Int. Journal of Business Science and Applied Management, Volume 11, Issue 2, 2016
Conceptual design of a telecommunications equipment
container for humanitarian logistics
Stella Parisi
Department of Computing Science, University of Oldenburg
Ammerländer Heerstr. 114-118, 26129, Oldenburg, Germany
Tel: +49 (0) 15159443020
Email: styliani.parisi@uni-oldenburg.de
Charisios Achillas
School of Economics, Business Administration & Legal Studies, International Hellenic University
14th km Thessaloniki-Moudania, 57001 Thermi, Greece
Tel: +30 2310 807545
Email: c.achillas@ihu.edu.gr
Dimitrios Aidonis
Department of Logistics, Technological Educational Institute of Central Macedonia
Branch of Katerini, 60100 Katerini, Greece
Tel: +30 23510 20940
Email: daidonis77@gmail.com
Dimitrios Folinas
Department of Logistics, Technological Educational Institute of Central Macedonia
Branch of Katerini, 60100 Katerini, Greece
Tel: +30 23510 20940
Email: dfolinas@gmail.com
Preparedness addresses the strategy in disaster management that allows the implementation of
successful operational response immediately after a disaster. With speed as the main driver, product
design for humanitarian aid purposes is a key factor of success in situations of high uncertainty and
urgency. Within this context, a telecommunications container (TC) has been designed that belongs to a
group of containers that serve the purpose of immediate response to global disasters. The TC includes
all the necessary equipment to establish a telecommunication centre in the destroyed area within the
first 72 hours of humanitarian operations. The design focuses on defining the topology of the various
parts of equipment by taking into consideration factors of serviceability, functionality, human-product
interaction, universal design language, energy consumption, sustainability and the interrelationship
with the other containers. The concept parametric design has been implemented with SolidWorks®
CAD system.
Keywords: case study, design, telecommunications container
Acknowledgements: The present work was partially executed in the context of the project entitled
“International Hellenic University (Operation Development)”, which is part of the Operational
Programme “Education and Lifelong Learning” of the Ministry of Education, Lifelong Learning and
Religious affairs and is funded by the European Commission (European Social Fund ESF) and from
national resources.
Stella Parisi, Charisios Achillas, Dimitrios Aidonis and Dimitrios Folinas
Since the 1970s, disaster management thinking and practice has evolved into an all-embracing
approach called disaster risk reduction (DRR). According to the United Nations International Strategy
for Disaster Reduction, DRR is the conceptual framework of elements considered with the possibilities
to minimize vulnerabilities and disaster risks throughout a society, to avoid (prevention) or to limit
(mitigation and preparedness) adverse impact of hazards, within the broad context of sustainable
development (UN/ISDR & UN/OCHA, 2008).
Relief response to natural and man-made disasters is expected to be fast, dynamic and agile. The
delivery of the critical supplies to the theatre of disaster is a significant challenge for post-disaster
humanitarian logistics (PD-HL). In this light, agile and effective capabilities that encounter current and
emerging threats are vital for any crisis situation. Even the best systems can default in emergency
situations in the absence of proper and effective tools. Common systems rely on everyday technology
like e-mail, attachments and short messages to communicate and manage disruptive events.
Unfortunately, these systems were not built for mass special emergency notification and often make
navigating the rough waters of an unplanned crisis more difficult than it has to be. For the past years,
extensive research has provided a vast amount of knowledge on how good practices of humanitarian
logistics and effective supply chain management can improve the efficiency of relief programmes
(Kovács and Spens, 2012). Thus, emergency preparedness has the serious possibility to become a
transformational power and modify the methods the aid system addresses crisis (Kellett and Peters,
According to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC),
disaster risk reduction policies are highly cost-effective. In Kellett and Peters (2014), the authors
estimate that US$3.25 of benefit is generated for every US$1 spent, which can reach US$5.31 of
benefit for every US$1 spent in the least conservative. Therefore, further investment in preparedness
strategies will heavily affect not only the efficiency of the humanitarian response mechanisms, but will
also subdue the natural disaster costs, which the IFRC predict to be US$ 300 billion per year 2050.
All disasters have a common factor, besides the loss of life and panic; they are immediately
followed by loss of ability to communicate with the outside environment. Telephone services are
discontinued and GSM services are either non-existent or is so congested. The creation of a
communications zone facilitates crucially the management of humanitarian aid that ultimately lead to
successful emergency response operations. The appropriateness and functionality of the supporting
infrastructure is of equal importance when such programmes aim for effectiveness.
