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Are Folding Containers the Future of Shipping?

timothy posted more than 2 years ago | from the harder-to-turn-into-a-home-though dept.

Transportation 188

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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188 comments

Golden Girls! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37506192)

Thank you for being a friend
Traveled down the road and back again
Your heart is true, you're a pal and a cosmonaut.

And if you threw a party
Invited everyone you ever knew
You would see the biggest gift would be from me
And the card attached would say, thank you for being a friend.

Re:Golden Girls! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37506222)

dun dun DUN..dunnnn...duuuuunnnnnnn......

Re:Golden Girls! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37506228)

Hey Dumbass! It's confidant.

Re:Golden Girls! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37506638)

A confidential cosmonaut.

Saxton Hale (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37506206)

Anyone else read "Staxxon" as "Saxton"?

Okay, time to stop playing TF2.

Re:Saxton Hale (0)

Frosty Piss (770223) | more than 2 years ago | (#37506214)

Anyone else read "Staxxon" as "Saxton"?

No, but then I have a life.

Re:Saxton Hale (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37506262)

you know what else has a real life? Titties. They are alive, my friend. remember that next time you slap one, you fucking jerk.

Advertisement? (2, Insightful)

Stephenmg (265369) | more than 2 years ago | (#37506242)

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.

Re:Advertisement? (5, Funny)

larry bagina (561269) | more than 2 years ago | (#37506450)

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.

Re:Advertisement? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37506596)

i'll LOL that!
But then again, most (read a fair bit) of what gets passed as relevant stories on /. is merely a necessary evil so we can keep reading in between real stories

Re:Advertisement? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37506696)

"I fail to see how this is news for Nerds. "

It's from New Jersey!

Re:Advertisement? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37506884)

Speak for yourself.
Just last week I ordered my supercomputer from China.

Check and mate. You lose sir.

Re:Advertisement? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37506970)

It has "Future" on the title so it must be worth putting on Slashdot. Just like "Apple"

Re:Advertisement? (1)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | more than 2 years ago | (#37507086)

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, 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.

Ehhh - alright, so this is less environmentally freindly than my half-assed idea. Even so, if it means fewer ship movements to return these containers wherever they need to go, that's kinda geeky. It saves fuel, and maybe makes the ship's passage a little less hazardous. (Ever seen a ship with these containers stacked up to the sky? Storms really have to suck, aboard one of them!)

Oh yeah - it could help the unemployment figures, a little. If it takes two or three men to collapse a container, that's good. A port like Houston, that handles tens of thousands of these things each day could employ a couple thousand workers. That may not be geeky, but hell, having more people to share the tax burden is always a good thing!

Re:Advertisement? (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 2 years ago | (#37507184)

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.

Re:Advertisement? (1)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | more than 2 years ago | (#37507268)

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 assed, and I'll add that it's less than half baked. But, there MUST be a better way than what we are doing right now!

Tradeoff (4, Insightful)

PhattyMatty (916963) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Tradeoff (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37506516)

I wonder what the cost of a hand or fingers will be as there will surely be workman compensation claims made. More moving parts = more chance of injury. Just my two cents.....

Re:Tradeoff (1)

geogob (569250) | more than 2 years ago | (#37506864)

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.

Re:Tradeoff (1)

peragrin (659227) | more than 2 years ago | (#37507166)

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.

Re:Tradeoff (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 2 years ago | (#37507298)

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?

Shipping yards don't unload, thus don't fold (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37507106)

Shipping yards don't open the containers, so wouldn't do this. The video demonstrates folding one using a small forklift, because that's probably what people used to unload the thing in the first place.

Fortunately, handling empty containers isn't on the critical path. It doesn't affect the timing-critical part of shipping, which is getting the goods in the container to the right place.

how many trips across the sea before it won't fold (3, Interesting)

YesIAmAScript (886271) | more than 2 years ago | (#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?

Re:how many trips across the sea before it won't f (2)

rolfwind (528248) | more than 2 years ago | (#37506288)

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.

Re:how many trips across the sea before it won't f (2)

wvmarle (1070040) | more than 2 years ago | (#37506858)

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, 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.

