Shipping container

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A shipping container is a container with strength suitable to withstand shipment, storage, and handling. Shipping containers range from large reusable steel boxes used for intermodal shipments to the ubiquitous corrugated boxes. In the context of international shipping trade, "container" or "shipping container" is virtually synonymous with "intermodal freight container," a container designed to be moved from one mode of transport to another without unloading and reloading. [1]


40 foot container 40 foot container.png
40 foot container


Intermodal freight containers

A flatcar with a 20 ft tanktainer and an open-top 20 ft container with canvas cover Railroad car with container loads.jpg
A flatcar with a 20 ft tanktainer and an open-top 20 ft container with canvas cover

Freight containers are a reusable transport and storage unit for moving products and raw materials between locations or countries. There are about seventeen million intermodal containers in the world, and a large proportion of the world's long-distance freight generated by international trade is transported in shipping containers. In addition, it is estimated that several million of these containers have now been discarded due to the shipping cost of sending them back to their port of origin. Their invention made a major contribution to the globalization of commerce in the second half of the 20th century, dramatically reducing the cost of transporting goods and hence of long-distance trade. [2] [3]

Specialized shipping containers include: high cube containers (providing an extra 1 ft (305 mm) in height to standard shipping containers), pallet wides, open tops, side loaders, double door or tunnel-tainers, and temperature controlled containers. Another specialized container, known as Transtainer, is a portable fuel and oil freight container. The hybrid bulk fuel tank is originally intended for the construction, mining, logging and farming sectors. The tank can be used to transport and store bulk fuels as well as dangerous liquids, by road, rail and sea. [4]

Corrugated box

Corrugated boxes are commonly used as shipping containers [5] (more than 90% of all shipping containers are of this type). [5] [6] They are made of corrugated fiberboard which is lightweight, recyclable, and strong enough to ship a variety of products.

Wooden box

Wooden boxes are often used for shipping heavy and dense products. They are sometimes specified for shipments of government or military shipments.


A crate is a large container, often made of wood, used to transport large, heavy or awkward items. A crate has a self-supporting structure, with or without sheathing.

Reusable plastic versions include:

Intermediate bulk shipping container

A typical IBC. IBC on pallet.jpg
A typical IBC.

An intermediate bulk container (IBC, IBC Tote, IBC Tank) is a multi-use container employed for the general transport, storage, and handling of bulk fluids and materials. IBC tanks are compatible with, and resistant to, an extensive list of chemicals, acids, caustics, as well as inert materials and food grade consumables. IBCs are commonly manufactured from the following materials:

Some IBC engineering models are foldable (collapsible) for space-saving breakdown following use.

Flexible intermediate bulk container

A Flexible intermediate bulk container, FIBC, big bag, bulk bag, or super sack is a standardized container in large dimensions for storing and transporting and storing granular products. It is often made of a woven synthetic material.

Bulk box

A bulk box, bulk bin, skid box, or tote box is a pallet size box used for storage and shipping of bulk quantities.


Example of steel drum Drum (container).jpg
Example of steel drum

Drums are cylindrical shipping containers made of steel, plastic or fiber. They are often used for liquids and granular materials.


Insulated shipping containers are a type of packaging used to ship temperature sensitive products such as foods, pharmaceuticals, and chemicals. They are used as part of a cold chain to help maintain product freshness and efficacy.


Some pails are used as shipping containers. [7]

Unit load device

A "LD3-45" unit load device on a trailer Germanwings Container 03.jpg
A "LD3-45" unit load device on a trailer

A Unit Load Device, or ULD, is a container used to transport cargo on commercial aircraft.

A ULD can be a pallet or container used to load luggage, freight, and mail on wide-body aircraft and specific narrow-body aircraft. It allows a large quantity of cargo to be bundled into a single unit. Since this leads to fewer units to load, it saves ground crews time and effort and helps prevent delayed flights. Each ULD has its own packing list, manifest, or tracking identification to improve control and tracking of contents


A container for shipping weapons, with carrying handles Special Atomic Demolition Munition (carrying case).jpg
A container for shipping weapons, with carrying handles

Custom containers are used for shipments of products such as scientific instruments, weapons and aviation components. [8] Customized cushioning, blocking and bracing, carrying handles, lift rings, locks, etc. are common to facilitate handling and to protect the contents. Often, these shipping containers are reusable.

