The path forward for the shipping industry to attain a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 as per IMO regulations will not be done with one single, magic solution. Rather, it is more likely that incremental steps and initiatives will allow shippers and shipping lines to reach their goal. So it is that the 4FOLD foldable container from Holland Container Innovations (HCI) is providing a novel solution that not only reduces CO2 but offers a number of additional benefits — more efficient to ship empties back (by a ratio of four to one!), space saving, and faster handling at the terminal. “Unbalanced routes that see a lot of empty containers taking up valuable space waiting to be shipped out really benefit from the 4FOLD,” said Hans Broekhuis, CEO. Given current supply chain issues, the 4FOLD — the world’s first certified foldable 40-foot container — is an idea whose time has come.
The concept of the foldable container was developed out of the Dutch Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands beginning in 2000 by the founders, under which Mr. Simon Bosschieter was a part. In 2008, Bosschieter and his fellow entrepreneurs formed Holland Container Innovations and worked over the next five years to obtain certifications for its 40-foot container which now include CSC (Container Safety Commission), ISO (International Organization for Standardization), UIC (International Union of Railways) and AAR (Association of American Railroads). Certifications were performed by Korean Register (KR), American Bureau of Shipping (ABS), DEKRA, Lloyd’s Register (LR) and the China Classification Society (CCS).
Focusing on the most popular container in the market today (40-foot), HCI has continually evolved the main structure and design to create greater and greater efficiencies — the container can now be folded in as little as 10 minutes with standard depot equipment like a spreader or two forklifts. “Our ISO certification confirms the container’s use on all modalities,” said Broekhuis. “We have been tested and proven and we are now in more than 60 depots and ports and on 15 shipping lines.”
How it works
There’s a great video produced by HCI (www.4foldcontainers.com) that provides a succinct overview of how the container folds down quickly and safely and can create extra room on vessels, trucks, trains, terminals, and depots. It’s essentially a very simple task to fold the container. The long sides are hinged and folded in; the top, connected to the short ends, lifts and the short ends then fold in with the top settling in place. It’s fast, safe, and easy.
With four empty 4FOLD containers taking as much room as one regular container. Given that 20 percent of all containers on ships at sea are empty, and 40 percent on land are empty, the benefits are considerable. In the U.S., the imbalance is even bigger — more than half of the containers coming inland go out empty. Broekhuis estimated that the impact of empty container transport on ocean carriers and shippers worldwide is “up to 200 million tons of CO2 emissions and US$25 billion per year in transport costs.”
He went on to note that one truck driver can return four empty 4FOLDs back to the port as opposed to four drivers transporting conventional ones; and one rail car can transport eight empty 4FOLDs instead of two rail cars double stacked. “Four folded containers become one interconnected bundle that is handled like one container — extrapolate that throughout the supply chain and you can see all the ways this would help alleviate congestion, save up to 70 percent of space at terminals, ports, and depots, and provide for a faster and more efficient transport of empty containers, whether by ship, truck, or rail.”
For shipping routes that are currently seeing an imbalance in the number of empty containers being returned —specifically the North America/Asia route with as much as 60 to 80 percent returned empty; and the Europe/Asia route which still has an imbalance albeit not as much as the North America route — the 4FOLD would contribute to solving much of the inefficiencies and opening up much needed space at terminals.
When you add up the CO2, time and space savings, the arguments for 4FOLD containers becomes very appealing. “Less movements over sea and land lowers costs considerably as does the terminal handling and reduction in depot traffic,” Broekhuis said.
Growing in popularity
HCI’s 4FOLD container is starting to get noticed in the maritime and logistics industries. The company has won accolades, awards and grants from many organizations, including The Eco Performance Award, the European Union Horizon 2020 Award, The European Innovations Transport Award; the European Business Award, the Topsector Logistiek Award and others.
As previously noted, the foldable container is now used at more than 60 depots and ports and on 15 shipping lines and growing in popularity all the time. “The shipping industry is typically very conservative,” said Broekhuis. “To use a new type of container takes quite a while to filter down from the decision-makers to management and then to operations but we are seeing shipping lines moving in this direction. It’s not a question of ‘whether’ they will start using 4FOLD, but ‘when’.
While presently focused on manufacturing 40-foot containers because they are the predominant size used, Broekhuis fully expects the company will expand to offer more sizes. “There are 53-foot containers used in the U.S. and 45-foot ones used in Europe,” he said, adding that it takes about 1.5 years to develop the design and then work on certifications. “ISO certification is key for us because it can be carried on all modalities.”
Another development that Broekhuis sees for the future of HCI is automating the process of folding the containers. While the process is safe and easy using traditional terminal equipment, automation will allow for even faster and more efficient handling.
With representation already well established in Europe, Asia, and Australia, 4FOLD is expanding it’s distribution network around the world and is exploring opportunities of cooperation with Tynebridge Solutions for representation on the U.S. and Canadian West Coast. With these partnerships, HCI has a vision that is easily within its grasp. “Imagine the impact this could have on our planet if all big shippers and shipping lines would unite to attack the hundreds of megatons of greenhouse gas that is wasted by transport every year.”
4FOLD is actively looking at launching Green Corridors over the world together with carriers and shippers to be able to make the best use of the benefits of the containers whereby quality and safety are most important.
The first Corridor will be: Shanghai – Vancouver – Chicago – New York – Europe – Shanghai. On this corridor, the containers can move in both directions, wherever needed. In a collaboration with shippers, carriers, terminals and depots, 4FOLD will secure operations through the whole supplychain and work on long-term benefits of the foldable containers. 4FOLD is doing the coordination of the folding; the carriers, terminals and depots will support the containers in their operations and will benefit from space efficiencies; with shippers providing their commitment to use the containers and thereby benefiting from the CO2 savings.