There is a variety of mobile structures that are used in humanitarian efforts. However, the
conditions in the theatre of disaster can hinder the mission teams from transferring the equipment as
well as from setting up the infrastructure because of the bad weather conditions, the bad terrain status
or the destroyed surrounding transportation network. Therefore, there is need to design products that
can respond to extreme situations and accelerate the disaster relief missions.
Applications from the emerging field of shipping container architecture suggest that transforming
a container into a mobile response unit is attainable and can offer a sustainable solution into
establishing emergency communications quickly in the area of disaster. Shipping containers are a low-
cost building and architecture resource. An ISO container is a large reusable standard size box made of
corrugated weathering steel, a corrosion resistant material. The standard size enables the safe and easy
transport by sea, rail, track and air ("Residential Shipping Container Primer (RSCP™)", 2013). The
reference size is the 20-foot box, 20 feet long, 8'6" feet high and 8 feet wide, or 1 Twenty-foot
Equivalent Unit (TEU) (Rodrigue et al., 2017) When the structure of a modified container is closed, it
can maintain the strength and the dimensions of the original shipping container (Nellemann, 2009).
One characteristic example is Weatherhaven’s seminal ‘Mobile Expandible Container Camp’ (MECC).
The modified ISO containers can change modes of transport within the global freight transport system
until they reach their final destination, while protecting their contents (Kronenburg, 2013). As a result,
modified containers can offer a space with environmental management capabilities that can be
inhabited by people and used for storage or operational requirements (U.S. Army Natick Soldier RD&E
Center, 2012).
Raising the question in the field of design for humanitarian relief operations, the current research
is concerned with the concept design of an ISO container that can carry the necessary
telecommunications equipment for the infrastructure restoration. The design explores ways to pre-
install the necessary equipment in the interior space of the container and to make it ready for use once
the container is placed in the designated area, requiring minimum preparations. It also examines ways
to make it functional in the harshest environments and comply with standard living conditions while
providing its users with easily operable facilities. The concept development is based on established
Int. Journal of Business Science and Applied Management / Business-and-Management.org
product design methodologies and the final concept is visualized using the Solidworks
(Computer Aided Design) program.
This paper is organised as follows. Section 2 presents the methodology followed for the concept
development. Section 3 provides an overview of the application of the selected methodological
approach, followed by the presentation of the proposed design in Section 4. Section 5 concludes this
paper with implications and outlook for future research.
Our study focuses on addressing the research aim with an early concept that can understand the
users’ needs and offer a preliminary design solution with CAD with features that can justify the launch
of a product development project. Our concept development methodology of the ISO container with
telecommunications equipment, hence referred to as ‘Telecommunications Container’ (TC), is in line
with the user-centred approach as defined by Nieminen and Mannonen (2006): an iterative process
starting from understanding the context of use and specifying the user and organizational
requirements, to producing design solutions and evaluating them against requirements; this cycle is
iterated until set requirements are satisfied. The phases and iterations of the concept development
process are illustrated in Figure 1.
Figure 1. The concept development process
Preliminary product research and analysis
The preliminary product research and analysis phase consists of the user and technology research,
which were conducted in parallel. It is associated with gathering data on the context of use and the
potential industrial solutions that can be included in the design. The methods used for collecting
information about users and the product-user relationship were interviews and scenario building. Lead
users from four associations and organisations with professional training and field experience on using
emergency communication systems were invited via email to participate in the interviews. One of the
four teams responded. The interviewees were informed of the research theme before the interview and
a more detailed briefing occurred during the meetings. The interviews were conducted in the
operational base of the team, were unstructured and included open-ended questions that gave the
participants the opportunity to ask questions themselves and encouraged conversations. The scenario
building method was used to generate hypothetical user interactions with the conceptualised product.
The explorative scenarios were based on the potential stakeholders’ stories, on data from interviews
and information from literature review, and allowed the creation of ideas in a pragmatic context.
The technology research goals of the study were the exploration and analysis of successful
technical applications in related products along with good practices in containers and mobile shelters
for other purposes. The research material also included product marketing materials, published books
on human factors and technical journal and press as well as information on technology trends supplied
by experts in fields of building construction, energy supply and telecommunications equipment. An
important part of our technology research was a detailed tour of the mobile operational centre of the
lead users’ team, a van that has been modified to suit the needs of the team during rescue missions. The
deliverables from this phase are the mood-board, the scenarios and the user characteristics. In this
paper, we present the user characteristics in Section 3.
