It can be very stormy in Rotterdam sometimes. The nightmare of many a container depot and terminal, because strong winds can blow over stacked empty containers and cause serious damage. Windbreaker International has developed an effective precaution: a cast-iron coupling that connects the corners of containers, making them less vulnerable. Almost all depots in Rotterdam now use Windbreakers. “And at Mainport Container Services, they have never had storm damage since.”
In Rotterdam, the largest container port in Europe, land is scarce and expensive, and container depots use their square metres as efficiently as possible by stacking empty containers up to eight high. When a storm is imminent, depots have their hands full with securing the containers using tie ratchets or removing layers from the stack. A time-consuming job. “I've been working with containers all my life, and especially at empty depots you'll encounter many problems during storm situations,” says Sjaak de Vos, director of Windbreaker International. “When I was still director of container depot Mainport Container Services (formerly Mainport Rotterdam Services) in Rotterdam, one of my supervisors once made a prototype of a connecting piece that connects the corners of the container - the corner castings - to each other, so the top layer becomes one solid block. It was a good idea, but nothing was done with it because there were still steps to be made in the execution.”
De Vos entered into a collaboration with research organisation TNO in Delft, which further developed the idea, tested it and searched for the most suitable material. “Steel, for instance, is much stronger, but it is way too heavy. Carbon is light, but far too expensive. We decided on the strongest form of cast iron, twenty centimetres long and weighing six kilos. The connector allows you to connect the containers in the top layer, just like Lego. It takes about five minutes extra to screw the Windbreaker into the corner castings. However, you will easily win back this time in case of a storm. Then you will barely have to worry about it.”
Wind force 9
The Windbreaker was launched and tested at Mainport Container Services in 2014. Other depots and terminals in Rotterdam were also immediately open to this innovative solution and some four thousand Windbreakers have now been sold in Rotterdam. Fifty units cost approximately 2,500 euros. “They offer excellent protection up to wind force 9. Our clients are satisfied, but the success depends of course on consistent use. It is a tool, not a panacea. Windbreakers reduce the risk of storm damage and at the same time make the workplace safer for employees.” Safety is a priority in the port of Rotterdam, and this argument may therefore be of interest to insurers and permit-granting parties.
Spring 2018, De Vos stopped as depot manager, and now he focuses entirely on expanding Windbreaker International. After Rotterdam, the rest of the world is next. “The product is suitable for all ports where there are terminals and empty depots. We also want to start thinking about solutions that are suitable for terminals with full containers and about ways to better protect containers on board of ships.”