The reusable ifco tray ("international fruit container") is used in Europe for transportation of fruit, vegetables, and fish.

Transit and flight cases

Flight cases and transit cases are usually custom designed for shipping and carrying fragile equipment: audio visual, camera, instruments, etc. Although generally light in construction, they tend to have reinforced edges and corners.

Road cases

Road cases are often used for shipping musical instruments and theater props.


Student apartments built out of shipping containers in Le Havre, France Apartments buildings for students, Le Havre, 2014.jpg
Student apartments built out of shipping containers in Le Havre, France

The widespread availability and relative cheapness of used intermodal shipping containers meant that architects began to consider them as an alternative to traditional building materials. [9] Used shipping containers have been converted for use in housing, and as retail and office spaces. [10] [11] Examples of its use include the Cité A Docks student housing project in Le Havre, France; [12] the Wenckehof container village in Amsterdam; [13] the portable Puma City store in US cities; [14] [15] the food and retail Boxpark in London; [16] the Dordoy Bazaar in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan; [17] the temporary mall Re:START in Christchurch, New Zealand built after the 2011 Christchurch earthquake, [18] and as intensive-care units in temporary hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic. [19]

It has however been pointed out there are problems with recycling shipping containers, that it may not be as ecologically friendly or cheap an option as it might appear. The containers may be coated with harmful chemicals such as chromate, phosphorus, and lead-based paints, while its wooden floors may be treated with toxic insecticides, and some cost and effort are involved in modifying containers to make them habitable. [9] Others have noted various issues such as space constraint, insulation, and structural weakness if too much steel is cut out of the containers. [20] [21]

Shipping containers are used in the film and television industry for building temporary sets. Shipping containers can be stacked on top of each other and used as reinforced scaffold that large-scale film sets can be built against. An example can be seen at Leavesden Studios, England; an area of the studio backlot is allocated to spare containers when not in use.[ citation needed ]

See also

Related Research Articles

Intermodal container Standardized reusable steel box used for transporting goods

An intermodal container, often called a shipping container, is a large standardized shipping container, designed and built for intermodal freight transport, meaning these containers can be used across different modes of transport – from ship to rail to truck – without unloading and reloading their cargo. Intermodal containers are primarily used to store and transport materials and products efficiently and securely in the global containerized intermodal freight transport system, but smaller numbers are in regional use as well. These containers are known under a number of names, such as simply container, cargo or freight container, ISO container, shipping, sea or ocean container, sea van or (Conex) box, container van, sea can or c can.

Intermodal freight transport Cargo transport using multiple types of vehicles

Intermodal freight transport involves the transportation of freight in an intermodal container or vehicle, using multiple modes of transportation, without any handling of the freight itself when changing modes. The method reduces cargo handling, and so improves security, reduces damage and loss, and allows freight to be transported faster. Reduced costs over road trucking is the key benefit for inter-continental use. This may be offset by reduced timings for road transport over shorter distances.

Cargo consists of bulk goods conveyed by water, air, or land. In economics, freight is cargo that is transported at a freight rate for commercial gain. Cargo was originally a shipload but now covers all types of freight, including transport by rail, van, truck, or intermodal container. The term cargo is also used in case of goods in the cold-chain, because the perishable inventory is always in transit towards a final end-use, even when it is held in cold storage or other similar climate-controlled facility. The term freight is commonly used to describe the movements of flows of goods being transported by any mode of transportation.

Drum (container)

A drum is a cylindrical shipping container used for shipping bulk cargo. Drums can be made of steel, dense paperboard, or plastic, and are generally used for the transportation and storage of liquids and powders. Drums are often stackable, and have dimensions designed for efficient warehouse and logistics use. This type of packaging is frequently certified for transporting dangerous goods. Proper shipment requires the drum to comply with all applicable regulations.

