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Container handling – managing the move

Tuesday, 19 Apr 2016 ( #766 )
Special Feature
Amendments to the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) convention, which come into effect on July 1, have caused consternation for some in the global supply chain sector. Melissa Barnett looks at what the SOLAS amendments will mean for container handling manufacturers and suppliers, the options available to meet the new standards and other container handling challenges.

From July this year, the Verified Gross Mass (VGM) of all shipping containers must be recorded and logged with the shipping agent or his representative and the terminal authority before they are loaded onto a vessel for export. Failure to do so will result in refusal to load or immediate unloading of the container, with costs carried by the shipping agent. The VGM includes weighing all packages and cargo items, including the mass of pallets, dunnage (loose packing material) and other securing material that may be packed in the container.

Logging of weights in the past has been a haphazard affair in some countries, with any number of parties along the supply chain responsible for weighing and recording and not all weighing equipment meeting national certification.

The amendments are designed to improve safety at sea after a series of recent maritime accidents, including roll-overs, sinking and catastrophic hull failure, were all found to be caused by overweight or improperly packed containers. In 2007, the MSC Napoli suffered a catastrophic hull failure attributable, according to the Ship’s Classification Society (DNV), to the excessive weight of the containers onboard. One in five containers was found to be excessively overburdened by an average of 3 T per container. The weights had been wrongly declared at the time of loading.

The VGM can be done by either of two methods. Method one requires the shipper, or a third party appointed by the shipper, to have the packed container transport unit (CTU) weighed prior to loading onboard. Method two requires the shipper to weigh all the itemised cargo and dunnage and to add those weights to the container’s tare weight as indicated on the CSC safety plate on the door of the container.

Jacob Blom, business developer for RAVAS Weighing Systems based in the Netherlands, says that there is some confusion in the industry around the different weighing methods. "Method two is fairly straight-forward. We are now getting orders for mobile weighing systems like our iForks forklift scales, generated by the need to be SOLAS-compliant. iForks technology uses a personal digital assistant (PDA) with RAVAS software on it for collecting data or to improve a customer’s data on their enterprise resource planning (ERP) system," he explains. RAVAS also offers a SOLAS app which can be installed on a PDA, iPad or iPhone. The app identifies the container by its number and can identify its cargo statistics previously communicated by RAVAS iForks. The total container weight can then be calculated and registered on the PDA and sent to a PC via cable or, if on an iPad or iPhone, can be emailed to the shipping line straight from the app.

Method one, however, is a different matter, according to Blom. "We also have a solution for method one, but I have been trying for months to find the organisation who can give me a clear answer on the required accuracy of these systems."

One of the issues raised by method one is that there is no internationally approved accuracy standard for weighing equipment calibration and no recommendation from the IMO on the type of weighing equipment that should be used. Each country is expected to oversee and enforce its own standards. Port container handling equipment such as forklifts, cranes and straddle carriers generally have onboard weighing technology designed to prevent overloading of the equipment. The technology is typically accurate to 5%. However, 5% may be outside the accepted SOLAS standards. Again, this will be up to each country to manage and regulate. For manufacturers of container handling equipment, it may mean a rethink of their onboard weighing technology.

Conweigh Container Weighing Pedestals (*International Patents Pending)
A number of questions have been raised regarding the amendments. Mason Kratz of Australian-based mobile scales company Olitek-Conweigh believes that not even the stakeholders in the industry are fully aware of the requirements. Furthermore, he says, there are over 120 million shipping containers exported annually across the globe. When these don’t meet VGA standards and are left at the port, they have the potential to cause massive congestion and disruption of the logistics chain in the 150 countries covered by the legislation. These and other questions have been addressed in a FAQ handbook released by the International Cargo Handling and Co-Ordination Organisation (ICHCA). The organisation is also holding a seminar on June 1 to consolidate the standards prior to the deadline.


Regardless of which method you use to weigh a container, it will be imperative to both weigh and report accurately. Each country is responsible for the calibration standards of weighing equipment used in trade and commerce including stationary, public and mobile weighing devices Terry Wickman, president of US company Keytroller, says that container handling is a small and very specialised market. "In the scale world, many clients using high-capacity forklifts have shied away from using conventional, one pressure reading scales as the inaccuracies in weights tend to be exacerbated in a large-capacity forklift. For example, a forklift with a carrying capacity of 9,000 kg can be out by 182 kg. The scale can only be as accurate as the single pressure reading it monitors, Wickman explains.