The unfolding is what bugs me most. The roof has to be pushed up and become level, then someone has to put in those heavy metal bars. And that's high up, a container is about 2m30 tall, so not easy to do. Needs machines again. Though of course this folding/unfolding will usually be done in container yards only, so then special equipment can be installed.

Re:how many trips across the sea before it won't f (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37506956)

I do wonder though, are container ships really that much different than container trucks? There really isn't much that you can put on a container ship other than containers, and certainly not if you're going to be putting on at least some containers anyway. So given that there's a set number of container ships floating around (assuming that China isn't just going to magick up ships that'll poof when they reach the US), is there actually a lot of benefit to folding the containers going onto the ship, since the ships on average will carry about the same number of containers (albeit, some empty) back and forth?

Re:how many trips across the sea before it won't f (1)

AliasMarlowe (1042386) | more than 2 years ago | (#37507098)

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; just less load on some legs of the voyage.

Re:how many trips across the sea before it won't f (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 2 years ago | (#37507256)

They will not make too much difference for trucking: a container truck can carry a shipping container, not much else.

From what I understand, the point of this is being able to handle a bunch of folded containers just like a single unfolded one.

Re:how many trips across the sea before it won't f (2)

David Thomas (2469740) | more than 2 years ago | (#37507288)

People make too much of the fact that empty containers are transported from China to the US, because of the difference in trade volumes. A folding container isn't going to solve that. You will have just as many ships going back to China from the US, either with empty containers or ballast, simply because you need to get the ship back there to pick up more goods!

Re:how many trips across the sea before it won't f (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37506566)

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

According to TFA, yes, and it's one of these guys' major advantages.

Re:how many trips across the sea before it won't f (1)

wvmarle (1070040) | more than 2 years ago | (#37506866)

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.

FAILZORs (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37506272)

BSD's codebase about outside errors. Future I Move an7 equipment Of BSD/OS. A invited back again.

Are Folding Containers the Future of Shipping? (0)

Baloroth (2370816) | more than 2 years ago | (#37506294)

Yes. Also, the past. They're commonly called "cardboard boxes", and they fold up quite nicely.

Container House (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37506308)

We are just scratching the surface of using a storage container as a mobile or emergency house.... not to mention the use as a Faraday cage in this solar cycle.
This could lead to needed innovation in that space.

- StupidPeopleTrick

Or perhaps we could sell things to asia ... (4, Insightful)

perpenso (1613749) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Or perhaps we could sell things to asia ... (2)

green1 (322787) | more than 2 years ago | (#37506364)

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.

Re:Or perhaps we could sell things to asia ... (1)

Hymer (856453) | more than 2 years ago | (#37506478)

We could ship bulk cargo in containers, it would need some modifications but lot less than those folding containers: we just need to be able to tilt the container so the door is at the top, fill it with bulk cargo, close the doors and tilt back... and mark it "DANGER! BULK CARGO" so nobody opens the door.

Re:Or perhaps we could sell things to asia ... (1)

Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) | more than 2 years ago | (#37506544)

Maybe if numerous containers could be joined into one larger one..? I'm fairly sure people have been paid large amounts of money to come up with a better solution than bulk/container ships mind you, yet here we are.

Re:Or perhaps we could sell things to asia ... (2)

wvmarle (1070040) | more than 2 years ago | (#37506878)

Shipping bulk in containers is done already. It's quite normal actually. But the thing is for truly bulk stuff like iron ore, or liquids like oil, it's just impractical. Even plastic granules are shipped in bulk. Foodstuffs like grain and rice too. You have the choice for those of one vessel of about 10,000 tons that you can easily pump (yes, suck it up!) empty, or needing 500 shipping containers to carry the same cargo. With ores the numbers are even more staggering, and you can load containers only half full because otherwise they are too heavy. Wasted space. And that's not just reinforcing the container, but it's too heavy for the trucks/trains.

