Friday, March 7, 2014
The small mechanical lock that changed the face of global shipping
Invented by a little known Californian mechanical engineer, a twistlock is a small mechanism that makes it possible to stack shipping containers onto huge cargo ships, facilitating the global trade that brings the majority of your possessions to your home.
Keith Tantlinger, who invented the twistlock, spent World War II designing tools used to build B-17 bombers.
After the war Tantlinger started designing technology, starting in the 1950s with the idea of the shipping container. Instead of shipping containers of disparate sizes, Tantlinger came up with the idea to standardize a crate that could be lifted from boat to truck in one movement.
But a standardized container was only the receptacle, and the really important bit was how to stack it to enable shipping increasingly huge volumes of goods.
So, in the mid-1960s, Tantlinger invented a simple and nearly indestructible mechanism that quickly and safely latched each container to the next called a twistlock.
A two-part connector made up of a "female" end is built into every corner of a shipping container, and a "male" end is what connects between female units, allowing for the stabilization of massive loads.
It was a tiny idea, but it was incredibly important to global trade. With it, containers could be stacked without lateral cross-bracing, dozens per hour, by the massive boom derricks you still see in ports today.
Although some twistlocks need human labor to lock into place, today some companies make fully automatized versions that latch into place on their own. So our ports, which once ran thanks to thousands of human stevedores, are increasingly automated.
The simple lock mechanism has played an absolutely crucial role in developing our consumer landscape worldwide.
For more of the Gizmodo story: www.gizmodo.in
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