used all over the world to ship goods stamped with "Made in …", containers are at the very heart of global trade. They have been around since the 1950s and have literally revolutionised the way we manufacture, trade and consume goods.
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However, if you compare a container from then with one now, you would be hard pressed to spot the difference. The designs of Keith Tantlinger and Malcolm Maclean have essentially remained unchanged since their invention in 1956.
With this in mind, it may surprise you to learn that containers might be about to finally get a revamp. Backed by European Commission funding, the Tellibox project (literally 'Intelligent Box') has come up with a new design that is easier to load, can hold much more than a standard container and can still be transported via current infrastructure.
The project's senior consultant, Mr Heiko Sennewald says, "we basically took the elements of design from an easily loadable articulated truck and applied them to a container that can be switched between road, rail and inland maritime transport methods."
It should result in considerable efficiency savings for potential future owners, he continues.
At present, the fact that containers are standardised means that they are not always loaded and packed in the most efficient way. Clearly this raises concerns among manufacturers over costs and among governments and the public over the potential environmental impact of the sector.
The new design of the Tellibox takes elements of various current technologies and combines them to give a 100 m3 container that can be loaded from three sides, has a flexible lid and is compatible with the current intermodal transport system. In comparison to a standard 65 m3 container, it now means it should be possible to stack pallets three high as opposed to two. Similar gains have been possible with standard racks that car manufacturers use.
The €3.1 million grant from the European Commission meant that the 10 partner organisations could significantly collaborate in the design and evaluation stages of the project. The partners included a number of commercial organisations, a private rail operator, specialist engineering firms and a number of scientific organisations.
The advisory board of the project, which included representatives of major European car and white goods manufacturers, gave valuable design input to make sure the resulting boxes fitted their needs as much as possible according to Mr Sennewald.
Continuing he says: "The difference in size means that one can expect to transport more goods, more efficiently, which in the long run will make it more profitable than using a standard container. The really interesting outcome is that we can now potentially design a Tellibox to exactly meet the needs of a client and know that it can be shipped via road, rail or inland maritime routes without the need for modification of that infrastructure. That makes it truly tri-modal and unique."
"It was great that we were able to work with so many organisations. We were able to accommodate many of their requests and use their expertise in finalising the design."
The project was completed in 2011 with the final design being extensively tested and certified. Successful test runs across Poland, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK helped prove its performance under realistic European transport conditions. At the final demonstration of the Tellibox that took place in Duisburg, Germany in March 2011, a number of vehicle manufacturers reportedly showed interest in the concept and designs.
According to Mr Sennewald, "In terms of success, Tellibox has really worked out in that we have a proven design that is on sale and can be man-ufactured immediately upon an order being taken. It would not have been possible to achieve this without the high level of collaboration experi-enced and the support from the European Commission's funding."