UMaine Spinoff Wins $12 Million Secure Cargo Container Contract

Maine Secure Composites LLC (Orono, Maine), has been awarded a $12,970,884 (USD) contract by the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center (San Diego, Calif.) for development and prototyping of Composite Anti-Tamper Containers (CATM) for maritime cargo transport. CATM will be used to increase container security under

Maine Secure Composites LLC (Orono, Maine), has been awarded a $12,970,884 (USD) contract by the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center (San Diego, Calif.) for development and prototyping of Composite Anti-Tamper Containers (CATM) for maritime cargo transport. CATM will be used to increase container security under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Advanced Container Security Device program. University of Maine (UMaine) graduate student Anthony Viselli and UMaine’s Advanced Engineered Wood Composites (AEWC) Center director Habib Dagher spearheaded the container research in partnership with Maine Secure Composites, a technology spinoff from the University’s composites lab.

CATM is a proprietary “hybrid” design, says Dagher, which combines steel and thermoset composites. In the event of an intrusion, electronic sensors embedded in the container’s composite walls, roof and base send an alarm to an electronic communications/tracking system. Depending on the sensor system type, the container can even “talk” to a central shipment tracking system. More importantly, the containers are exactly the same size and shape as current shipping containers so that they can be integrated easily into existing container and port infrastructure, says the team.

“This project illustrates how research, education and economic development are linked for the benefit of the students like Anthony,” says Dagher. “The project allows them to apply their skills in engineering and science that they learned in the classroom, on a potentially industry-transforming design.”

The Maine Secure Composites/UMaine design team is now developing a pilot production line for the containers. Recent tests of the first full-scale composite container at an independent International Standards Organization (ISO) certification facility in New Jersey showed that the new design meets all of the industry’s strength requirements. “The composite components make the containers 15 to 20 percent lighter than existing steel containers,” says Viselli, “which helps to offset the initially higher costs of using composites. Less weight means less fuel costs or increased payload.”

In addition, the container is more resistant to corrosion than steel and needs less maintenance, such as repainting.

In other AEWC news, the center’s researchers announced earlier in the year a new composite fabrication process that uses applied pressure to infuse polymer resins into fabrics, wood, concrete, ceramics and other materials to produce stronger, more durable composites for the marine, automotive, construction and other industries. Barry Goodell, a professor of wood science and technology in the College of Natural Sciences, Forestry and Agriculture; Roberto Lopez-Anido, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering in the College of Engineering; and Ben Herzog, a former UMaine grad student now working as a scientist with APA – The Engineered Wood Assn. (Tacoma Wash.), have been granted a patent for their Composites Pressure Resin Infusion System, or ComPRIS.

Goodell, one of the four founding faculty members of UMaine’s composites center, says the ComPRIS technology can produce very thick composite products without the microscopic voids caused by a vacuum process. Wood products also can be reinforced and laminated at the same time. When properly infiltrated with resin, wood becomes more stable and decay-resistant, thereby eliminating or reducing the need for preservative treatments.

Although the AEWC Center does not produce composites commercially, it does make prototype products in an effort to attract industrial partners who can help develop the technology, notes Dagher.