Dutch invention prevents overthrow of empty containers

“Let the autumn storms begin!” is the thought at Windbreaker International. They have developed a tool that greatly reduces the hazard of empty containers blowing over. A few strong storms can boost the demand for the Windbreaker.

For those without expertise in the container business, it is hard to imagine wind overflowing empty sea containers, but it does happen regularly. In addition to damage costs, this also creates a safety risk for employees of container depots. Currently, depots solve this by rapidly lowering container stacks and using straps (tie ratchets) when a storm is coming; a time-consuming activity, which does not always work satisfactorily, according to director / owner Sjaak de Vos of Windbreaker International.

The company from Rotterdam developed an alternative to prevent the overthrow of empty containers: the Windbreaker. Containers can easily be connected to each other with this clever metal hook. “If the top layer is horizontally connected to each other, stacked empty containers will withstand strong gusts of winds better than if they are loose or secured with straps,” according to de Vos.

The Windbreaker has been tested at TNO in Delft, the Netherlands and the empty depot Mainport Container Services (formerly known as Mainport Rotterdam Services). The TNO report shows that Windbreakers offer protection up to at least wind force 9 before overturning or blowing away containers. MRS tested the Windbreaker for six months. In that period, no container has been blown over. “Currently, this company uses our invention as a standard procedure for long-term storage of empty containers in stacks of four high (reefer containers) and more (dry van containers)

The windbreaker is 20 centimeters long, weighs 6 kilograms, and has a handle at the top and two fittings at the bottom, a short wide and a long slender one. The fittings fit into the corner holes of each sea container. To connect the upper layer of a stack of containers horizontally, an employee manually places two Windbreakers in the corner holes at the top of the long side of a container. For this he uses the short fitting. When the container is put in place, the long fitting 'automatically' slides into the corner holes of the container next to it. This way a whole row can be connected to each other.

Born out of chance

Like many other practical sparks (Velcro, paperclips, Post-It), the Windbreaker is also born out of chance. De Vos: "When I visited a container depot, my eye caught a piece of old iron, it turned out to be a self-made tool that allowed an employee to connect containers in order to make a container stack steadier, which got me thinking and eventually led to the Windbreaker."

Besides a Dutch invention, the Windbreaker is also a Dutch product. "The hook consists of various components and must withstand heavy forces," explains de Vos. "We therefore set high standards for casting, and we chose a certified foundry from the north of the Netherlands because they deliver the best quality."

Windbreaker International has patented its invention worldwide. In addition to a number of Dutch container depots, a Turkish company also purchased the hooks. "With a relatively small investment (300 Windbreakers costs approx 12,000 euros), depots can prevent high damage costs. Internationally there is a lot of interest, but the budgets of container depots are tight, so a few storms would not be unfavorable for us. It could make the Windbreaker an international success," says de Vos with a wink.

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