The Royal Logistics Corps faces many challenges in the future so looking for efficiency improvements in pallets and containers is perhaps less of an overarching priority.
This is an extract of a presentation from a few years ago which looks at logistics lessons;
A better pallet is unlikely to resolve any one of those shortcomings.
Maintaining momentum on LogNEC/FLIS, refocussing on contingency operations, integrating geographic asset tracking and visibility and doing more with considerably less are the main focus points for the RLC.
However, there are some interesting developments in the logistics physical domain that might be worth examining, exploiting or just keeping an eye on.
The main takeaway from the series for me so far has been the poor integration between the land, sea and air domains.
Instead of a perfectly compatible and highly efficient system that encourages intermodalism, increases utilisation and efficiency whilst driving down cost we have what could best be described as the breakfast of a dog.
Aircraft pallets and containers are only used in air transport, we will have none of that modern intermodalism here thank you very much. CDS skidboards for air despatch only fit one wide in an ISO container or DROPS rack with lots of space left over, pallets don’t fit easily into ISO containers, after all, that is why God invented dunnage, and labourers.
Besides the disparate origins of the various standards that define the means of logistics packaging and transport, national interests and politics, I have a theory that the culprit the Imperial system of measurement and the stubborn refusal of the US to adopt the brave new world of metres and millimetres.
For comparison, look at the elegant simplicity of scaling with the ISO 216 paper size standard that we are all familiar with; A4, A5, A1 etc. Each size has a constant scaling factor, the square root of two as it happens, a principle that goes back hundreds of years.
There is an elegant simplicity to the geometrical relationship between each size. If we look at common US Imperial paper sizes like letter, legal and tabloid there is some common geometric relationship but it alternates between two ratios.
What has this to do with military logistics?
Nothing directly, but indirectly it shows how metric measurements and uniform scaling ratios should work in the world of metal boxes.
In an ideal world, we would build the boxes that fit inside other boxes like this;
If only boxes, pallets and containers in the real world had this simple, logical and uniform relationship.
We have intermodal containers whose length is measured in feet and inches, the standard internal width and height are 7 feet 8 and 19/32 inches and 7 feet 9 and 57/64 inches respectively. Into that we try and stuff 1200mm x 800mm pallets, it is not going to end well is it, not even the US 40 x 48 inch pallet fits well, they are either two wide for side by side or in alternating direction, big gaps result, expensive dunnage, manual packing and empty space ensues.
If the container is expected to be taken off road or into difficult terrain loads will need even more securing as the image above shows, or else this kind of thing happens.
As we know from previous posts, the NATO standard pallet is not the same as the common Euro pallet.
How about the aircraft pallet, the ubiquitous military 463L, they are 88 inches by 109 inches, are they optimised for pallets used in land logistics?
The 463L is 88×108 inches, inches again. Two 463L’s can fit inside a 20ft ISO container but there is a lot of wasted space.
The air drop Container Delivery System (CDS) uses a 48 inch x 48 inch baseboard, only one can be fitted into the allowable width of an ISO container with a great deal of wasted space and likewise on the 463L pallet. A CDS could not be made up at for example, a main operating base and flown into a forward airhead, multiples on a 463L, ready for a quick transfer to a tactical aircraft for air drop.
All this dimensional incompatibility and lack of packing optimisation results in a number of issues;
Packing density inefficiency; which means fresh air is being transported, aircraft and vehicles seldom max out on weight, it is usually volume. So more aircraft, more fuel, more round trips, more time, more aircrew and pretty much more of everything is needed to deliver a given amount of stores from A to B
Break Bulk; transferring from one pallet type to another or once container to a pallet means plenty of time consuming and labour intensive rigging, packing, transferring, unloading and doing the whole thing again in multiple break bulk cycles. Labour means people which means cost, something defence forces can ill afford. Although the labour reductions bought about by palletisation and containerisation have been vast, there are still areas where the multi-modal delivery of stores is labour intensive, compare that with the relentless drive for automation and crew reduction in, for example, a typical Royal Navy frigate, and the contrast is stark.