Re:Or perhaps we could sell things to asia ... (2)

rolfwind (528248) | more than 2 years ago | (#37506392)

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 doo-hickeys and doo-dads, 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. There are many reasons for that, mostly inefficient housing (poor standards), and suburbanization. Go to any school in Germany and you'll see the front will have lots and lots of bike racks, and will actually be filled during school hours. Not so in most of America.

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. Many people here live paycheck to paycheck, paying off minimum balances on rising CC bills. I read somewhere that Americans spend 2.5-3x more time shopping. Not sure the cause of this, except maybe we aren't a very socially connected society?

The problem with just saying we need to make things, is that right now, the Chinese will just be cheaper. It certainly doesn't help that we are increasingly sending our more and more valuable jobs there (hence I'm not convinced of all that "let them build the low-end shit while we make better stuff" since the Japanese overtook our Car and Steel industries the same way - hell they worked hard for it while the Big 3 kept and keep pushing out inferior product)

Re:Or perhaps we could sell things to asia ... (1)

RoFLKOPTr (1294290) | more than 2 years ago | (#37506622)

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 miles away. I drive almost 180 miles every day to get to work and back. I used to work in San Francisco but I was transferred to a different site a few weeks ago and I still haven't determined whether it would be beneficial to me financially to find a place closer to work or to buy a tank of gas twice a week. Things like this is also why public transportation and commuter rails haven't quite caught on at a massive scale in the US. Sure, they work great if you only live a couple miles from work in a large city that can afford such infrastructure. 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, and it takes 2 hours when driving takes less than an hour AND it doesn't save me any money. And it's all because of the huge space between population centers and there's not a whole lot anybody can do to fix that.

Re:Or perhaps we could sell things to asia ... (2)

drsquare (530038) | more than 2 years ago | (#37506694)

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 have to knock down and rebuild your entire country.

Re:Or perhaps we could sell things to asia ... (1)

bickerdyke (670000) | more than 2 years ago | (#37506874)

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

Re:Or perhaps we could sell things to asia ... (1)

superdude72 (322167) | more than 2 years ago | (#37506958)

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.

Re:Or perhaps we could sell things to asia ... (3, Informative)

rolfwind (528248) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Other folding container designs (3, Informative)

raahul_da_man (469058) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Indian one looks interesting (3, Insightful)

YesIAmAScript (886271) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Other folding container designs (0)

Splab (574204) | more than 2 years ago | (#37506810)

One thing a lot of people seem to be missing is the fact that the ship cannot take the empty containers that it just brought with it back - a ship like Emma will be in harbour for the shortest possible time, that means, unload and load; then she is off again.

Also, if the problem is empty containers standing around, one obvious solution is to solve 3rd world housing problems by converting those containers to rudamentary living places.

Re:Other folding container designs (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37506852)

Also, if the problem is empty containers standing around, one obvious solution is to solve 3rd world housing problems by converting those containers to rudamentary living places.

The containers are not in the third world they are in the western world. If they were in a squalid third world country, nobody would care, out of sight out of mind.

Re:Other folding container designs (2)

ponchietto (718083) | more than 2 years ago | (#37507072)

The ship will take some other container, obviously/

The containers stays around in first world countries (where the good are shipped...).

AH ha ha ha hah (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37506366)

Too late Staxxon! 3D printing will make you obsolete! Oh, where's the feedstock going to come from? Duh! Another 3D printer!

"Reducing the number of container ship movements" (5, Interesting)

Solandri (704621) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:"Reducing the number of container ship movement (1)

OeLeWaPpErKe (412765) | more than 2 years ago | (#37506430)

While boats are very efficient, even when heavily loaded, much more so than trucks or trains, it is still a *lot* cheaper (and faster) to move an empty ship around.

Re:"Reducing the number of container ship movement (1)

imsabbel (611519) | more than 2 years ago | (#37506774)

Zero sum game.

Move a full ship (with folded containers) and 3 empty ones, or 4 almost empty ones (filled with empty unfolded containers).

Not much difference.

