Friday, January 15, 2010

Shipping Containers Can Carry More Than Sea And Rail Freight

Novel Uses Found for the Ubiquitous TEU whilst Design Innovations Proceed
Shipping News Feature

WORLDWIDE – Ever since the very first shipping containers started to appear in the 1950’s they have spread like a virus across the world, a mute empire of brand names built of steel, wood and fibreglass. From the embryonic US military boxes and inter modal developments of American trucking companies, observers have always cast a sideways glance and considered what else the simple yet strong and effective 20th century tea chest could be useful for.

With the demise of the worlds shipping industry, orders for new boxes have, like the new build ships intended to ferry them across the globe, diminished considerably. Faced with this, even more innovative new uses are being found for the ISO twenty and forty footers which now form the bulk of production.

Originally a steel box would be acquired when its useful life was considered over or its return simply proved uneconomic. With crude use of an angle grinder and a welding torch an office or often a home could be knocked together in a few hours in a remote part of Africa or the Middle East. The trend spread as quickly as container access itself and soon more refined conversions were to be seen across every continent, the boxes providing an ideal instant blend of weatherproofing and security for a small outlay.

Now the container manufacturing industry is turning to more and more specialised products to add value to its product, much like any developing industry before it. Many container manufacturers are now producing stackable and lock together, ready kitted housing units. On sites world wide, full developments, such as the “Box Office” Rhode Island, are being developed and now the uses to which these eminently simple, yet gloriously adaptable pieces of modern packaging are expanding almost daily.

The Mitsubishi Chemical Company have been involved in the use of moving vegetables via containers for some time through their IFCO container system. Now it is reported that the group will take their strategy to a whole different level by installing water-circulation systems, LED lighting and other various other diverse equipment in insulated 40-foot containers to create mobile vegetable factories.

The new project has required collaboration between Sanyo Electric, who have worked to produce a lithium – ion battery rechargeable by solar power, CCS incorporated, light emitting diode specialists, Fairy Angel Incorporated who, despite their modest website, claim the rights to the largest plant factory in the world and container experts the Nippon Fruehauf Company.

The first units are planned to arrive on site in Qatar in April and will mean entirely self supporting growing units capable of producing 2000 lettuce type plants simultaneously.

Since Peter de Maria’s ground breaking design for his Redondo Beach House project in 2006 the container has now achieved a respectability as a building material for a seemingly endless list of projects. From live fish carrying units to aquaculture farm technologies, cryogenic stores and temporary mortuaries, school classrooms in London to blast protection in Iraq the ISO container it seems is here to stay.

Container design, it seems is also under review, mainly again due to the crisis in shipping. The amount of empty containers travelling back, particularly to the Far East means a huge disparity in freight rates and a container takes up the same space whether full to the brim or empty. Six months ago another new design for a collapsible unit, named the Cargoshell, by its Dutch inventor was attracting attention.

Working on a similar principal to an archive box the fibre glass units are currently being assessed to see if they meet the requirements of the ISO, the International Organization for Standardization. Taking up only a quarter of the space of a standard unit and weighing comparatively little may mean these units are set to become far more popular than many cynical industry observers are prepared to concede if they can be shown to be a practical alternative to the accepted design.

Photo courtesy of De Maria Design.