This is not an academic exercise, people are the most expensive element in the military, reducing labour intensive double handling break bulking logistics processes preserves combat strength in teeth arms, where it belongs.
This post is not so much a considered plan but just a collection of interesting equipment, programmes and technology that could appear on a shopping list, somewhere in the next decade or so, all of course depending in budgets and priorities.
Building a Better Jigsaw with JMIDS
Recognising the poor optimisation of current containers, platforms and boxes the US Defense Standardization Department formed a working group to look at a number of options for improvement They came up with the Joint Modular Intermodal Distribution System (JMIDS) Joint Capability Technology Demonstration (JCTD).
The US Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Defense Logistics Agency were all participants and also, surprisingly, the MoD.
It comprised three components;
Integrated Automated Identification Technology (AIT); track and trace technology for the container and platform.
Joint Modular Intermodal Container (JMIC); a modular stacking container that locks top and bottom to form a single unit.
The basic JMIC box is designed to stack 3 high, be lockable, foldable and have integral RFID tracking. A series of spacers and forms are used to secure items inside where the objective is to maximise packing density and minimise dunnage and filler materials.
How big, in inches of course;
51.75″L x 43.75″W x 43″H
1.315m x 1.111m x 1.092m
[tab title=”JMIC 1″]
Container, rack and double length
Multiple JMIC’s can be clipped together to form a container for larger items, in multiples, up to two times in width and up to four times in length.
They can can be stacked three high without additional securing and can be lifted with forklifts or any crane, hydraulic jib or lifting device by attaching chains or strops to the protruding lift eyes on top of the container.
The July 2009 MIL-STD-3028 JMIC comes in three payload categories; Light (1,500 pounds or 680kg), Standard (3,000 pounds or 680kg) and Heavy (4,000 pounds or 1,814 kg, the NATO standard pallet payload)
Two can be sling loaded when clipped together and four JMIC’s are designed to fit onto a 463L pallet. For each large item like ammunition boxes or artillery shells a stowage plan was devised and appropriate spacer materials defined.
The standardised unit load concept of JMIC was also tested in the aircraft and maritime domains
Loading into a 20ft ISO container to reduce wasted space.
At sea and on Army standard trucks
The US have about 5,000 JMIC’s in service and NATO have incorporated the JMIC into STANAG 2828 Military Pallets, Packages and Containers. Whether it will eventually be as ubiquitous as the container or pallet, who knows.
Although JMIC was extremely well thought out, the concept did not go further down the food chain to small item packaging. It is possible further optimisation could be achieved by defining box and packaging sizes that are optimised for the interior dimensions of the JMIC, like Lego.
It also did not take into account experience with 463L’s, where using them outside the airhead skyrocketed costs because they were pilfered, re-purposed for shelter or building materials or simply left at the destination and not returned. A number of reports highlighted the need for the ‘JMIC police’ to ensure they were returned but this would of course start to eat into any cost savings.
Where JMIC’s weight adds significantly to the cost of transportation or where the receiving unit does not have suitable mechanical handling equipment the use if JMIC is discouraged. I suspect we will be seeing more of JMIC, perhaps a version making use of composites or other lightweight materials may mitigate some of the weight and cost disadvantages of the current version.
Joint Modular Intermodal Platform (JMIP); an intermodal platform (or rack) with integral locking fittings that allows JMIC’s to be secured without any form of strapping or securing. JMIP can also be transported on aircraft without a 463L and stacked inside a conventional intermodal container. This creates a possible replacement for the 463L and the platform to be used end to end, across both land, sea and air supply chains.
JMIC’s are placed onto the JMIP locking fixtures such that no strapping or other securing methods required. This saves a great deal of time and money as chains and other securing devices are subject to stringent safety inspection and maintenance regimes.
