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Die Vorteiler des Tankcontainers

The round has to go into the square. The life cycle of a tank container.

Leschaco is one of the pioneers of tank container logistics. We have been using tank containers for the safe transport of dangerous goods for around 50 years. Today, we have a fleet of more than 5,000 of our own tank containers in operation worldwide. They are the backbone of our logistics business. It is time to take a thorough and fundamental look at this “workhorse”.

What actually is a tank container? A definition

Basically, we understand a tank container simply as a container for transporting liquids or gases. These containers are used on ships as well as on the road, on rail and in air logistics, i.e. also in combined transport. In order for tank containers to be used for these diverse purposes, they must of course be standardized in terms of size and composition. These standards have been established by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) under the ISO 668 standard. For this reason, tank containers are often referred to as ISO tanks or intermodal tanks.

The development of tank containers has been significantly influenced by the requirements of the chemical and food industries. The application possibilities are versatile due to the possibility of individual adaptations based on the special transport requirements of the cargo. Depending on the intended use, there are different types of tank containers, specialized for different types of cargo: for gases, for liquids, for foodstuffs or even for dangerous goods.

The round has to go into the square: from production to recycling

In this article, I would like to present the individual phases in the life cycle of a tank container: from manufacture to transport and maintenance to decommissioning. In this way, I also highlight the possibilities of reconditioning or overhauling a tank container in order to keep it in service as long as possible. After all, the tank container is a model of sustainability in the logistics industry.

The production of tank containers is demanding

The production of tank containers requires a lot of experience and specialized knowledge. A large number of official requirements play a role here, in particular also safety regulations and specific requirements of the cargo to be transported. They influence the choice of material, the thickness of insulation and baffles, and other equipment features, such as the nature of the valves and connections.

The manufacturing process is accompanied by constant thorough quality controls. In addition, a whole series of tests are carried out, for example leakage tests and a hydrostatic pressure test. The functions of all valves on the tank container must also be checked in test series to guarantee safety and to comply with international standards. These are defined by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). After successfully passing the tests, the container receives the certifications required for commercial use.

Tankcontainer und ISO-Container
Tankcontainer und ISO-Container

Depending on the transported goods, the appropriate tank container is selected

Product characteristics are decisive factors in the selection of the tank container and also the feasibility of transport. Thus, among other things, weight, density, reactions with other materials or substances determine the size and type of tank container to be used.
The dimensions of the most common tank container types correspond to those of ISO containers, thus enabling their use in combined transport as well as on overseas container ships. Compatibility enables fast and smooth transition between individual and standardized transport systems, such as ship, barge, railroad and truck.

The particular cargo may additionally require mandatory further measures, such as additional adjustments, required documentation in advance, cleaning methods and special handling during loading, unloading and transport.

Ongoing maintenance and care ensure a long life

After each transport, there is not only a thorough cleaning, but also a comprehensive inspection of the tank container. The aim is to identify possible damage caused by environmental or product influences as quickly as possible and to arrange for necessary repair and maintenance work. There are precisely specified procedures for carrying out inspections, such as ultrasonic testing, radiographic testing, but also the classic visual inspection.

In particular, tank containers used for the transport of dangerous goods must undergo a mandatory air pressure test every two and a half years and a water pressure and water tightness test every five years. In the process, the tank containers are examined in all respects for their functional safety.

A well-maintained tank container can usually be used for 20 to 30 years. The external and internal influences already mentioned and a sustainable use concept sooner or later lead to the need for reconditioning or overhaul. The difference here is the scope of work. Thus, in the case of an overhaul, the stainless steel barrel and the fitting remain intact. Tank frame, catwalk, cladding, insulation and auxiliary equipment are replaced with new ones. In the case of reconditioning, the tank frame is also renewed.

The end of a tank container is a new beginning - in recycling

If at some point a tank container is no longer safe and economically usable due to measures such as cleaning, maintenance and inspection, but also due to reprocessing or refurbishment, it can be recycled. To do this, of course, it must first be thoroughly emptied and cleaned. This is a task for specialists, because hazardous cargo residues must be disposed of safely. Recycling is also carried out by specialists. Tank containers are largely made of high-quality stainless steel. They are 90 percent recyclable using established metal recovery processes.

The life cycle of a tank container is complex, as ensuring the safe handling and transportation of cargoes is a top priority. At the same time, tank containers are valuable: they are durable and recyclable raw materials beyond their long service life. For the safe and efficient transport of liquids, gases and other bulk commodities, they are an integral part of a global sustainable supply chain.

Illustrations: tua – and Leschaco

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