Composite Materials Touted for Securing Shipping Containers
By Stew Magnuson and Breanne Wagner
The Department of Homeland Security has struggled to find solutions to securing shipping containers. The fear is that terrorists, smugglers or stowaways could break into them during their journey to U.S. shores. A worst-case scenario is the placement of a weapon of mass destruction inside a container that can be detonated as soon as it reaches a port.
The problem so far has been finding a lock that is both rugged and affordable for shipping companies.
The University of Maine’s advanced structures and composites laboratory says it has a solution. The secure hybrid composite container is lighter than steel and contains sensors embedded in the walls, said the lab’s director, Habib Joseph Dagher.
“By putting the sensors inside the walls, you address many of these issues,” Dagher said.
DHS’ science and technology directorate has given the laboratory a contract to develop the container. It is designed to make both shippers and Customs and Border Protection agents happy, he said. The composite material is 15 percent lighter than its steel counterparts, has lower maintenance costs, does not require painting and won’t rust. It costs about 50 percent more than a regular container, but after four years, the shipper will recover those costs and begin to save money, Dagher said. Containers employing the technology would also receive quicker customs clearance, he said, therefore saving shippers and customs agents time.
“The major cost savings come from the durability aspects of the container,” he said. The lighter material will also save money for trucking companies, which will reduce fuel costs, he added.
The sensors are embedded into the composite material in all six walls so they are protected from both the harsh marine environment and the jostling containers suffer when being loaded and unloaded, he added.
In late spring, DHS shipped 10 containers from Tokyo to the West Coast to run tests on the sensor system.
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