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Could Foldable Containers Help With Container Shortages?

Shipping is currently in a state of flux, as several different black swan events have come about at largely the same time to disrupt a supply chain that survives by being just in time.

Ever since the development of the standardised ISO 6346 shipping containers beginning with the US Army Transporter in 1948, the shape of the shipping world has been a corrugated cuboid that is 8ft wide and either 20 or 40 ft long depending on the container used.

They are invariably stacked up on increasingly large container vessels and travel the world to meet the demands of an increasingly busy shipping world, with a storage container for sale likely to spend up to 25 years at sea.

However, a reduction in staff numbers at some ports and shipyards due to public health emergencies, combined with the blocking of one of the most important arteries in international shipping, has had a knock-on effect where there has been a shortage of shipping containers at some ports.

It is important to note that the problem is not as much that there are fewer shipping containers than are needed, but that these containers are effectively in the wrong place, with an estimated 27 per cent of the 862m TFUs travelling around the world being empty so they can be loaded up elsewhere.

With storage and supply being issues at some ports, could foldable containers be a potential solution?

There have been some proposed solutions that at least fix the issue of transporting air thousands of miles by using containers that are designed to fold down to a quarter of their original size.

Four of these could then be shipped across the world using the same amount of space as a single empty container, which could provide a significant benefit to carriers and customers, although higher initial costs remain an issue.

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