Keytroller’s newly released Precise scale addresses this issue by sampling hundreds of pressure readings as pressurised fluid flows through the bypass module and past hydraulic sensor. Wickman believes the Precise scale has an accuracy of .02%, which equates to +/-18 kg on any load it handles.

The Conweigh container weighing service goes a step further and has introduced a mobile container weight verification service for shipping companies. Using method one guidelines, the Conweigh service can weigh a container on the packing site or elsewhere at anytime in just 20 minutes – thereby eliminating lengthy delays at public weighbridges and the risk of transporting overweight containers to the port.

Tracking and accurate reporting of container freight will be an essential requirement for meeting SOLAS standards. Australian company CMS Transport’s general manager, Grant Walmsley, says, "Containerisation is a growing market (because) reduced local manufacturing means an increase in imports and increases in the container freight task." He believes that providing an end-to-end transport management system incorporating all parties in the supply chain is vital. The Freight2020 management system has a dedicated container freight module with a live interface to its 1-STOP Voyage and Vessel service. Walmsley says users benefit from real-time collaboration and the sharing of information between shippers, wharf, transport providers, empty parks, customs, receivers, warehouses and authorities. He adds that by basing the Freight2020 system in the cloud, even small companies can benefit from a state-of-the-art, end-to-end solution. In regards to the weighing requirements of SOLAS, Freight2020 can interface with road transport weighing equipment with weights being recorded against the job.

Konecrane's Truconnect management system
Mike Dejong, general manager of operations at United Forklift and Access Solutions in Australia, believes that peripheral technology and service support are at the top of supply chain customers’ requirements. "Our customers’ needs are changing; they are more aware these days of compliance issues and are looking for a fleet management system (to) supply them with quality information, data recovery and storage and support," he says. As a solution, he cites Konecrane’s Truconnect remote monitoring and reporting service which is able to track real-time usage on a forklift through a remote connection, including reports on load spectrum, total load lifted, fuel consumption, engine profiles and maintenance schedules.


Containers have revolutionised the handling of bulk goods and commodities and, as a consequence, the equipment needed to move them has to be robust, relevant and efficient. The SOLAS amendments will no doubt impact on container carrier design and function in some way, but until now there have been other demands on the industry.

Hyster RS45-46 reachstacker
Stephen Fairbrass, business manager for Hyster-Yale Asia-Pacific Big Trucks, believes that cost saving now drives the container handling industry. "The main thing is to keep costs down, run machines more productively, be more fuel efficient, offer improved operator comfort, lift more and operate faster," says Fairbrass. Reachstackers, he believes, have long been regarded as the most reliable and robust container handlers available.

A recent challenge for materials handling equipment has been the introduction of Stage iv/Tier4 final emissions legislation. Hyster has addressed this in the recently released Hyster RS45-46 reachstacker which boasts 25% fuel savings over its previous model. "Integration of the RS45-46’s Cummins QSL9 engine and the exhaust system optimises fuel economy above that already achieved with Tier4 interim engines, while achieving near-zero emissions (approximately 96% fewer particulates and 9% less NOx) and still delivering one of the best power-to-weight ratios in its class," boasts Fairbrass.

Combi-SC unloading from a truck
Reachstackers are only one piece of equipment available for moving containers. In recent years, Ireland’s Combilift has been developing straddle carriers which challenge the traditional view of this machine. Managing director Martin McVicar explains: "We took a critical look at the methods available and decided to develop a more lightweight, manoeuvrable machine with high levels of customisation that would offer complete independence when moving containers and loading or offloading them from trailers."
Combilift has been pro-active in consideration of the SOLAS amendments, offering a fully compliant weight measurement system fitted to its Combi–SC straddle carriers. The system is accurate to +/-1%, effectively making it a mobile weighing system.
With stainless steel load measuring pins, an interface module and a cab-mounted tablet, it is an economical and convenient alternative to fixed weighing systems. McVicar says the Combi-SC system can reduce the yearly number of weighing procedures from 150,000 to just 5,000 (based on 20 containers per day over 250 days with 30 pallets per container).

KAUP T193LD Endframe in action
The public is used to seeing containers lifted from above or below, but German company KAUP has designed the T193LD endframe which allows containers to be picked up at the "small end". The endframes have a hydraulic locking system including twistlocks and cylinders. To lift from the end, two pins insert from the top into the existing corner casings. From the bottom, two cone-shaped twistlocks insert into the corner casings and lock, allowing the container to be lifted, rotated 360°, and inspected from all sides.

