Those towering piles of empty containers at shipping terminals around the world may eventually be cut down to size, and it won't be because there are fewer of them. If a venture by a pair of engineering professors from the Indian Institute of Technology and a former banker succeeds, ocean carriers and equipment leasing companies will be able to fold up the big steel boxes for storage.
With financing from the privately owned investment firm Simpri Investments Ltd., Professors Anoop Chawla and Sudipto Mukherjee spent more than three years developing the SIMIIT Four Pack Folding Container. Prototypes will soon be ready for inspection by marine certification authorities such as Lloyd's of London and Bureau Veritas.
According to the developers, the folding containers are watertight, and a hydraulic-powered base station can collapse the boxes to onefourth their size in just a few minutes. Because four folded and stacked containers will take up the same amount of space as a single box does now, ocean carriers will be able to transport and store more empties in far less space. That will mean fewer vessel voyages and truck trips to reposition equipment.
Simpri estimates that the foldable containers might cost 15 to 20 percent more to construct than a standard container. With ocean carriers currently spending an estimated US $16 billion to move and reposition empty containers each year, however, the potential savings far outweigh the added initial cost and could well change the economics of ocean shipping.
Articles about the containers and a video showing how the system works can be found here.