We’ve talked about new and innovative ways that manufacturers and forwarders are using containers to transport vehicles around the globe. The reasons for this are many and vary widely between each route. In some cases, speed to market is a key factor, with the silk road rail route halving transit times between Europe and China. Using containers to transport cars also protects the vehicles from numerous environmental hazards such as the weather, dust and bird lime, as well as obvious protection from theft and vandalism. One potential stumbling block with rail transport, or putting cars in containers in general, is the perception that the cost of this transport method is too high. Granted, the movement cost for a container is fixed, so the best way to minimise the logistics cost per vehicle is to maximise the space utilisation inside the container. This could be done by surrounding the vehicles with other cargo, but this raises issues of damage, practicality and loading time. Therefore, it’s much better to load more cars inside each container. Typically, two vehicles can be loaded onto the floor of a 40ft container, but several solutions are now available which promise to safely fit three or even four cars inside a container, almost halving the logistics cost per vehicle.

There are three main types of containerised car racking hardware available. The first are specialist, fixed systems with hydraulic lifting equipment typically hardwired into the container. Hydraulic systems require less manpower but are much more expensive to produce and carry high maintenance costs. One company has approached the challenge differently, by creating a 5’7” high structure, with the idea that two would stack on top of each other. This framework cannot be used to move anything else, so unless there is a steady and even flow of vehicles in both directions, the shipping cost is doubled. The overriding problem with all fixed systems, aside from the cost, is that to accommodate a range of vehicle sizes, the containers are irregular heights, meaning shipping costs are high and repositioning costs are unimaginable.

Next, we progress onto the cassette range of products. The idea behind cassette type racks is that the vehicle is driven onto a pre-assembled frame and lashed. The racking is then lifted and pushed into a container using a forklift. The main benefit of these systems is that there is no need to open a door inside the container, which would make life difficult for the larger loaders amongst us! There are however, some catches. Their websites claim to load a container in as little as 5 minutes. I imagine this figure refers to once the metal structures are assembled and the cars loaded, which would be the time-consuming part of the process. The cassettes are often less versatile, as different systems are required to load three large or four small vehicles. Another issue is the return loading – these are large and cumbersome systems, meaning the price and weight is substantial. Typically, 10 to 20 containers worth can be loaded into one container for return, meaning an additional 10 per cent in shipping fees.

Finally, there’s the patented R-RAK by Trans-Rak. It’s different from the other systems because it’s easily removable and collapsible. 60 R-RAKs can be returned in one shipping container, meaning that repositioning costs are cut to under 2 per cent. Moreover, it’s the only product available which doesn’t require specialist containers or equipment to operate it. The R-RAK system can also fit four BMW 5-series inside a 40ftHC container unlike any other product. The only downside to this system used to be that it was difficult to load wide vehicles as they had to be driven into a container. This month, I witnessed the first loading of BMWs using the patented DL-RAK, an innovative driverless loading system which works either in conjunction with the R-RAK or as a stand-alone product. It’s also a reusable replacement to using wooden pallets to load two cars on the floor.

The point is that there are a wealth of options available to forwarders who are interested in putting cars in containers. With a little investigation, you might find yourself reducing your car shipping costs dramatically by implementing some clever racking to load more vehicles at once.

Wesley Payne, Marketing and Design Engineer