While the SOLAS amendments are designed to enhance safety, particularly at sea, safe container handling on land is also a priority. Kevin Koch, general sales manager for Taylor Northeast Inc in the US, says, "Safety is a high priority among our customers these days. We have seen a lot of interest in the Taylor Vision Plus, our pedestrian monitoring system." Vision Plus can be mounted on any machine and doesn’t require the pedestrians in the working area to wear any type of detection equipment. Vision Plus recognises the basic human shape through a series of sensors and correlates their movements around the workplace with the travel direction of the machines. One of the benefits of the system, says Koch, is that it reduces unnecessary and desensitising alarms.

Container solutions from Mobicon (above) and Isoloader (below).
Tom Schults, managing director of Australian company Mobicon Systems, says that Mobicon saw the benefits of smaller companies, typically shifting between seven and 200 containers a week, being able to own their own container handler. The Mobicon is a mini-straddle carrier of unique design where the container, when carried, becomes part of the straddle carrier structure. There are currently four main models: the patented Two Tower which can move inside buildings; the ECO Bottom Lift Mobicon; and the Top Lift and Top Lift Two High models which use an ELME spreader to connect to containers, with the Top Lift Two High able to stack containers one over one.

Jarad Wilson, Australian manufacturer Isoloader’s general manager, sees a global trend towards straddle carriers as a viable option to container handlers and reachstackers. "Tight spaces have led to an increased demand for alternative steering modes, high levels of manoeuvrability and maximisation of storage capability; and because more containers are being stacked under awnings or within buildings, there is a greater demand for quieter and cleaner technology," he says. Isoloader has taken advantage of current battery and drive technology to produce the world’s first battery electric straddle carrier for indoor use – the LL2-35E. The added advantage of using straddle carriers indoors is that their even weight distribution over multiple wheels (up to eight) reduces surface damage. Wilson adds that he has seen an increase in requests for straddle carriers with container weighing capability, driven by the new SOLAS legislation.

The future

Combilift’s McVicar expects containerisation to grow. "In certain global regions, dependency on containerised cargo remains and these markets will continue to be very receptive to equipment that enables more efficient throughput," he notes. Hyster-Yale’s Fairbrass believes that the forecast growth in the intermodal and rail sector, coupled with changes in road transport weight and load limitations, will increase the speed at which containers will need to be moved.

David Smith English, owner of US used container handling equipment suplier Intermodal Supply LLC, says one of the biggest changes in the ocean shipping industry is the building of ever-larger container ships in order to take advantage of economies of scale. He sees this trend continuing for some time, as the efficiencies of these larger ships, which consume as little as 50% of the fuel of older ships, are of tremendous benefit to the global environment. However, they also put demands on a port’s infrastructure. Bigger ship-to-shore cranes are required and deeper channels will need to be dug to accept the deeper draft of larger container ships, English suggests.

FTMH reachstacker
A FTMH (Fantuzzi Team Materials Handling) spokesman says his company is aware of and concerned about the SOLAS amendments but more pressing for customers is the development of technology which makes servicing equipment easier and cheaper. FTMH is directing R&D towards greater automation of container handling equipment. United Forklift’s Dejong says that the future of containerisation is robust and the market highly competitive. For this reason the market will be looking for reliable equipment underpinned with highly developed back-up support and long-term partnerships with known and reliable products, especially in the smaller markets.

Taylor Northeast’s Koch wants to see a continued and increased awareness of safety and environmental practices. "The day-to-day implementation of new policies in safety and environment can be hard in the short term, but the long-term benefits are definitely there and cannot be ignored," he says.

Schults believes containerisation will continue to increase, as it has done for the last 20 years, and sees the need for better utilisation of yard space becoming extremely important. To this end, Mobicon is developing a model which will dramatically decrease manoeuvring space required.

The future looks good for container handling and once the dust settles on the SOLAS amendments, the industry will be in a safer and more sustainable position.

Additional information by our contributors:

CMS Transport Systems Pty Ltd: website
Combilift Ltd.:
H&K Equipment, Inc.:
United Forklift and Access Solutions:
Mobicon Systems: website
Hyster-Yale Asia-Pacific Pty Ltd: website
KAUP GmbH  & Co. KG:
Intermodal Supply, LLC:  website
RAVAS Europe BV: website
International Cargo Handling and Co-Ordination Organisation (ICHCA): website

And Special Thanks:

EnerSys:  website
Douglas Battery:  website
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