Loaded JMIP’s can be loaded directly onto aircraft such as the C130, C17 or A400M that have 463L compatible fixtures.
Unloaded JMIP’s can also be stored in a standard 20ft ISO container.
For transporting JMIC’s in ISO containers the original assumption was that either;
a) they would be loaded individually into an ISO container
b) they would be loaded onto a JMIP and then loaded into an ISO container
Agile Systems inc have proposed a variant of JMIC and a specially designed ISO container frame called J-MODCON that in effect, allows the clipped together JMIC’s to form the container with ISO twistlock castings at the corners.
Seabox have a similar alternative, the Container Air Mobile Platform (CAMP) is in effect, a 463L replacement with a hooklift attachment.
The basic plastic box is also subject to thinking on packing density and how they fit on pallets and in containers.
A good example is the Peli ISP2 case (previously Hardigg Industries) that are available in 64 dimension options
All of them have a grid pattern on the lid and base so they interlock which reduces case movement when stacked without strapping. There are also a number of accessories available such as forklift runners for the larger cases.
The real smart thinking however, is how the dimensions have been optimised for three pallets, the 463L, Euro pallet and NATO pallet.
Pelican have optimised their ISP Case to fit within the JMIC, a very clever piece of thinking.
They don’t mention dimensional compatibility with the 48″ square CDS skidboard used for air dropping but 48″ it is roughly the same as the long dimension of both the EUPAL and NATO Pallet.
Many of the ISP2 cases match the dimensions of the standard Euro Box, again, dimensionally optimised for pallets, especially the Euro Pallet.
The bewildering array of Euro boxes are used in everything from automated manufacturing to fruit picking, they make absolute perfect sense for a metric pallet. It would make equal sense if every single spare part or item of equipment, ration or ammunition box (that fits within a single pallet footprint) is supplied in a Euro box so that stacking and pallet optimisation is ensured.
Tool boxes, small engineering plant, generators and other equipment would also benefit from the Euro box treatment.
Vehicle storage bins and racking would also benefit.
Already in service with deep trousered NGO’s, and the MoD, is the Zarges Euro Container, again available in size combinations that are optimised for Euro Pallets.
Plastic ammunition boxes have usually been used for storage only but PlastPack have developed a direct drop in replacement for conventional small and medium calibre ammunition boxes that they claim offers improved thermal stability, reduced weight and lower cost.
Improving the Pallet
Part of the evaluation of JMID’s was a simple question, are there any civilian alternatives. The answer was, yes, kind of.
The civilian logistics industry has evolved the basic pallet in all sorts of directions and most are already used across the military supply chain, however, a couple do look interesting, old fashioned wood pallets do have all sorts of uses though.
Speaking of furniture, one of the most globally focussed end to end logistics operations is Ikea, they drive price down through optimisation of packing density. All their items are sized by their ability to stack on a pallet because warehouse space and transport are large parts of the cost of any item. Although pallets have revolutionised global logistics they occupy space and sometimes weigh more than the items sitting on top, so the Optiledge was devised by Ikea.
Optiledge is simply an L shaped copolymer polypropylene platform with feet that replaces the pallet for loads of a uniform shape. Ikea actually use a modification called the Loading Edge and Optiledge are now a separate company but the concept is being sold globally.
Each Optiledge costs less than a couple of dollars and there is no reverse path to worry about, they just get thrown into the recycle bin. It is this reverse supply chain saving that is very attractive. Optiledge are available in two different clearance heights and in double or single lengths. They are not designed for heavy payloads, maximum weight for example is only 1,300kg, but still useful.
Another pallet device is the Associate Intermodal Platform or AIP.
It is designed to make working with 463L pallets easier, instead of demounting stores and rebuilding the 463L from scratch it uses an intermediate disposable plastic tray that can be used with forklifts. The objective is to keep the very expensive 463L pallets within the air logistics chain. An alternative is of course to simply not allow 463L’s out of the gate (because they will never be seen again), use individual lightweight plastic pallets or something like an Optiledge
For the return trip from Afghanistan, US forces have been making use of the Sure-Pak collapsible pallet/container. For single or limited use, its main advantage is low cost, ideal for returning the miscellaneous from Afghanistan.