Design guidelines
Design guidelines depict in detail all the parameters, characteristics, functional requirements and
limitations in a design project and illustrate the desired relation between the user and the product. They
have a direct impact on the design strategy and are of great importance when selecting the design
solutions during the concept generation and evaluation phases. The design guidelines were created
based on the data findings of the research and analysis phase and decomposed the problem into smaller
Stella Parisi, Charisios Achillas, Dimitrios Aidonis and Dimitrios Folinas
problematic areas. In every design iteration of this project, the guidelines directed the concept selection
and validated the chosen solution.
Concept generation
In concept generation, all the possible solutions that can satisfy the design guidelines were
examined. Since the concept is designed for future development and implementation, supplemental
technology research was performed in this phase. Extensive electronic searches were conducted for
gathering information on existing techniques and industrial products that can satisfy the user needs.
The key solutions, their alternatives and main findings were combined with ideas that emerged from
extensive brainstorming sessions. All findings were discussed with the lead users and field experts to
obtain constructive feedback and define directions for further research. The generated ideas and
solution concepts were either described in words or illustrated in sketches in a non-linear, iterative
Concept creation and visualisation
The most suitable ideas from the previous phase were combined into a concept in the phase of
concept creation and visualisation in a top-down design strategy. The main goal was to capture the
form and function of the elements of the design and not the aesthetical appeal. An assembly of products
and technical solutions were visualised in a 3D model using Solidworks
CAD. Rough geometric
layouts were created to represent each of the TC components and determine the dimensional
relationships between the elements. Any clustering or incompatibility issues that appeared during this
phase led to another design iteration.
Final concept specifications
Snapshots, wireframes and photorealistic renderings were used to describe the selected sub-
solutions of the concept in the final concept specifications phase. The morphological elements of the
design were also explained in this phase, using published literature in ergonomics and anthropometric
data. The deliverables include all the relevant details and functional characteristics of the concept.
Concept evaluation
In the last phase of the development process, we evaluated the concept to ensure it meets all the
constraints and the design requirements. The assessment was performed analytically, where drawbacks
and possible omissions were evaluated. The final concept was presented also to the lead users and other
stakeholders involved in strategic planning for disaster mitigation. The concept evaluation concluded
with proposals for further development or redesign of certain solutions.
Figure 2 depicts the design brief used in our study. The design brief (Fig. 2) acts as a simple and
straightforward guide to those involved in the product development. It helps to define a more coherent
definition of the project goals and sets the framework of the assumptions for the development process
(Ulrich and Eppinger, 2012).
Figure 2. The design brief
A self-sustaining intermodal container that can provide
telecommunication services in any destroyed area
Project goals
Serve as the telecommunications hub in the group of containers that are
sent in the destroyed area
Support the communication needs of the response teams and facilities
Offer a comfortable environment for the operating team
Minimize the setup time for fully operational status
Assumptions and
Easily transportable
All the necessary equipment is preinstalled in the interior of the
container (Plug & Play specifications)
All the components are existing technologies and current market
Int. Journal of Business Science and Applied Management / Business-and-Management.org
Suitable for extreme weather conditions in arid, mediterranean,
temperate and tropical climate zones
The included equipment weighs less than 28230 kg
There are no alterations to the overall geometric shape of the container
Maximizes the use of the interior space
Emergency and Disaster response organisations
Organisations developing products for disaster preparedness
Telecommunications business sector
Construction companies
Any mobile operation unit requires 2 or 3 people for handling the communication equipment, due
to high traffic in radio bands in emergencies. Each operator is capable of supervising maximum 3
missions at the same time, on the condition that each mission uses a unique communication channel.
Operators should be equipped with headphones, and when possible, be in an isolated space, away from
commotion from other people. The team also needs a chief operator that will have the overall
management and decide on the team actions.
In any emergency response mission, there are three categories of people that might use the
facilities and services of the TC; (a) Operating team of the telecommunications centre (minimum 2
operators and the team leader), (b) the various humanitarian response teams (rescuers, medical team,
engineers, logisticians and technicians) and (c) local authorities from the affected area, where all
communication means are out of order. It is important to exclude the affected community population
from the above categories for operational reasons. It is assumed that they will have access to
communication means from another post, in a respective distance from the TC.
In emergency cases, the response teams need the rapid deployment of the available infrastructure
in order to meet the complex telecommunications requirements of the situation effectively. A real-time
response depends on the quality of the equipment and the technological capabilities of the integrated
systems in the mobile unit. The military, fire departments, emergency management agencies, law
enforcement and investigation (police, FBI, etc.) as well as news broadcasters have invested in
acquiring units that are fully integrated communication suits with robust networks that can quickly
connect the response teams in the area of interest.
