Shipping container traffic has been on the rise at an astounding rate over the past 20 years. Empty containers create major losses throughout the value chain. This problem is yet to be satisfactorily addressed to keep the trade growing.
Sydney-based CEC Systems’ (Collapsible-Economic-Container) COLLAPSECON® achieves a 4:1 ratio, thereby enabling 4 empty units to be collapsed and joined to form a single container, significantly reducing the cost of storing, handling and distributing empty containers.
Sea News (SN) engaged in a discussion with Nicolas Press (NP), Founder and CEO of CEC Systems, on how operational costs involved in container shipping can be optimised. The excerpts:
SN: CEC Systems has introduced its core product-The COLLAPSECON, an economic collapsible container. Would you share its key features?
NP: The concept of a collapsible shipping container is not new. There have been many attempts over many years to realise a collapsible solution.
CEC Systems spent many years analysing previous solutions to try and understand why they have not been more broadly adopted. What we noted was that the three biggest limitations have generally consisted of the increased level of handling required, the increased costs of the units and the level of operational planning that needs to be considered in terms of collapsing and positioning.
Recognising these problems and limitations, the key feature we built into the COLLAPSECON design was the very method in which it collapses. By collapsing horizontally instead of the traditional vertical approach, COLLAPSECON can sustain a significant amount of weight on top. In fact, it can be placed at the bottom of a stack in either the single state or the combined state. What this means for the industry is that a combined unit consisting of 4 empties can now be treated the same as a fully laden. The combined unit can be loaded at the bottom of a stack for redistribution and thus significantly reduce the multiple handling and repositioning steps usually witnessed with empties as a vessel moves from port to port.
There is a view that the complicated and time-consuming nature of collapsing or expanding boxes creates more problems than it solves. This concern is a valid however, another key feature we developed with the COLLAPSECON was for the system to be simple, safe and fast to collapse and combine. Through our COLLAPSECON Operating Stations, we are able to collapse each box with only one handling step, in 2 minutes, with no cranes of MHE involved in the process itself; and there is no extra handling step to combine the units.
The cost of a collapsible container is always going to be more expensive than a standard. As such, another key feature we developed with COLLAPSECON was in the manufacturing. We designed COLLAPSECON to be as close to an industry standard box as possible. It is made from the same materials, produced to the same standards and using the same manufacturing methods. This approach enables us to produce COLLAPSECON units a reasonably aligned cost, but more importantly, the commonality to a normal box ensures that maintenance can be conducted in the same way as a standard.
These are just some of the key aspects we looked at with the COLLAPSECON design. Not only do we want to minimise the operational planning, we want to build in features that enable the system to generate better and new efficiencies.
SN: How and to what extent collapsible containers can solve the issues faced by the shipping industry?
NP: The shipping industry is facing many challenges on many fronts. Empty containers are just one issue.
The reality is that empty containers will always exist due to global trade imbalances. It is a problem that cannot be solved because regions will always import and export different commodities at different rates. However, collapsible containers enable the loading and unloading of vessels at port, the number of ships, trucks and rail carts required for haulage and the space required for storage to all be significantly reduced.
Additionally, an evolution on the standard to collapsible containers on some routes offers a reduction in traffic across the wider shipping and logistics network and a decrease in the overall burden on infrastructure. When we consider one of the drivers of the industry to be a focus on reducing environmental impact, the collapsible container offers an opportunity to reduce environmental impact as part of a larger approach.
SN: Which industrial sectors other than the shipping industry can avail the benefits of your product?
NP: COLLAPSECON is currently designed to supplement container fleets on routes where major imbalances exist. Given the standard shipping container is used across many industries it does have potential for other uses, but for the time being we are focused on supporting the shipping and logistics industries.
SN: How do you plan to bring collapsible containers into the mainstream supply chain?
NP: Collapsible containers are not meant to replace all containers on all routes. Therefore, our strategy currently focuses on introducing collapsible containers on smaller closed loops routes. An example of this may look at routes such as Australia and New Zealand. Additionally, we are introducing COLLAPSECON on rail routes where the system can demonstrate operational and financial benefits in a domestic environment.
SN: Is there any new product/ service launch or any product-upgrade in the pipeline from CEC Systems?
NP: The reason why the product is called the COLLAPESECON C-401 is that the C-401 stands for Cargo, 40 Foot, version 1. There was as C-400, the proof of concept system. Our engineers are always working to improve our products and add features to support customer’s needs. While the C-401 is the first commercial version of the system, we are currently working on the C-201, a twenty-foot version of the system as well as additional core enhancements that will be rolled out in subsequent iterations.
SN: With shipping sector trying to watch its carbon footprints, are there any environmental benefits of your product?
NP: Yes, as mentioned previously, an evolution on the standard to collapsible containers offers a reduction in traffic across the wider shipping and logistics network and a decrease in the overall burden on infrastructure. In fact, the Port of Melbourne currently have over 10,000 truck movements every week between the port and the empty container park moving empties back and forward. That is a significant environmental impact for no value. When we consider the industry’s focus on reducing environmental impact, the collapsible container offers an opportunity as part of a wider approach to reduce CO2 emissions by allowing for less truck and rail movements, as well as less handling and overall ship movements as part of repositioning.
SN: Are there any additional services or programs offered by CEC Systems to its clients?
NP: Being a relatively young company, our primary focus is currently on rolling out the COLLAPSECON system with supportive partners in many regions. That said, we want to make sure that we know where our containers are and understand the data around them; so instead of just thinking about the container, we are thinking about the empty container problem on a wider scale and are working to develop a new “empty container ecosystem” that includes both physical and digital technologies, as well as support services.
This ecosystem has many aspects to support customers and reduce waste. In addition to the container itself, we are developing a collapsing as a service offering to reduce customers requirement to collapse and combine the boxes. We are also rolling out an IoT tracking solution to track the location of containers but more importantly, because the solution is built on Blockchain technology, we are working to build a strong data set and interrogate that data to drive better decision making around the management of empties.
As we start to get more COLLAPSECON units into the market, we will continue to expand the ecosystem with additional technologies and services.
SN: Technological trends like IoT, Big Data etc. are offering quite reliable and new age solutions to the shipping sector. Do you think any of these technologies can be integrated into containers to improve operational efficiency?
NP: Absolutely, technology costs are coming down while the capability is increasing. As such IoT, Blockchain and the like offer a new level of understanding that can drive new operational efficiencies. Everything from where a fleet is located, to the time it has spent at a port are just a few examples of the data that can be generated, which in turn, can be used to identify inefficiencies and cost savings. Broad adoption of these new technologies will take time; but it must be done in parallel with the physical. Digital is important but the physical containers, ships, ports, handling and transportation must also be considered if the industry is going to generate new operational efficiencies and reduce environmental impact.
SN: CEC Systems shares a very strong collaboration with SIMTech. Are there any other collaboration or partnerships we can expect in the coming days/month?
NP: Our relationship with SIMTech over the past 2 years has been amazing. It is a fantastic organisation filled with incredibly smart scientists and their input has been crucial to CEC Systems in developing the COLLAPSECON system.
We are always pursing collaborations and partnerships like the one we have with SIMTech. We do have a few in the works however, we are always open to working with supportive organisations that can bring vital knowledge and skills.
Sea News Feature, March 22