Using beams made of recycled material, air freight pallets can be stacked up little higher and right up to the edges. They replace conventional squared timbers and are much lighter.
The start-up company Trilatec, based in Merzig in Germany’s Saarland, has developed a product that can help the air freight industry reduce a great deal of weight. SquAIR-timbers is a beam made of sustainable raw materials that replace the conventional squared timbers used for stacking air freight pallets (ULDs). “SquAIR-timber is 80 percent lighter than wooden beams and thus saves around 120 kilograms per ULD,” says Trilatec Managing Director Andreas Langemann. Extrapolated to the classic freighter, a Boeing 747, this adds up to four tons or a full additional ULD.

“One of our first customers, Luxembourg-based airfreight company Cargolux, recorded a weight saving of 1,200 tons in the first year,” he adds. Another customer stated that they were able to reduce the sick leave of their employees by around a third. This is because those who work with squAIR-timber have much less to lift. If an employee assembles 20 or 30 ULDs per day, they have 120 kilos less to carry per pallet. This has an impact. “It is therefore not surprising that employees’ back problems and injuries caused by splinters of wood have also decreased significantly,” Langemann adds. And last but not least, the monetary savings are not inconsiderable: Langemann thinks it is realistic to expect savings of several million euros per year.

According to Trilatec, squAIR-timber is just as strong and robust as conventional beams. The material’s high compressive, impact and tensile strength is based on the carbon principle. This involves laminating the material together under pressure with adhesive joints – the result is a carbon-like material that is extremely strong and resistant. “This is why the material is also water-resistant and ideal for replacing squared timber,” says Langemann. One large airline has tried leaving squAIR-timber outside for months where it was exposed to wind and weather, and confirmed that the test was successful.

At the same time, the material is 100 percent recyclable and can be disposed of with wastepaper after multiple uses. There are no disposal costs like those for wood. A further advantage is that squAIR-timber beams are available in any size required, and can be individually printed, for example with the name of the airline, or that they are to be returned to Frankfurt. “Wooden beams often disappear with the first rotation, because the wood is just as suitable for other purposes,” says Langemann.

With squared beams made of cardboard, ULDs can be stacked a little higher and right up to the edges without covering up the anchor points. Goods can be secured with nets using the hooks on the sides. To ensure that these remain accessible, wooden beams are still used for the base of ULDs when they are assembled, but squAIR-timbers are increasingly being incorporated as well. With the help of slave pallets – conveying elements equipped with a few rows of rollers – heavy air freight goods can then be loaded quickly and flexibly into the belly of the aircraft.

“squAIR-timber is 80 percent lighter than wooden beams and thus saves around 120 kilos per ULD.”

Andreas Langemann, Managing Director of the start-up Trilatec based in Merzig.

The Trilatec product can also be used to make europallets, consisting of a squAIR-timber honeycomb board and nine beams cut to pallet dimensions made from the same material. The cover panel has a standard load-bearing capacity of several tons. Another very practical feature is that the beams can also be glued directly under a cardboard box so that no pallets are needed at all. “However, we primarily developed squAIR-timber as a material for base beams for air freight, which is how it is mainly being used at the moment,” Langemann explains.

All the material used in production is 100 percent recycled paper. But although the Trilatec product is lighter, stronger and very robust, it is always compared with wood. “At the moment, the price of wood is at rock bottom, and not just because of the hot summer and the bark beetle situation. There is simply too much wood on the market,” he explains. This means that used europallets, for example, are available for three or four euros. “We are measured by this and therefore we hardly make a margin on squAIR-timber, although we should charge three times the price to be able to work profitably,” says Langmann.

Nevertheless, since Cargolux, Trilatec has been able to build up a wide-ranging customer base. For marketing, the company has entered into a partnership with Jettainer, a subsidiary of Lufthansa Cargo. “Jettainer is well networked in the industry and currently manages around 90,000 ULDs (Unit Load Devices) for 26 airlines at 450 airports around the world,” says the Managing Director. And he is not giving up hope of eventually gaining the attention of industry giants too. Because anyone who uses squAIR-timber once will never look back.
Text by Nicole de Jong
Photos: Trilatec, Pixabay [M]
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