It is back once again: the container that is foldable and therefore space saving. Since the beginning of container shipping, the necessary disposition of empty containers has been a tough nut for equipment managers, since the freight traffic rarely ever matches. The solution seems to be rather obvious: a container that can be reduced to a fraction of its original volume. Holland Container Innovations presents their approach to the public , their so called 4FOLD – 40’High Cube Container.

Huge saving potential

The global cost of the disposition of empty containers is estimated to reach up to 27 billion Dollars. General estimates say that about 20% per cent of boxes in sea traffic are shipped empty, while the number on land is even higher: about 40% of containers in overland traffic are not filled with goods when they’re being transported. On a global scale, moving around empty containers costs shipping companies around 17 billion Dollars. An interesting field for reducing costs and thus gaining a major edge in a market this competitive.

An old idea – revisited

The idea itself is not revolutionary – there have been many similar attempts – but none that could be established on a larger scale. The Staxxon company developed a foldable steel-container with a foldable top and bottom. Another attempt was the Cargoshell, a container made from fiberglass with foldable sides. Next to these variants, there were many efforts made by several different tinkerers, which all had one thing in common: they didn’t make it. Either the sum of the fixed and the varied costs was too high or the construction didn’t endure the constant strain of repeated handling.

Holland Container Innovations attends to the matter

Now Holland Container Innovations (HCI) has taken a new approach to an old topic and constructed a foldable 40’ High Cube Container that is supposed to help reach the desired saving potential. Based on a team made up of four students from Delft University of Technology, HCI was founded in 2008. Their goal was to develop and market a space saving, and therefore ecofriendly container. The idea won the “Promising Innovations Award” at the International Transport Forum in Leipzig in 2014 and has since been widely recognized. Up to now, 2.5 Million Dollars have been invested in the development of this new container. It already has one decisive argument: the classification societies have approved its use transportation. One more reason to take a closer look at this innovative concept:

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What the newbie is capable of

What makes the 4FOLD stand out against its opponents?
When it comes to containers like this one, stability is crucial: where other attempts have failed, the 4FOLD has made significant progress through advancement. An entirely robust steel construction lends the box the stability it needs. From dampers, to springs, to clamps – everything, that is necessary to ensure safe handling and reduce accidents when folding the container, has been considered.

The folding technique saves space and therefore money. It reduces the volume of the empty container by up to 75% per cent when it’s being transported or stored. This does not only save money; it’s also an advantage from an ecological standpoint. Saving room when transporting empty containers can largely reduce CO2 emissions. An aspect that is quite relevant to shipping companies, since an orientation toward a more ecological behavior is becoming more and more important.

No advantage without compromise

That’s all well and good, but what are the disadvantages of this container compared to the standard boxes in use today? It takes trained personnel about 4-5 minutes to erect a container that has previously been folded. Workers with less training would need even more time. Two people are needed for the process, as well as a forklift (and its driver). The extra cost that is created by the handling of the new boxes is a significant factor, for the container depots especially.

Another factor is the price of the 4FOLD, which right now is about five times as high as that of a standard 40’ High Cube Container. Official calculations, however, predict this price will be reduced to around double the price of a standard container today, once there is a greater demand.

What about maintenance and repairs?
The cost of maintenance and repairs would be higher for this container type with its many movable parts, which are a lot more prone to damages than the fixed constructions of today’s boxes. Repeated folding and erecting would also lead to increased wear – cost that would have to be absorbed by the shipping- or the leasing companies. HCI’s  counterargument is that the container’s average time on sea is expected to be a lot longer that that of today’s standard boxes, thanks to its extremely robust construction. This is supposed to help balance out higher investments. Field-testing will show the validity of these predictions.

The 4FOLD – from theory to practice

It is definitely noticeable that the idea of the 4FOLD has convinced established shipping companies like APL and Hanjin to perform first field-tests. The Dutch shipping company NileDutch has also expressed interest in using the new boxes in traffic between Europe and West Africa – a relation with extremely unmatched loading ratios.

If the new foldable container is able to live up to everyone’s expectations and prove itself in the field, well, then it has a bright future.

Photos: Holland Container Innovations Nederland B.V.