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Japanese, US firms in collaborative effort to develop lightweight air freight containers

PlasticsToday Staff

March 29, 2016

3 Min Read
Japanese, US firms in collaborative effort to develop lightweight air freight containers

A collaboration agreement for the joint development, manufacturing and commercialization of more durable, fire-resistant air freight containers using aramid fiber-based composites has been inked by materials supplier Teijin Aramid (the Dutch affiliate of Japan's Teijin) and US company Macro Industries. Teijin’s “super strong,” lightweight Twaron fiber will be used to create the new unit load devices (ULDs) that meet the high safety standards of aviation.

Aramid fiber-reinforced composites employed in air freight containers deliver weight savings, fire resistance and durability to boot.

Macro-Lite aramid composite-based ULDs already circulating in the aviation industry make the containers fire-resistant for over four hours according to recent testing by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and logistics firm UPS, which was the first company to commercially adopt the containers in mid-2013. According UPS – based upon this testing – the usage of the para-aramid fibers makes the containers significantly lighter and more durable than standard aluminum containers. Teijin fiber Twaron fiber is heat-resistant and five times stronger than steel at the same weight.

Macro-Lite addresses the air industry’s increasing concerns over fire hazards and stricter safety regulations for the transport of lithium-ion batteries. On 1 January 2015, an ICAO mandate came into force that bans airlines from transporting lithium-ion batteries as cargo in the belly hold of passenger aircrafts and many airlines already refused to transport these batteries as cargo. Lithium ion batteries, transported as cargo or used by passengers to power their electronic devices, have been the cause of a number of onboard fires.

“Approximately $5.5 billion-worth of lithium-ion batteries produced each year are now only transported by sea and over land, making these fire-resistant containers a game changer for the air freight industry,” says Hendrik de Zeeuw, business manager at Teijin Aramid. “Macro Industries have proven to be absolute technology leader when it comes to developing composite materials based on our Twaron. We are very excited with this first step to represent Macro Industries in Europe.”

“We are thrilled about the collaboration with Teijin Aramid and our ability to make air freight containers weigh less, meet higher safety standards, require fewer repairs, and have a lower environmental impact. Combining our technical knowledge and markets will definitely lead to more and new products in the near future”, says Norris Luce, co-owner and CEO of Macro Industries.

Macro-Lite can also be easily used as a replacement for existing aluminum panels in operational ULDs and it allows fleet operators to easily upgrade their containers. Upgrading to Macro-Lite skins also reduces the cost and frequency of repairs. The Macro-Lite ULD has the benefit of a high performance composite material but behaves like sheet metal making it more durable and cutting the costs for servicing and maintenance. There are an estimated 900,000 aluminum ULDs in circulation globally that can be replaced with Macro-Lite panels.

ULDs with Macro-Lite panels can contain a fire with a peak temperature of 1,200-degree Fahrenheit (648.9°C) for four hours, while an aluminum container could only do so for a few minutes. The extra time is crucial in allowing flight crews to land safely in the event of an in-flight fire. In addition, this higher fire-resistance will allow cargo companies to comply with potentially stricter safety regulations regarding the transport of lithium-ion batteries.

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