Typically, the telecommunications inventory consists of a satellite system, workstations, network
systems, portable base stations and repeaters for radio communication, telephone systems, antennas,
televisions, fax machines, printers, and the respective gadgets that complement them (Bieltz, 2012).
Most mobile emergency communications units are in the form of transformed vehicles as well as
shipping containers.
User Characteristics
The user characteristics address all the actions, elements and values that define the three different
groups of users. Therefore, they are presented in three respective groups. The features that appear in
more than one group are noted with ‘*’ at the end of each line.
Communications team (chief and operators)
Are experienced communication systems professionals
Setup and control all communication systems
Establish the communication systems that interconnect the various teams when they are in the
Support the communication needs of the teams surrounding them
Know how to recover from infrastructure failures and error situations
Respond to various requests from inexperienced users
Want the network operation equipment to be fully adapted to their needs
Want equipment that is comfortable to use and repair
Want to set the equipment in working mode quickly and easily
Expect the communication systems to be reliable with minimum to zero breakdowns
Require constant power input for their systems without failures
Know how to repair most damages to the equipment
Stella Parisi, Charisios Achillas, Dimitrios Aidonis and Dimitrios Folinas
Need to work in front of monitors for many hours without breaks
Work more effectively when they avoid distractions and commotion in their working area
May need to concentrate on a certain task for a long time
Are expected to be very calm and composed during emergencies *
Contact other teams/ authorities/ organizations
Try to contact and locate possible victims
Scan for other communication points outside their area
Manage critical situations *
Respond quickly to emergencies *
Various teams
Are professionals or volunteers in their field of expertise
Require constant communication support
Are constantly/ usually on high alert
Manage critical situations *
Are expected to be very calm and composed during emergencies *
Their performance is affected by the quality of the communication services
Might use means of communication in extreme weather conditions *
Require continuous access to information related to their tasks
Need reliable communication systems and networks for their tasks*
Should be able to communicate anytime from their location in the affected area surrounding
the container
Might need to charge their personal communication products (tablets, mobiles, laptops, radio
Might require special communication support for some tasks (victims rescuing, medical
procedures, etc.)
Might need guidance and support for using communication equipment *
Might have difficulties in using complicated systems and products *
Respond quickly to emergencies *
Local authorities
Are of various ages and backgrounds
Are expected to be very calm and composed during emergencies *
Their psychological state may be fragile
Their self-composure may falter
Manage critical situations *
Might need guidance and support for using communication equipment *
Might have difficulties in using complicated systems and products *
Might use means of communication in extreme weather conditions *
Are responsible for informing the local population and other authorities
Want to gather reliable and plenty of information
Want to use their mobile phones for communication
Need reliable communication systems and networks for their tasks*
Require at least one way of communication available when they are in the affected area close
to the container
Might need to charge their personal communication products (tablets, mobiles, laptops, radio
receiver) *
The design guidelines have been organized into primary and secondary requirements. The
secondary needs express the primary needs they are associated with in more detail. The brainstorming
phase offered a variety of solutions for the 15 primary design requirements and their sub-requirements.
The ideation step started with the examination of each of the guidelines separately and the generation
of a range of sub-solutions. A rich pool of creative and evaluated ideas were developed in cooperation
with the involved stakeholders. The detailed design guidelines of the proposed TC are presented in
Parisi (2014).
A first attempt to visualize the arrangement of users and their positioning in the TC is illustrated in
Fig. 3. This is the first rough sketch during ideation after determining some of the basic components.
Int. Journal of Business Science and Applied Management / Business-and-Management.org
Figure 3. The first sketch of a top view of the internal space
The first step in the visualization process in Solidworks
was to create a frame along with the
floor, the roof and the side walls, based on ISO container drawings for container manufacturers. The
limitations from the basic construction features dictated the available space left for the implementation
of the concept as well as the construction features that affect the positioning of the features and the
door opening constraints.
The container is separated in three basic space areas, the operators’ workspace, the common area
where the chief has his/her own work post and the heavy equipment area. Following the selected design
approach (Fig. 4), the main infrastructure in the operators’ area, the heavy equipment in the back side
and the chief/common area were designed in the respective order.
Figure 4. The top-down design process
All the featured pieces of equipment were visualized based on specifications from existing
commercial and industrial products. The dimensions of the designed components were taken from the
product datasheets. During modelling in Solidworks
, concise design details were applied to help in the