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Week of 15 February 2021: Horizontal Transportation

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You can find old documentaries that show the employees at Ford's River Rouge plant loading Model T's into railroad box cars. It was a pretty awkward arrangement. Coming to the 1970's, one can find documentaries where Chevrolet was loading the Vega model in special box cars that stood the car on end. Automobile transport, both rail and truck, is fairly standard these days and it is not unusual to see automobiles in conventional carriers, highway or rail.

Corrugators keep getting wider. However, beyond a width of 110 inches, there is a problem with transportation of containerboard rolls because standing on end, there are few trailers that can hold them (due to the universal overpass height limitations). The choices seem to be to locate the box plant at the end of the paper machine or find ways to lay the rolls down in the trucks. Railcar limits are not quite at 110 inches, but things are tight there, too.

"Conexes" or "modular shipping containers" have revolutionized transportation and storage for goods that are rectangular or square. It should be noted that the conex was invented in 1952, so it has been around for a long time. It was slowly adopted at first, more widely adopted later on and is now ubiquitous. Drive into Manhattan from the Newark Airport and you will see mountains of these things.

The containerboard industry sorely needs its own "conex" for rolls wider than 110 inches. This needs to be a system that allows rolls to be placed horizontally, or perhaps, at an angle to reduce the height normally achieved by vertical rolls.

I think the roll in a horizontal position is the better choice. I once worked with a company that prefabricated metal tanks. They had designed their own trucks so that at the job site, the truck was self-unloading to the side. These trucks (oversize loads) could handle tanks 12 feet in diameter and fifty feet long without any problems. They saved a lot of money not having to wait around for a crane to off load them.

If we built a truck bed that, on an end view, looked something like a revolver barrel in a pistol, perhaps these could be self-unloading, too. The load could be tarped for weather protection, rather than having metal sides and top. Then with an appropriate mechanism it could unload at its destination without waiting for a clamp truck or other local aids.

Such a trailer will necessarily be single use, not fungible as conexes or vans are. However, if we think about it, log trucks are single use, too and deadhead back to the forest.

This problem is only going to become worse as companies push the width of corrugators. We need a clever manufacturer to solve this growing problem within the next ten years.

For safety this week, the nice thing about designs that start with a "clean sheet of paper" such as this one, we can incorporate all the latest safety and regulatory knowledge from the beginning. No retrofitting required.

Be safe and we will talk next week.


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