ConFoot gives container handling new legs
Handling a 30-tonne shipping container is typically a task for heavy-duty equipment. This Finnish transport innovation makes it a one-person job.
The shipping industry transports over 90 per cent of global trade. Every day, millions of containers are used to carry everything from foodstuff to car parts. And every day the trucks and drivers transporting these containers are stuck for hours or even days waiting for a container to be unloaded at its end-destination. But now this wait could be over. Finnish logistics company ConFoot has developed (and patented) detachable, portable legs for shipping containers to stay on.
“The idea is that anyone driving a truck can attach the legs to a container alone, by lowering it onto the legs [using the truck’s air-suspension], and drive the truck away,” explains Sami Seppänen, global sales manager at ConFoot. “The legs are very easy to use, and no investment in training is required.”
This might not sound a revolutionary concept, but it can bring significant cost and time savings. Leaving a container on ConFoot’s legs frees up trucks and drivers for more deliveries while warehouses don’t have to pay for their wait time or invest in expensive container handling equipment.
While the idea behind ConFoot’s legs is simple, their development has been far from it. In the early 2000s, Timo Akela, ConFoot’s founder, was approached by a friend with a furniture import business. The friend had a small fleet of transport trucks continuously tied up waiting for customers to unload their furniture. He turned to Akela’s engineering skills for a solution.
Akela quickly came up with the idea for container legs, but the challenge was finding the perfect balance of weight, cost and durability. The legs had to be light enough to be easily carried by one person, not cost a fortune and have a long lifespan.
“Everybody liked the idea, but the product development took over a decade. It included consulting several engineers and the Metropolia University of Applied Sciences, and numerous prototypes,” Seppänen says.
A key issue was material. After several trials and errors, ConFoot developed its own blend of six Finnish steels for the legs. The result was a foldable design which weighs only 24 kilos but (as a set of four) can support loads of up to 30 000 kilos.
The container legs were finally released commercially in 2013. Today, ConFoot counts multiple retail, transport and manufacturing companies among its customers. These include Ikea and the Finnish Defence Forces.
Leg up on the competition
By definition, ConFoot has targeted international markets from day one. The company has built a reseller network spanning 26 countries across Europe and is looking to add more countries in the near future. For a small company based in Espoo, Finland, local partners are crucial.
“Success in this sector requires country-specific knowledge,” Seppänen says. “Local resellers already have the networks and contacts. They know how things are done in their market.”
ConFoot is also interested in the markets outside Europe, notably the US, but there are still a few bumps on the road. For example, European trucks use air-suspension (which ConFoot’s legs require), but steel suspension is still the norm across the pond. Yet Seppänen is optimistic.
“Steel suspension is a method of the past and at some point, they will move to air suspension,” he explains. “Then that market will open up for us.”
In the meantime, ConFoot has its hands full building up its brand across Europe.
“I read an article in the Financial Times which stated the key to great success is finding simple things before they become simple. Our container legs are exactly this kind of thing,” Seppänen concludes.