Mule Pac is another pallet/box combination.
A problem that all military organisations have to grapple with is that of water distribution. There is a difficult balance between distributing water generation/purification and centralising it where the water is then distributed from this central point. In Afghanistan, there was a mix but the centralised bottling plant at Bastion played an increasing role with the distribution of ‘Bastion Water’ consuming a significant proportion of the logistics effort.
Read more about military water supply here
Transporting water bottles or jerrycans on pallets, CDS air drop bundles and helicopter sling loads has the advantage that the end user can access the product quickly, simply slit the shrink wrap and pass the bottles or jerrycans along but the problem with this approach is that it creates a lot of waste packaging and inefficiencies in the supply chain. Water may have to be transferred into smaller water bottles or Camelbak style pouches
One potential solution is to use collapsible bulk containers or pallets, again, an answer from the civilian supply chain industry. The familiar rigid IBC containers or pallet mounted rigid water tanks could be used but they are unwieldy, heavy and difficult on the reverse supply chain but there are a number of collapsible solutions that could be used.
The Arlington Pally system uses a collapsible pallet mounted tank with an integral handle for convenience.
Still a bit bulky though.
In Afghanistan, US forces deployed the Container Unitized Bulk Equipment (CUBE) for water delivery to remote locations, using air dropping or conventional transport.
CUBE is actually a conventional solution that has been available for many years, a flexible liner for a rigid fold down pallet box, it is still a clever solution with a different liner used depending on whether the liquid is fuel or water. NATO Stock numbers here
Flexible liner IBC’s have been available for many years but more recently, one way units using lightweight disposable materials have started to be used more where the liquid is relatively low value.
Where there is MHE, mid point in the supply chain for example, intermediate solutions like this are worth investigating, not least for the cost benefits.
Different Container Types
If a single conventional 20ft container is filled one high with 1200mm x 800mm pallets it may come as a surprise that the space utilisation is only 76%, include the empty space above the pallet the utilisation percentage drops even further. Using the larger 1200mm x 1000mm pallet does improve things slightly, up to 87% but that is still 13% wasted on every single container and again, the reality is much more because of wasted space above pallets. stacked or not.
One method shippers overcome this very poor utilisation issue is to dispense with pallets completely and floor load the container by hand. Although robotic and semi automated container stuffing and de-stuffing are becoming more common place it is still an expensive and labour intensive business.
Another industry reaction has been to optimise container dimensions for pallet carriage, obviously this is easier said than done given the entrenched ISO intermodal container standard. 20ft containers are generally used for heavy and dense cargoes whilst the longer 40 and 45 foot containers are used for lighter goods where volumes need to be maximised so the 40ft and 45ft ‘pallet wide’ container is more common than the 20ft.
The 45ft High Cube Pallet Wide container is gaining traction because although it is 51mm wider (internal width 2.438m, external width 2.462m) than the standard ISO container it can still be contained within the majority of container cells onboard container ships. The corner castings for twistlocks are in the same place as normal containers so handling equipment does not need modification.
A 40ft pallet wide container can carry 30 Euro pallets instead of 25 and a load of fresh air and dunnage for a standard 40ft container. A 45ft High Cube pallet wide carries 33 instead of 27. Because the pallets fit snugly, the potential for cargo damage is greatly also reduced.
For the larger NATO pallet the pallet wide container also provides the same advantages.
It is not all rosy in the pallet wide container world though as some of the UK rail network is not cleared for the W10 gauge they require.
The Super Low 35 rail truck from WH Davis solves this problem to some extent by allowing high cube containers to travel on W8 routes.
