Blog April 20, 2016

Caring for coils in containers

By Nicola Byers

Whenever cargo is transported, safety should always be the first priority. While the focus of the last few months has been on the dangers posed by misdeclared container weights, especially overloaded boxes (see our previous post on the new IMO rule on container weight verification), we should never lose sight of the vitally important challenge of making sure that the cargo is safely packed and secured inside the container itself.

This is particularly true for coiled materials, especially those with a high density such as steel. Not only is the cargo itself often easy to damage, but the combination of a heavy weight and a small surface area can be dangerous. If the coils are not properly secured in the container, it can have catastrophic and even fatal consequences.

After a series of incidents, the TT Club – a provider of insurance and related risk management services to the international transport and logistics industry – and the Cargo Incident Notification Scheme – a shipping line initiative aimed at increasing safety in the supply chain – have teamed up to produce a useful briefing on Transport of Coiled Material in Containers.

The briefing is designed to conform with the IMO/ILO/UNECE Code of Practice for Packing Cargo Transport Units and provide additional information.  It does a great job of going over the key points that shippers and packers needs to know. There is no point in Intermodal Eye summarising the whole document here, as the Guidelines are short, well-written and extensively illustrated, but here are our key takeaways:

  • There are basically three ways to load coils in a container, and they are described according to where the “eye” (the end of the coil), is facing: eye-to-sky, eye-to-rear or eye-to-side. Each arrangement presents different problems, for example eye-to-side is most risky during road transport, and requires a different solution
  • The key requirement is to keep the centre of gravity in the packed container as close as possible to the centre. This means a single coil should be placed in the middle of the container, two coils of equal mass should be placed long ways, one to the rear and one to the front. Multiple coils should be positioned so that the load distribution is evenly distributed
  • Coils should not rest directly on the container floor – cradles or wedge beds may be used to support and maintain them. They then need to be secured to the cradle or support arrangements. Blocking or bracing should also be used to secure the coil
  • The mass of the coil needs to be distributed by the use of timber or steel bedding beams, which have to be high quality
  • Cradle structures can be constructed to provide extra support and should be as wide as the container itself

The guidelines explain how to pack in whatever arrangement the packers choose. This requires working out the correct number and location of the bedding beams, which are designed to transfer the cargo mass through the container floor to a greater number of cross members. Next, the packer needs to make sure there is adequate blocking and bracing to prevent movement or tipping. Finally, the coil needs to be secured to the cradle or bedding with adequate lashing. All these steps are shown and extensively illustrated. Finally, some advice is given to help avoid handling damage during loading and unloading.

The guidelines are focused on less sophisticated operations reliant on timber for load distribution and bracing. Other solutions are available such as specialist cradles, cassette-type designs or even bespoke container designs. One such example is the Strang System, which uses expanded polystyrene, and recently made the shortlist of the ICHCA Innovation in Safety Award. The catch when using those kinds of multi-use solutions is making sure you can transport them back again.

What struck Intermodal Eye most clearly when researching this piece was how little this problem had been talked about in public before these guidelines came out. The German shipping line Hapag-Lloyd has produced some information but otherwise there isn’t much information available online. The TT Club and CINS should be applauded for highlighting an under-reported issue and providing an example of how strong inter-industry collaboration can improve safety (though it is up to the packers to follow the guidelines). Let’s hope this provides a model for further partnerships in our industry.