According to the International Tank Container Organization, the tank container traces its origin to 1964 when a young engineer named Bob Fossey, who worked for London-based Williams Fairclough, recognized the potential for both intermodal and multimodal container tanks.
Fossey first designed a 'swap' tank to be used for combined road and rail transportation in the United Kingdom. The first tanks rolled off the line in 1966, and design of the first ISO tank, a beam type, followed in 1967. These first tanks were purchased by a pioneering tank container operator Trafpak of the Netherlands.
The next big breakthrough for tank containers was the development of ISO-standard corner fittings in 1968.
Still production of tank containers was slow. Fossey joined Containers and Pressure Vessels in Clones, Ireland, in 1970 and introduced the company's first lightweight beam tank design and the first dedicated production line for tank containers.
In the early 1970s, other tank container manufacturers emerged in Europe, such as BSL of France; Schaffer and Budenberg in Austria; Luther Werke and WEW in Germany; and M-1 Engineering, Crane-Fruehauf, Universal Bulk Handling, and Road Tanker and General Fabrication in the United Kingdom. Many of these manufacturers disappeared from the industry in later years.
Still, the tank container for both intermodal and ocean transport had an uphill battle to win market share. Drums loaded into 20-foot containers were the primary transport method for parcels of bulk liquids. These containers could handle plus or minus 76 drums each containing 200 liters, adding up to 15,600 liters.
To compete against the drum, the tank container had to demonstrate its ease of loading and unloading, and carry bigger payloads at reasonable freight rates.
At this time, the maximum capacity of the tank container was about 18,500 liters. The restriction on tank diameter, due to the bottom entry foot-valve was lifted when Fossey designed and built the first 45-degree foot-valve, leading to the first 20,000- and 21,000-liter tank containers. Engineers soon developed designs that could accommodate 24,000 to 25,000 liters of product.
In the past decade, tank container manufacturing also shifted from Europe to South Africa and now China. CIMC and Singamas in China are the largest tank container manufacturers in the world.
'They're all using original European designs,' said Reginald Lee, president of ITCO. 'The tanks are just as good and built well.'
Going forward, ITCO expects tank container builders to be pressed to reduce tare weights in favor of increased payloads and raise the maximum gross weight used during prototype testing.