Containerization revolutionized the maritime freight transportation industry more than 50 years ago. Those ubiquitous 20- and 40-foot steel intermodal boxes seen in ports and on truck and rail chassis have made cargo handling faster, easier, safer and more efficient.
The next revolution in containerization might well reside in an idea under development from Staxxon Technologies, which has devised a clever solution to the old trade imbalance problem of moving and repositioning empty containers from where the freight isn’t to where the freight is.
Staxxon, a development-stage start-up based in Montclair, NJ, has developed a vertical folding container. The Staxxon system allows a standard 20-foot container to fold flat into a mere wisp of its usual footprint. It folds into itself much like those white cardboard packing boxes used for storage and on moving day.
The vertical folding design can be used to move, manage and store up to five empty containers inside one container.
For maritime logistics professionals, shipping lines, and freight forwarders, a folding container opens up all sorts of flexible container positioning and repositioning possibilities. An empty container takes up just as much space on a containership as a loaded one and costs just as much to transport but with no revenue benefit, meaning that that empties are often stranded somewhere until there’s enough room on a vessel to move them for reloading. A folding box means a containership could conceivably haul thousands of empties and fully loaded containers on the same voyage, making the shipment of empties much more efficient and cost-effective.
Staxxon’s objective is to replace the air in the empty box with folded and nested containers that meet existing structural and weather-tight standards for dry containers when unfolded.
There are big sustainability benefits also. By reducing the number of container ship movements of empties as well as intra-state truck movements of them at port areas, Staxxon saves fuel. Staxxon says it is focusing “on the larger environmental challenge of reducing net sea-going vessel movements and gate entries involving empty containers. In addition, Staxxon’s folding method allows existing container fleets to be repurposed to address sea lanes and routes with high empty imbalance scenarios instead of requiring wholesale replacement of existing container fleets.”
George Kochanowski, Staxxon founder and CEO, says:
“If empty containers can be folded and nested at off-terminal storage depots, then moved in sets of 2, 3, 4, or 5 containers occupying the same space and dimensions as one container, container fleet owners and terminal operators could see as much as an 80 percent reduction in terminal ‘touches’ once the empty container nest is inside the terminal.
“Our target is for the incremental cost of container manufacturing, maintenance, and repair for Staxxon folding/nesting container technology to be recovered in as few as 12-18 nested container transits, depending on the terminal costs for the relevant trade lanes.”
Will folding containers replace the millions floating around the world? Drewry Shipping Consultants estimates there were more than 82 million port-to-port moves of empty containers worldwide last year. So probably not any time soon, but still.
Instead of stacking empties on the side of the road or under underpasses, or shipping a bunch of containers full of nothing but air, a shipping line can move a bunch of containers full of containers.