The challenge of loading and unloading shipping containers involves a balance of efficiency and safety.
On the one hand the container must be well-packed to maximise cargo space, but the loading crew must be mindful that at the other end of the journey another crew must unload it, and this is not without its hazards.
As usual with a manual handling job, there's 1001 ways a worker can wind up injured, all the way up to horrific and fatal crush injuries.
Quite apart from the obvious safety concerns, unloading a well packed sea container can be a very difficult job.
Using a Franna, there's a lot of crane movements in a confined space, which burns a lot of fuel and presents challenges to the rigger and crane driver to get the job done safely and in a timely manner.
Presenting at the inaugural CeMat exhibition in Sydney last month, Australian logistics solutions company Seabox International have devised a sea-container loading system that reduces loading and unloading times, swaps the Franna crane for a forklift, and all but eliminates manual handling hazards for the crew.
Seabox International managing director Shaun Moore worked closely with representatives of resources construction contractors CBI Kentz to develop a system that would improve the productivity and safety of one of Australia's largest offshore construction projects, the Gorgon Project.
Named the CROWS (Container Roll-Out Warehousing System), implementation of this system has resulted in massive productivity gains for the construction contractor CBI Kentz.
CROWS is a stackable, roll-out storage system designed for use in sea containers, 20 or 40 metres long.
The system allows any kind of cargo to be safely strapped down into platforms, which are stacked and rolled inside a shipping container for transport.
On arrival at the destination the container can be opened and have the platforms rolled out safely using a forklift.
Everything from large pipework to vehicles can be transported using the CROWS.
Research and Development
With a background in designing and manufacturing purpose built logistics platforms, Seabox knew how to deal with the challenge laid down by CBI Kentz, to ensure their organisation of parts and material would not impede the progress of the job.
One of the key constraints faced by CBI Kentz was the minimnal footprint allowed for the materials laydown yard.
Gorgon Project materials and logistics manager Rob Lowe said the environmental concerns specific to Barrow Island prevented the usual approach to assigning space for a laydown yard.
"The island's Class A Nature Reserve status had created additional challenges during construction," he said.
"The State Agreement under which Gorgon operates limits the land available to the Project which means the total construction footprint, including laydown, is very small for a project of this scale.
"The introduction of the CROWS has increased storage space on Barrow as it allows four racks to be safely stacked on top of each other."
The key to the success of the CROWS development was one of a collaborative effort between Seabox and CBI Kentz, one which did not fit the bill for a traditional procurement.
Andrew Constantine said the CROWS project, visualised by CBI Kentz, was one they needed to get right in a very short space of time, and for that reason necessitated finding a short cut to the process from innovation to procurement.
"First of all [in a conventional procurement] you identify the need, you develop a business case, specifications, develop and execute that tender plan, you hopefully get a contract, and that's where the real risk starts, for the supplier and the client," Constantine said.
"You go through a design, test, and evaluation process, and then you'll go into that project management, fabrication delivery phase, and that's the complex phase, that's where you've got to pool your resources and you've got to have your project team in there from the very start."
Constantine knew that the constrained time frame of a construction project was not the ideal situation for procuring a new innovation, but in this case necessity had to become the mother of invention.
"What we found on this project was that we didn't have the time to go through that full process to get this system out," he said.
"We had to come up with an abridged process that would achieve the change during the life of the project."
"It seemed like the materials and logistics team could be the ones to hold up the project schedule, and at the time it looked like we were going to be that team that would be the weak link."
In order to increase the efficiency of the materials operation at Gorgon, Constantine was already familiar with a logistics platform built for military purposes by Seabox, but it needed some crucial changes made.
First of all the design needed to meet the strict quarantine requirements enforced by Chevron on Barrow Island.
"We needed to get rid of all the nooks and crannies, we needed to have that sealed up from an environmental point of view for quarantine purposes on the island, so any gaps were filled up so that every part of the CROWS could be easily inspected for contamination or vermin," Constantine said.
In addition, the CROWS had to be stackable to be used for warehousing purposes, and at present CBI Kentz uses the CROWS system for warehousing both under cover and outdoors, with the system stackable to four high.
It also needed to be designed for more loading points, so that unusual or regular shaped items like pipework could be tied down in different ways as the load demanded.
"To achieve that we made sure it had a full bar along the side of the CROWS for tying down," Constantine said.
"But above all things the chief concern was the safety of crews unloading the containers. Now we don't have anyone going inside containers, and we have reduced crane movements onsite.
"This goes a long way to reducing the risk of pinch points in manual handling, the crush injuries that can be extremely damaging."
Now the Gorgon Project boasts a world-class materials laydown and warehousing facility, all achieved through an innovative logistics platform which works within a minimal footprint, with principle focus on productivity, safety, and environmental concern.