Unleashing Innovation: The New Quest for Walking Containers

Walking containers

A few weeks ago I had the privilege to visit Cargotec Kalmar’s ‘harbor on a dry land’ near Tampere, Finland. The site is one of their R&D hubs, with all their cargo-moving and lifting products being tested in a very real environment. 

Most of their special cargo-moving vehicles are already fully digitalized and capable of autonomous operations. In theory, a full harbor could be managed via their (remote) control center – with special desks including trackballs, joysticks and large displays. I found the control center strikingly similar to a large telecom operator’s Network Operations Center, apart from the the cool joysticks.  

While the control center now has windows towards the dry harbor, their near-term strategy is to make these control centers operate multiple harbors, some of them hundreds of kilometers away. As shipping business at the harbor is quite periodic, this would enable vast productivity gains as the same trained people could be utilized all over the world. 

One of the enablers for this rapid development is the rigorous data collection, analysis and simulation of products and services they put out to customers – eventually leading to a full digital map of their customer vehicle and service portfolio. In the next step, all physical products will start as Digital Twins, even before the factory starts building them. And this is a long term endeavor, as many harbor equipments have lifecycles exceeding 50 years. 

Now what made the visit most memorable was not the physical potence of the environment (although I always like visiting huge factories and power plants) nor the advanced application of newest technologies.  

It was a humble observation of their VP New Business Concepts: They’re moving intermodal sea containers with standardized twistlocks, boxes which were a major, quite disruptive innovation in the late 1950s. After these, ships could be loaded and unloaded much faster and more securely. Now what is the next disruptive innovation? And when? 

What if the container is disrupted again, and walks to the ship using its own feet? Like an electric shock, I could suddenly see a hybrid of a Boston Dynamics’ Spot carrier and a sea container. And when the ship itself is a self-driving vehicle.. 

Missed the last nBlog? Read it here.


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