The power of boxes

  • Posted on: 2 February 2018
  • By: dave
Over the years I have developed an obsession with boxes and fitting kit in the boxes. I suspect this is something that will be baffling at first sight to anyone who hasn't been on the road with a show or exhibition... and utterly recognisable to pretty much everyone who has.

My early sci-comm experiences were all with CHaOS (Cambridge Hands on Science) which started a travelling science roadshow around the country staffed and run by student volunteers. Getting a van full of kit in and out every day concentrates the mind on the problem of loading, unloading and not breaking the stuff. Streamlining the packing and unpacking to the point at which it can be done in 30 minutes by a team of 15 of whom anything from 10 to 70% have never done anything like this until the last couple of days doesn't make it any less of a challenge.

We started off with a big van and a lot of kit we borrowed, that was large, delicate and annoying to pack together. The van was full though only about a quarter of its volume was actually used, and packing up took ages.

2002 2016

Long wheelbase van

10 experiments

2 hours plus to pack up at the end of the day

All the kit was exposed to any weather that happened to be passing!

Smaller van

20 experiments

As little as 30 minutes to pack up

Kit packed into boxes is at least shower-proof.

Over the years we have optimised the van and, crucially, bought decent boxes, and built our experiments to fit in a small number of standard boxes wherever possible, because it just makes life so much easier.

This standardisation means that we can parallelise packing up - all the volunteers pack their boxes, then the van packers just have to shove them in the van, which is really easy if you only have 2-3 standard box types.

With decent boxes you can stack them as high as your vehicle, and you don't have to worry. We have used commercial attached lidded boxes which are really tough, you can't loose the lids and you can often get 2 smaller ones to sit on one big one. We have had to climb over the boxes, stood on the boxes and abused the boxes in many ways, and 13 years later they are still doing their job.

So if anyone asks me to build something which isn't going to be screwed to furniture, I always ask what size box they use, and will do my best to build the kit to fit in it.

Transporting these knee models was important as they are outreach kit. So we made the leg come into 3 parts, and the monitor was mounted upside down so it will fold into the box properly