Re:"Reducing the number of container ship movement (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 2 years ago | (#37507344)

But the less-full ones might go longer routes. For example, you have to ship-loads of containers from A to B, and half a shipload of containers from B to C. With standard containers, this might mean: Send two ships of containers from A to B. One immediately returns with one ship-load of empty containers to A, while the other one goes to C with half of the containers full, and the other half empty. From C, it then returns with all the containers empty.

With folding containers, the first ship cannot only return its own now empty containers, but also the non-empty containers from the second ship. Therefore 1.5 ship-loads of containers return directly to A, so that the second ship goes to C with only full containers, and then back to A also with only half of its original containers empty.

Assuming that the needed energy is a fixed amount plus an amount proportional to weight, and for simplicity assuming equal distances between all three ports, we get an empty container cost of 1+0.5+1 = 2.5 units for the non-folding containers vs. 1.5+0+0.5 = 2 units for the folding containers (only considering the weight-dependent part because the fixed part is the same for both scenarios). Thus 0.5 units of energy are saved, where 1 unit is the energy difference between an empty ship and a ship filled with empty containers going between those ports.

Re:"Reducing the number of container ship movement (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37506496)

Car analogy: you can't ride your bike to the supermarket and bring the shopping back in your car.

Re:"Reducing the number of container ship movement (2)

NJRoadfan (1254248) | more than 2 years ago | (#37506506)

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.

Re:"Reducing the number of container ship movement (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37506676)

Those ships are going back empty anyway because its cheaper then moving the now empty containers back to their source.

Really? What makes that so? If it's labor of loading the containers onto the ship, a more labor-intensive foldable container won't help...

Re:"Reducing the number of container ship movement (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37506736)

Those ships are going back empty anyway because its cheaper then moving the now empty containers back to their source.

Really? What makes that so? If it's labor of loading the containers onto the ship, a more labor-intensive foldable container won't help...

Weight.

More weight = More inertia = More fuel to push it around. Holds true for everything, cars, planes, boats and carrying heavy boxes by hand. Over the short haul, the fuel cost is insignificant but the cost adds up significantly over long hauls.

Re:"Reducing the number of container ship movement (1)

FormOfActionBanana (966779) | more than 2 years ago | (#37506764)

For a transoceanic trip at 20-30kts, I'm sure it's increased drag rather than inertia, that accounts for the energy cost. The hull rides lower in the water when carrying a greater load.

Re:"Reducing the number of container ship movement (2)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 2 years ago | (#37507062)

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.

Re:"Reducing the number of container ship movement (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37507224)

"...allegedly to prevent the spread of certain pests"

Allegedly? Introduction of pests happens all the time, such as the brown spruce longhorn beetle introduced from wood packing materials stored at the container port in Halifax, NS. There are many similar examples. Wood packing material is a significant vector for pests.

Re:"Reducing the number of container ship movement (4, Insightful)

roskakori (447739) | more than 2 years ago | (#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].

Re:"Reducing the number of container ship movement (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37506656)

It doesn't work that way. Container ships usually don't run a constant continuous circuit. Hauling empty cargo containers will take up valuable shipping space until it gets back to the destination port.

Re:"Reducing the number of container ship movement (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37506794)

You have to look at the cost of loading and unloading containers on the vessel.

The empty containers often end up being placed on top of the full containers for stability reasons. So the vessel has to wait for empty containers to be moved so the correct containers can be unloaded.

Of course the cost of loading and unloading is smaller than the fuel cost, but it is big enough to make foldable containers interesting.

Re:"Reducing the number of container ship movement (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37506802)

Every container ship going East must return West.

The world is round...

fuel cost (1)

dutchwhizzman (817898) | more than 2 years ago | (#37506870)

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.

Re:fuel cost (1)

Ecuador (740021) | more than 2 years ago | (#37506900)

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, otherwise with an asymmetric transport requirement this does not seem helpful in reducing transport costs.

Re:"Reducing the number of container ship movement (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37506940)

The obvious solution is foldable and stackable container ships. Duh!

Re:"Reducing the number of container ship movement (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37506964)

I know! Let's containerize ships! You send 5 ships worth of goods from China. Going backwards, you send:
* One ship of goods
* One ship of containers
* Two ships carryng the last one disassembled into containerized cargo!

