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Saturday, 28 April 2012

Systainer Explainer Part 1

My first impression of systainers was something along the lines of ‘that’s a lot of money for a box’ and I suspect that many others will have had the same thoughts. However, the people I have spoken to who actually use them absolutely rave about them, so I thought it was time to dig a little deeper and find out what all the fuss is about. Suffice to say that having sated my curiosity, I now count myself amongst the legion of fans who believe that they are actually a remarkable amount of box for the money! I don't want to make this a bullet point list of specifications, that's not really our style, but I would like to explain some of the considerable research and thought that has gone into the design.

Systainers are made by German company TANOS GmbH which was formed in 1993 as a subsidiary of Tooltechnic Systems (which is also the parent company of Festool) specifically to develop and market the systainer range of products. Since then they have supplied over 14 million of them to companies including Bosch, Festool, Makita, Mafell and of course BTI.

The word ‘systainer’ is a composite of ‘system’ and ‘container’, the system part is the clever bit. Because it is a complete system you get all the efficiency benefits of working in a neatly organised workshop, but because it is portable, you can take that same level of efficiency anywhere. The boxes can be connected, so you can lock them together to form a stack, which can then be picked up by the integral handle or transported using a trolley or roller board to your place of work. Lockable safes with full extension drawer runners are also available that can be bolted into a vehicle or building to store your systainers securely without restricting your access to the contents. For the insides of the boxes, a wide range of inserts are available to keep the contents neatly organised.

The boxes themselves are made from high quality ABS with geometric reinforcement, so they are strong and stiff but also very light. The components are available individually, so if you damage a small part like a hinge or a lock, you can often just replace the component – not the whole box.

The boxes come in two main types.

Classic systainers have four tabs which can either lock the lid in place or reach up a little further to both secure the lid and hold another systainer on top. The classic range is more fully developed so there are a wider range of options available. The maxi systainer has twice the footprint (60cm x 40cm) of a standard systainer so you can attach a double stack of standard systainers (either classic or T-Loc) on top of it.

Mini systainers only stack with each other, but drop a foam insert into the bottom of a standard systainer and two stacks of minis will fit in perfectly side by side. There are also lockable systainers, insulated systainers and sortainers with built in sub-dividable drawers. I was surprised to find that you can fit a full set of 12 bevel edged chisels in a tool roll, with a mallet, into the large drawer of a four drawer sortainer and still have room to spare.

The newer T-Loc systainers fasten together like a French cleat, and are then locked into place with the single T shaped locking device on the front. The T-loc’s have several advantages in that they are much faster to use, can be fastened with one hand and (as long as the boxes above are not too heavy) allow boxes to be opened in the middle of a stack. T-Locs are available in five depths.

T loc systainers have the same attachment lugs around the bottom as classics, so you can stack T-locs on top of classics but not the other way around.

The internal shape of the two types is different too, so the inserts that go with them are type specific.

Both classics and T-Locs have the same size footprint – about 30cm x 40cm. This size was arrived at because it is one eighth of a standard europallet, which makes systainers suitable for palletised loads as well as keeping distribution costs down.

There's a lot of information to cover on this product range. In systainer explainer Part 2 we will look at some of the possible adaptations that can be made to the interior of the boxes.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

The Robertson Square Drive Screw

In general when a wonderful new invention comes along it sweeps aside the competition, is widely adopted and replaces the previous way of doing things.

There are however various examples in history of superior technologies being superceded by inferior ones, the betamax video for example was technically far superior to VHS, but because VHS was cheaper it became the standard and the range of films available on betamax soon dwindled to naught.

Another fine example is the Robertson square drive screw, patented in 1909 by a Canadian gentleman called Peter Robertson, it was - if you'll pardon the pun - quite revolutionary. The square driver engaged much more positively with the head of the screw than the pre-existing slot head arrangement, transmission of power was excellent and the tapered square hole in the top of the screw could be punched straight into the cold metal, so it was comparatively cheap to produce.

Henry Ford was a great fan of the technology because it meant that wooden car bodies could be produced faster and more efficiently. You would think that with a product decades ahead of it's time and a mustard keen patron, who also happened to be the most famous industrialist of the 20th century, that the future of the Robertson screw was guaranteed.

Unfortunately, the firm he had licensed to produce them in England were not quite as fine and upstanding as one would hope, and used a loophole to bankrupt their firm and then bought the rights back from the receiver, which neatly eliminated the need to pay Robertson his royalties.

Cowed by this despicable experience, Robertson was understandably loathe to grant production licenses to anyone else and with the exception of the Canadian market, which Robertson's own company satisfied, the Robertson square drive was eclipsed by the inferior Philips (purposely designed to cam out so that it couldn't be over tightened) with which the world has been saddled ever since. Developments using a similar principle to the Robertson drive like Allen (hexagonal) and Torx (star) have unsurprisingly gone on to become hugely popular world wide. 

One beacon of hope for the square drive screw is the American pocket-hole technology specialist (and very clever inventors in their own right) Kreg, for whom we are now a stockist and will, over the coming month or so, be introducing their full range of products.

So although Mr Robertson unfortunately didn't live to see it, an altogether more scrupulous British company will now be getting behind his remarkable invention 100% and giving him due credit for it too.