Pallet Flat transport structure that supports goods in a stable fashion

A pallet is a flat transport structure, which supports goods in a stable fashion while being lifted by a forklift, a pallet jack, a front loader, a jacking device, or an erect crane. A pallet is the structural foundation of a unit load which allows handling and storage efficiencies. Goods or shipping containers are often placed on a pallet secured with strapping, stretch wrap or shrink wrap and shipped. Since its invention in the twentieth century, its use has dramatically supplanted older forms of crating like the wooden box and the wooden barrel, as it works well with modern packaging like corrugated boxes and intermodal containers commonly used for bulk shipping.


A crate is a large shipping container, often made of wood, typically used to transport or store large, heavy items. Steel and aluminium crates are also used. Specialized crates were designed for specific products, and were often made to be reusable, such as the "bottle crates" for milk and soft drinks.

Distribution center Warehouse or other specialized building, often with refrigeration or air conditioning

A distribution center for a set of products is a warehouse or other specialized building, often with refrigeration or air conditioning, which is stocked with products (goods) to be redistributed to retailers, to wholesalers, or directly to consumers. A distribution center is a principal part, the order processing element, of the entire order fulfillment process. Distribution centers are usually thought of as being demand driven. A distribution center can also be called a warehouse, a DC, a fulfillment center, a cross-dock facility, a bulk break center, and a package handling center. The name by which the distribution center is known is commonly based on the purpose of the operation. For example, a "retail distribution center" normally distributes goods to retail stores, an "order fulfillment center" commonly distributes goods directly to consumers, and a cross-dock facility stores little or no product but distributes goods to other destinations.

Strapping, also known as bundling and banding, is the process of applying a strap to an item to combine, stabilize, hold, reinforce, or fasten it. The strap may also be referred to as strapping. Strapping is most commonly used in the packaging industry.

Truckload shipping is the movement of large amounts of homogeneous cargo, generally the amount necessary to fill an entire semi-trailer or intermodal container. A truckload carrier is a trucking company that generally contracts an entire trailer-load to a single customer. This is as opposed to a less-than truckload (LTL) company that generally mixes freight from several customers in each trailer. One advantage Full Truckload (FTL) carriers have over Less than Truckload carriers is that the freight is never handled en route, whereas an LTL shipment will typically be transported on several different trailers.

Less-than-truckload shipping or less than load (LTL) is the transportation of relatively small freight. The alternatives to LTL carriers are parcel carriers or full truckload carriers. Parcel carriers usually handle small packages and freight that can be broken down into units less than 150 pounds (68 kg). Full truckload carriers move freight that is loaded into a semi-trailer. Semi-trailers are typically between 26 and 53 feet and require a substantial amount of freight to make such transportation economical.

Intermediate bulk container

Intermediate bulk containers are industrial-grade containers engineered for the mass handling, transport, and storage of liquids, semi-solids, pastes, or solids. The two main categories of IBC tanks are flexible IBCs and rigid IBCs. Many IBCs are reusable, allowing cleaning and multiple uses.

Bulk box Pallet-size shipping box

A bulk box, also known as a bulk bin, skid box, pallet box, bin box, gaylord, or octabin is a pallet-size box used for storage and shipping of bulk quantities.

Insulated shipping containers are a type of packaging used to ship temperature sensitive products such as foods, pharmaceuticals, organs, blood, biologic materials, vaccines and chemicals. They are used as part of a cold chain to help maintain product freshness and efficacy. The term can also refer to insulated intermodal containers or insulated swap bodies.

Unit load

The term unit load refers to the size of an assemblage into which a number of individual items are combined for ease of storage and handling, for example a pallet load represents a unit load which can be moved easily with a pallet jack or forklift truck, or a container load represents a unit for shipping purposes. A unit load can be packed tightly into a warehouse rack, intermodal container, truck or boxcars, yet can be easily broken apart at a distribution point, usually a distribution center, wholesaler, or retail store for sale to consumers or for use.

Breakbulk cargo Shipping goods that are loaded individually

In shipping, break-bulk, breakbulk, or break bulk cargo, also called general cargo, are goods, that are stowed on board ship in individually counted units, and traditionally the large number of items are recorded on distinct bills of lading that firstly list them by the different commodities. This in contrast to cargo stowed in modern shipping containers – or to bulk cargo, which goes directly, unpackaged and in large quantity, into a ship's hold(s), measured by volume or weight; for instance oil or grain.

