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A new 20ft shipping container design could result in shippers being able to increase the number of pallet loads inside boxes by as much as 36%.

Developed by UK company Container Group Technology (CGT), which includes key executives who were behind the development of GESeaCo’s SeaCell units, the 20-20 SeaCell is the first unit which actually measures 20ft inside the container – existing standard 20ft boxes actually only measure 19ft 10½ inches long, and 7ft 7¾ inches wide internally.

The difference in distance may not actually be much – 6,096mm by 2,426mm for the 20-20, compared to the existing 6,058mm by 2,330mm – but the net result is the ability to load an extra four euro pallets – or 15 per tier compared to 11 – and two ISO pallets more – 12 compared to the current 10 per tier – inside the box (see figure below).

This has been achieved by making the front wall flat, rather than corrugated as on standard boxes and by making the doors much thinner. Combined, these two factors have allowed for an extra inch and half of length internally which, rather counter-intuitively, allows the addition of a whole other row of euro pallets.

CGT managing director John Evans told The Loadstar that he hoped the new design would make using 20ft units attractive to shippers once again.

“The 20ft box has been made extraordinarily uncompetitive because of the limitations in the number of pallets it can load. As a result, many shippers believe they get greater economies of scale by shipping in 40ft units, but for shippers with denser cargo it’s not so simple – with heavier cargo you cannot use a 40ft box efficiently because of safe working load restrictions,” he said.

He said that a case study on shipping kegs of beer in boxes had shown that almost as much cargo could be loaded in a 20ft as a 40ft before weight limitations became an issue.

“Around 30% of a 40ft was left empty, and yet some shippers continue to use 40fts. Certainly shipping lines love 40fts, and I’m sure if they could they would ship nothing but them.”

However, Mr Evans, and his business partner Martin Clive-Smith, also added a feature which allows the two boxes to be joined to form one 40ft unit – originally conceived as way for shipping lines to reduce their handling costs when repositioning empty equipment.

“By locking the two together they can get a reduction in the cost of handling at the ports for empties returning to Asia,” he said.

In an innovative twist however, the 20-20 design also allows for the two boxes to be locked together with their doors facing each other, making them impossible to be broken into while in transit – or without the help of heavy lifting equipment at least – and thus making the unit potentially of great interest to shippers increasingly concerned by the rising mounts of cargo theft.

Similarly, the doors have been designed to open outwards in such a way so that shippers, with the correct equipment, can slide an entire tier of pallets into a box at once.

“More and more shippers are investing in this type of loading equipment – it cuts down on damage to the cargo and the container, and it speeds up the process,” Mr Evans added.

Prototype units have been built and successfully field tested, but generating interest from the market will require the company, and indeed the container manufacturing industry – to look beyond its traditional client-base.

“Normally one would look to either shipping lines or leasing companies to buy this equipment, but the problem for leasing companies is that they have to interest shippers in this particular product, and it is difficult for them because that means approaching shipping lines’ customers, and shipping lines are understandable touchy about that.

“Shipping lines, for their part, are not that bothered by the concept – they do not, in general like ‘specials’. The group that would be interested in this product is the shippers – and some shippers in the past few years have gained a competitive advantage through their supply chain,” he said.


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  • Alex von Stempel

    February 20, 2013 at 1:08 am

    There could be a market for reefers waiting to be serviced. Shippers in need of equipment may find that even a marginal lower freight rate compared with 40fters may give them the edge they need and revive the concept of shipper-owned reefer boxes, especially as lines are reluctant to invest.

  • Barista Uno

    February 20, 2013 at 8:56 am