Re:"Reducing the number of container ship movement (1)

John Bresnahan (638668) | more than 2 years ago | (#37507104)

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!

The ships still have to go back (1)

Animats (122034) | more than 2 years ago | (#37506438)

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.

Re:The ships still have to go back (1)

FormOfActionBanana (966779) | more than 2 years ago | (#37506768)

Shortage where? You mean nearly everywhere?

Re:The ships still have to go back (1)

wvmarle (1070040) | more than 2 years ago | (#37506898)

Europe has a shortage of 40'HC containers. Other types are available just fine. No idea why that is really. There are quite some stuck in Hong Kong again awaiting import to China (mainly scrap material loads) but that's also not a spectacularly large number.

Folding containers is not a new idea (2)

RubberDogBone (851604) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Folding containers is not a new idea (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 2 years ago | (#37507076)

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...

My idea (1)

benjamindees (441808) | more than 2 years ago | (#37506448)

I've been thinking about shipping container architecture and the problem of empty containers for a year or so. One idea is basically to separate the rectangular frame from the side and top panels. The panels can be shipped back efficiently for re-use. The frame makes a compelling component for modular housing. They can be stacked and finished-out to create anything from a storage shed to a small apartment building. They can even be disassembled and re-combined to move or add-on. (Imagine taking your house with you when you move. Imagine building up an apartment block one unit at a time.) But you'd almost never want to keep the stock metal walls and flooring like in most of the "storage container" houses you see. They're poorly-insulated, difficult to modify, and end up looking tacky and industrial. Modular housing has a lot of potential and with a little intelligent design I think storage containers can be made more useful to this market.

Re:My idea (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 2 years ago | (#37507084)

Once you put any significant holes in a container you can't really move it because you've destroyed the structural integrity of the box. You DEFINITELY can't move a completed structure based on a container frame that's been covered with wood products. I mean, of course you can, they move whole houses, but it won't actually be any easier than moving a house, because you won't be able to just pick it up with a crane like a container, you'll have to shore it up and get a trailer under it rather than just sliding it onto a container.

If you want to move container homes they're going to have to live on trailers. Used aluminum container trailers start at about five grand and they are significantly less than ubiquitous. It costs about $1600 in materials to build a steel trailer that can move an empty 20' container around.

You can get good insulation easily on your container home if you insulate the outside. You can stack compressed straw bales around the outside and then stucco them for pest and weather resistance, for example. This will get you R40 without compromising your interior volume at all.

Finally, going from a welded skin to fasteners will dramatically increase the cost of the container, which is already so cheap you can abandon them.

Basically, your idea is without merit, and you have not thought it through, or done any of the basic research which would show you that it will not work. Not to mention that a break-down container is just a sad, sloppy, heavy container, so your ideas serve no one.

This is a great idea (1)

Osgeld (1900440) | more than 2 years ago | (#37506454)

If your only moving cargo one way, but we have already solved this problem, if the container is full it goes back, otherwise it sits cause there is no real reason to send an empty box (flattened or not) back empty... cause its freaking expensive.

amazing how that works isn't it?

Re:This is a great idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37506498)

And yet, as mentioned in the article, empty containers are shipped back and forth all the time now. Might you be missing something?

Re:This is a great idea (2)

Osgeld (1900440) | more than 2 years ago | (#37506542)

no I live in reality where it takes a minimum of a month to even find an empty container and it might take another month before its even on a boat, you might know that if you have ever scheduled them ...

reality:
container is scheduled, a minimum of a month passes
you have 2 hours to load or 300 or so bucks in charges per hour
2 months later it has managed to travel cross country in the USA
Another month later its loaded onto a boat
2 months later its received by Korea (in my position)
Another month passes and its cleared by customs and delivered

with a 6 month backlog just to make it from the east coast to Asia where is this magic surplus they claim? Hell I am still scheduling arrivals from last year.

A solution without a problem (4, Interesting)

PPalmgren (1009823) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:A solution without a problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37506738)

If the vessel has a weight problem, the planner can just leave some slots free.

