24 10 2011

By Jonathan Ferrini, Founder and CEO of Ferrini Corporation

In this blog, Jonathan Ferrini explains why the collapsible container could be the future of container shipping.

The Problem:

According to Drewry Shipping Consultants, $31.5 billion is spent annually on repositioning empty containers. Recent news reports and practical applications have shown that there are container shortages developing. It is becoming too expensive to move empty containers to where they are needed. The shipping industry is also under significant environmental and political pressure to decrease its carbon footprint and infrastructure costs. Transporting a single empty container on a truck, train, or vessel is a waste of fuel, labour hours, and equipment wear and tear. Furthermore, current containers create bottlenecks at both loading/unloading and inspection points as they can only be accessed through one door.

The Solution: Create a smarter container!

So what is the future? I believe it lies in the creation of a collapsible container. Its development would permit three collapsed containers to be placed within the footprint of one standard container. Current containers are capable of being stacked 9 containers high. A collapsible container could permit stacking of 27 containers.

The collapsible container would enable the trucking, shipping and rail industry to move three collapsed containers on the back of a truck, ship or rail car in the same footprint where they are currently able to move only one. It is estimated that 50% of the life of a container is spent empty, so the result would be significant savings in fuel, labour and container yard rents.

In addition, a collapsible container would have access points from doors at both ends of the container, the roof, and the side panels, and would be capable of complete disassembly into six components consisting of two doors, roof, floor, and two side panels permitting assembly where needed and easy replacement of damaged components. There could be significant financial savings in repositioning costs per container per round trip with a potential $18.6 billion worldwide savings from a 3:1 consolidation. By collapsing the container, you can place more containers within the footprint of a standard container, decreasing the container yard space required to store containers and reducing rents paid.

There have been few significant changes to the staple of international shipping since the shipping container was invented in 1955 by Malcolm McLean. The collapsible container should be the next stage in the evolution of container shipping. According to Len R. Hering, RADM, US Navy (ret) a collapsible container “represents a new and innovative approach to one of the most challenging problems faced by military logisticians both at sea, in the air and ashore. It will allow the Commander the flexibility to maximise space and adjust operations knowing the shipping container can be collapsed, stacked and reused at a third of the footprint and half the weight. It can save time, money and brings options to the war fighting space that today are simply not possible.”


The collapsible container can be a potential enhancement to the ever shrinking profit margins encountered by transportation firms, container owners, lessors, a valuable solution to Homeland Security and green initiative programs of governments. Bottlenecks at unloading/loading/inspections points are minimised with multiple entry points from two doors at both ends of the container in addition to the roof and side panels. The end users of a collapsible container such as large retailers and manufacturers reliant on rapid movement through inspection/customs and loading/unloading of their merchandise will find valuable savings in both time and manpower.




2 responses

24 10 2011
Hans-Peter Becker

A nice idea, but what about the negative aspects? A collapsable container would cost quite a premium over the costs for a normal steelbox. Further, who will pay for the breaking down and re-erecting of the boxes, and who will/can do this? Last but not least: already now normal boxes are vulnerable to simple damages that bringing them out of ISO and thus make easy transports difficult. So, what happens, if such a collapsable box gets damaged.
I don’t think that any customer will appreciate additional system costs from using such sort of boxes – so, who shall pay for it??
Best regards Hans-Peter++

24 10 2011
Tom Stitt


Enjoyed reading your post. Disclosure: I work at Staxxon, one of the companies that has developed, patented and prototyped technology that allows steel ISO shipping containers to be folded and nested so that up to 5 empty containers can be moved, stacked and stowed in the same space (or slot) as 1 container.

There are a number of companies competing in this space including Holland Container Innovations, Compact Container Systems, Foltainer, C Cube and Cargoshell.

A few observations:

-for folding/nesting to work from an commercial perspective, you need to apply the compression to specific trade lanes that are highly imbalanced (i.e. more empties returning on one end of the trade lane – no export demand)

-the business model to support folding/nesting of standard dry shipping containers tends to be driven by reducing “moves” or (touches/picks) at inland/marine terminals thereby reducing terminal handling fees (exciting to do large scale repositioning savings arithmetic but fundamentals are driven by reducing moves)

-taking a container apart to fold/nest isn’t optimal and has been tried in the past without success, also, the equipment, skills and workflow required to fold/nest has to be well understood in the current user environment, especially if organized labor is involved

Hans-Peter Becker makes valid points about cost. Of equal importance is maintaining the weight capacity and “cube” capacity of any container capable of folding/nesting.

Happy to expand this conversation if there is interest.


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