The International Standards Organisation Technical Committee 104 (responsible for ISO 668 and 830), the European Union CEN TC 119 and other bodies have been discussing new standard container types for decades that satisfy the needs of road, rail and sea but it is difficult to see how these will evolve given the firmly established current standards and physical infrastructure such as ships and canal locks.
The MoD might look at the possibility of using more pallet wide or even 40/45 ft containers, at least on certain parts of the supply chain and ensure that vehicles can accommodate the slightly wider pallet wide container.
20 foot and 40 foot containers are difficult to handle without specialist lifting equipment but drop down in size and the more commonplace telehandlers and forklifts can be used.
The MoD has adopted the 20ft container for high value contents like ISTAR equipment, CT scanners and workshops but has not taken advantage of sub 20 foot container to any great extent.
As can be seen from the images above, they all have forklift pockets for ease of handling.
Some have front and rear doors and the are often fitted with internal shelf brackets to enable the interior to be segmented and customised.
One of the main advantages of the 10ft Bicon, 6.5 foot Tricon and 5 foot Quadcon is their ability to be clipped together, handled as a single 20 foot container (TEU) in locations where there is appropriate MHE and to make use of standard 20 foot container infrastructure and equipment such as shipping or rail wagons.
Quadcons can also be carried on a 463L for air carriage, either chained down or using the time saving CMCI LSA Adapter.
Each of the three are also available in the same array of specialised types as 20ft ISO containers; reefers, expandable, various door combinations, specialised shelters and even a gym! (click if you don’t believe me)
The offshore container industry also has many innovative sub 20ft container solutions
Finally, a concept that will appeal to anyone with an organised mind, using inserts that convert the container into anything from a small parts bin to a large expeditionary warehouse.
They all use 20ft, Bicon, Tricon or Quadcon containers as a base to ensure compatibility, robustness and transportability and the customise with various types of slide in frames, shelves, storage compartments, slides and other inserts.
Imagine a G10 stores in a metal box!
These inserts are not a random set of trays, shelves and draws, the complete system is configured using the exact equipment establishment of its recipient users, a place for everything and everything in its place. An infantry battalion or engineer squadron will have some common requirements but generally speaking, will need a different configuration.
A weapons storage module could feature racks for rifles, drawers for pistols and sliding trays for sights, consumables and armourers tools. All very Hollywood but it is easy to see how this could prevent damage due to incorrect storage, improve availability and provide increased security in transit whilst providing a working environment for unit armourers in theatre.
It also opens the possibility of having the inserts in the UK in a normal working/training base environment and upon deployment, simply transfer them into an appropriate container. They can all be mounted on a 463L pallet if time is critical and mated with a container already in theatre.
This could be likened to going on holidays and not packing a case, simply taking your wardrobe with you.
There are five manufacturers worth looking at specifically.
The ECS features a series of removable storage modules that contain slide out shelves and lockers. These modules are secured to the 20ft, Bicon, Quadcon or Tricon container using a screw in adapter plate, the only permanent modification to the container. Read the catalogue here
The BOH FPU is similar to Seabox ECS in that it uses a series of inserts and has been proven with the USMC, their Aviation Support Battalion for example, has achieved a 60% reduction in space required for their stores and equipment using the BOH FPU system. Different containers can be linked, a 12 and 8 foot for example.Read the catalogue here
The Norwegian MSS Shark Cage takes a slightly different approach and looks at the wider storage and distribution system, similar to JMIC. The Shark Cage has been designed for storage and handling of tires, ammunition and other stores using stackable frames and inserts.
Using inserts and drawers, Cave Systems can convert any container into a storage system.
Finally, Ban Air, from the UK
This system uses side opening 20ft ISO containers that can be stacked to provide a warehouse system and means of maximising pallet optimisation in 20ft containers by using internal racking. Internal racking is only practical if the container uses side opening doors or a curtain, the alternative is to manually fit the racking as the container is loaded and unloaded from the end.
In the next post I will close the series with a look at pallet and container handling issues and options, but not every logistics problem can be solved with an appropriately sized box!
The rest of the series…