Transporting empty containers from Europe to China is a major challenge.

Re:A solution without a problem (1)

thegarbz (1787294) | more than 2 years ago | (#37507262)

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 terminals of countries with huge export and little import trade.

WTF SLASHDOT?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37506520)

WTF happened to slashdot on this article?! GODDAMMIT SLASHDOT! NOT AGAIN!

Will it ever end?

Re:WTF SLASHDOT?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37506532)

Only for those not logged in, yo....

Maersk having buyer's remorse? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37506522)

Quote first link in article:

"I am very excited to have signed a contract with Daewoo for 10 more Triple-E ships. ..."

Err... I'm not sure I would have purchased anything from Daewoo to begin with, given their well-established history [wikipedia.org]. In the Wikipedia article, be sure to read the "Breakup and present status" section too; they've begun to get involved in oil/gas refineries (what?!).

I'm left wondering if the real reason Maersk is investing in something better is because Daewoo has absolutely no fucking idea what they're doing as a company, and probably won't be around much longer. I for one am baffled that they still exist at all, despite being split up.

No. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37506588)

No.

Hopefully teleportation is the future of shipping.

Beyond that, folding containers just seems stupid. They pretty much standardize shipping containers and anything to break away from that is just asking to create headaches. Companies that try to implement this and aren't shipping with high margins are going to fail where the guys who ignore it and keep on using standard practices will still be around to refuse your future folding container idea.

I mean is this really a problem that needs to be solved beyond just getting new empty containers to locations that need new empty containers? Fairly certain they have to retire shipping containers every 5-10 years anyway to keep them up to spec and safety/maintenance requirements. Looks like a mess of a problem if those bars bend and start causing the container to collapse.

not a bad idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37506806)

but having a container that can be stripped down to pieces is a bit better, easily swapped out when damaged, stripped down to save space etc

Last post (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37506860)

Emma Maersk has gone down.

A container has a rough life (1)

SmallFurryCreature (593017) | more than 2 years ago | (#37506872)

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 pretty big crane. Remove the container from the trailer and the trailer got to go back empty one way or another. Same amount of trucking movements, just with empty trailers unless someone comes up with a way to fold them too. An empty trailer would consume less fuel certainly so there would be a benefit but only in large operations.

The article claims companies hate to ship empty containers... but that is in the nature of business. You might as well complain about having to carry your shopping bags empty to the store. Because containers tend to remain on the trailer, in trucking there is no real savings in the number of trips unless your hauling company can't schedule to bring a full one and pick up an empty one at the same time.

For shipping, it only matters if there is a large discrepancy in when containers are delivered and when they are being shipped back. Say a ship delivers a 1000 containers full from China to the US but there are no empty containers to haul back yet. So the ship has to sail back empty for the next load, then when it is halfway another ship has to pick up the 1000 empty containers (the idea goods are shipped from the US to China is clearly laughable). That would be a waste BUT that doesn't happen, there are always empty containers waiting to go back. And because these routes are routine they balance out.

About the only saving when folding them is that you can load 5 folded empty containers faster then 5 empty unfolded ones. Loading a ship is a lot of work and the larger the ship gets, the more time it wastes at the dock waiting to be loaded. A ship doesn't make money being tied up, it needs to move to make money.

But at what cost? Look at the video again. Talk about complicated. There are easier methods out there, a dutch container folds by having the standard loading crane pull up the lid, and it then collapses. No rods to be inserted (if you ever been around a shipping container you know they suffer a lot of dents) or very narrow (read unstable as hell) walls to be slided precisely by a forklift truck moving at the very edge off its capabilty (how many companies have a forklift capable of easily lifting this kind of weight especially as it will be wanting to fall the narrow fork lift arms with its huge width. The number of times in the folding where an accident might occur is just to fucking large if they expect this to happen at your average company.

It seems like a nice idea but I think there is a reason that nobody has been successful yet with a folding container. It just ain't easy enough. Space might be costly on a ship but time is even more costly, nobody in shipping has the time to do this folding process especially as it seems to take 2 people.

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