Expert insight: Bearable lightness of being multimodal


Name: Danny de Koning
Job Title: Samskip Technical Manager
Work experience as Technical Manager: 18 years (since 1998)

"I could show you how to build the lightest weight box possible, but weight solutions must fit in with the best boxes for our business. Now, timing looks right.”

Reinforcing the multimodal competitive edge by taking weight out of the box is a mission for Danny de Koning, and 2016 is shaping up as a big year for Samskip's Technical Manager. In fact, the topic has preoccupied Danny since the mid-90s and the introduction of 45ft containers into the European shortsea business. Since 2005, he has been sharing his passion at Samskip.

The 45ft container occupies an important position in Europe's transport network. Its ability to maximise loading space in the most environmentally-friendly way within EU trailer length limits is acknowledged by the relaxation of permissible road weight for multimodal. Nevertheless, Samskip sees minimising tare weights to cut energy costs and sharpen the carbon emission competitive edge of multimodal as a key business objective.

Lightweight containers

“As long ago as 1996, traditional plywood flooring was with laminated softwoods, moving to birch laminates in 2003,” says Danny. “In 1999, we started looking at the steel itself, gradually replacing corten with high tensile steel from Sweden. By 2004, tare weights had been brought down from 5 tonnes to 4.23 tonnes.”

Samskip encouraged Danny to innovate and he tells tales of “flying all over the place” around South East Asia in pursuit of further weight savings on flooring. A promising start was also made on building containers from lighter weight composites, but other factors intervened. “Based on unit price the timing was not right,” says Danny now. “The potential was there for the 44 tonnes allowed for multimodal to offer the clear cut advantage over hauliers that regulators probably had in mind, but it was a straightforward business decision.”

Samskip growth

Some might have been discouraged, but not Danny. Part of his infectious enthusiasm may be due to Samskip's continuous investment in container innovation. This year, that includes 150 new ventilated 45ft units, 35 x 40ft flat racks with integrated A-frames for the carriage of Marble slabs, 100 x 45ft collapsible flat racks, and 10 ISO-dimensioned ‘man cage' containers to support lashing on board of Samskip vessels.

The intervening years have seen Danny keeping his abiding passion alive, chipping away at the container weight issue whenever possible. “We still saw a use for composites in flooring, and we have 500 units in service that feature Vinyl Ester/Kevlar composite ‘strokes' alternating with plywood,” he says. “The weight saving is relatively small, but experience proves every kilo gained is competitive.”

Future in a box

Now, Danny is lifting the lid on a new project. “We've been working with a steel maker on tailor made, rolled blank panels,” he says.  “We have two prototypes featuring side/front walls and part of the roof where the panels are thicker in the mid-section than at the ends. This saves around 160kg and we're down to around 4.1 tonnes. We think modifications will bring us below 4 tonnes; we plan to build 20 units during summer 2016.

“I'm proud that we are the leader by far in all of this. I could show you how to build the lightest weight box possible, but it would also be awkward to build and costly to maintain. Weight solutions must fit in with the best boxes for our business. Now, the timing looks right.”

You can learn more about Samskip's container fleet here.

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Frank de Lint, Manager Claims & Legal, on the multimodal freight option.

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Tim van der Roest, Fleet Manager, on managing logistics effectively.

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