Load securing

Load securing, also known as cargo securing, is the securing of cargo for transportation. According to the European Commission Transportation Department “it has been estimated that up to 25% of accidents involving trucks can be attributable to inadequate cargo securing”. Cargo that is improperly secured can cause severe accidents and lead to the loss of cargo, lives, and vehicles, or cause environmental hazards.

Corrugated box design

Corrugated box design is the process of matching design factors for corrugated fiberboard boxes with the functional physical, processing and end-use requirements. Packaging engineers work to meet the performance requirements of a box while controlling total costs throughout the system.

Shelf-ready packaging

Shelf-ready packaging (SRP) and retail-ready packaging (RRP) refers to the packaging of a product so that it is delivered to a retailer in packaging which is optimized for efficient stocking and sale.

Container Any receptacle for holding a product used in storage, packaging, and shipping

A container is any receptacle or enclosure for holding a product used in storage, packaging, and transportation, including shipping. Things kept inside of a container are protected by being inside of its structure. The term is most frequently applied to devices made from materials that are durable and are often partly or completely rigid.

Reusable packaging is manufactured of durable materials and is specifically designed for multiple trips and extended life. A reusable package or container is “designed for reuse without impairment of its protective function.” The term returnable is sometimes used interchangeably but it can also include returning packages or components for other than reuse: recycling, disposal, incineration, etc. Typically, the materials used to make returnable packaging include steel, wood, polypropylene sheets or other plastic materials.


  1. Dictionary of International Trade: "Container: ... must be b) specially designed to facilitate the carriage of goods by one or more modes of transport without intermediate reloading. ... Ocean shipping containers are generally 10, 20, 30, or 40 feet long ... and conform to ISO standards"
  2. Levinson, Marc. "Sample Chapter for Levinson, M.: The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger". The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger . Princeton University Press. Archived from the original on 22 January 2013. Retrieved 17 February 2013.
  3. Gittins, Ross. "How the invention of a box changed our world – Business –". The Sydney Morning Herald . Retrieved 17 February 2013.
  4. Portable fuel, oil freight container
  5. 1 2 Dennis, William T. (December 2011). Parcel and Small Package Delivery Industry. William Dennis. ISBN   9781461021544.
  6. Pahl, Greg (2000-12-01). The Complete Idiot's Guide to Saving the Environment. Penguin. ISBN   9780028639826.
  7. Uniform Freight Classification: Ratings, Rules and Regulations Applicable to Freight Traffic Covered by Tariffs Governed by the Uniform Freight Classification, as Such Tariffs May Specify. 1961.
  9. 1 2 Pagnotta, Brian (29 August 2011). "The Pros and Cons of Cargo Container Architecture". Arch Daily.
  10. Morgen Bromell, Evelyn Lee, Maria Cohn (13 March 2013). "The 25 Coolest Structures Made From Shipping Containers". Complex.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  11. Riley, Tess. "Shipping container architecture – in pictures". The Guardian.
  12. "Cité A Docks Student Housing by Cattani Architects". Contemporist. September 30, 2010.
  13. Forrest, Adam (9 October 2015). "Living in a steel box: are shipping containers really the future of housing?". The Guardian.
  14. LOT-EK (2012). UPCYCLE. p. 20. ISBN   9781105967931.
  15. Yuka Yoneda. "Puma City Shipping Container Store Comes to Boston's Fan Pier". Inhabitat.
  16. Fry, Simon (26 January 2017). "Boxing clever: The firms based in shipping containers". BBC.
  17. Sershen, Daniel (4 January 2007). "'Made in China' moves into Russia's backyard". Christian Science Monitor.
  18. Martin Van Beynen (19 October 2011). "Christchurch pop-up mall may be world first". stuff. Fairfax Media.
  19. Wainwright, Oliver (27 March 2020). "Architect in Italy turns shipping containers into hospitals for treating Covid-19". The Guardian.
  20. Alter, Lloyd (28 June 2016). "Shipping container pavilion lets it all hang out". Treehugger.
  21. "5 Mistakes To Avoid When Building A Shipping Container Home". Container Home Plan.