What is a Shipping Container?
What is a Shipping Container? A Beginner’s Guide.
Shipping containers house freight of all kinds and can be hauled by trucks, trains and ocean carriers. Shipping containers can also be transferred between these transportation modes without having to be unloaded.
Knowing how to choose and buy a shipping container is important; it can mean the difference between a good storage solution and a bad investment. Choosing the right container starts with knowing a little about the containers themselves.
A brief history of shipping containers
The shipping container may have been a relatively simple invention, but it revolutionized shipping and global trade.
Before shipping containers were invented, goods were loaded into sacks, barrels, wooden crates, or simply wrapped in sheets. This method is known as break-bulk shipping. The work was labor-intensive, expensive, and slow: It could take up to three weeks to unload and load each ship.
In 1952, American road-hauler and entrepreneur Malcolm McLean saw an opportunity to cut costs and speed up the movement of goods. He imagined lifting his trailers onto ships without touching the contents. McLean sold his trucking company in 1956 and purchased the Pan Atlantic Tanker Company soon after.
Fueled by perseverance, McLean quickly started converting a World War II oil tanker into a ship capable of carrying containers. That ship, Ideal X, made her maiden voyage on April 26, 1956, sailing from New Jersey to Texas and carrying 58 metal containers and 15,000 tons of petroleum.
McLean’s ‘big box’ idea was a success. In 1968 the International Standards Organization standardized his invention. Each standardized box measured 20 feet long, 8 feet high, and 8 feet wide.
Why do shippers use containers?
Shipping containers are durable, structurally sound, and designed to withstand the harsh conditions of overseas travel. Shipping containers also protect the contents inside as they can be moved between different modes of transport—from ship to rail to truck—without unloading their cargo. Containers are typically used for 10-15 years before being retired into the domestic fleet.
What are shipping containers made out of?
The main structural components of a shipping container are:
- The roof—is made of Corten steel sheets with corrugated profiles to give the roof strength and rigidity
- Side walls—are corrugated to provide added strength
- Flooring—consists of 28mm laminated Marine plywood
- Cross members—structural components that make up the floor along with forklift pockets
- Top/bottom rails—that form the frame of the container. Top rails can be either box section profiles or 10mm flat bar profiles.
- Corner posts—made of 10mm high-tensile steel
- Doors, fittings, CSC plate—doors open 180 degrees, and fittings like hinge pins, lock rods, locking cams and keepers, door handles, door brackets, and lockboxes keep cargo secure. Each unit has a Container Safety Convention (CSC ) plate on the left-hand door.
Modern shipping containers are almost indestructible because of their Corten steel structure. Corten steel is unique because it is weldable and developed to resist harsh weather and corrosion. This makes them very durable even as they travel through unforgiving environments.
The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is the governing body responsible for setting the benchmark standards for how containers are built and inspected and how defects must be addressed before their next use.
Fun fact: China produces more than 90 percent of sea containers globally. The units are built to last decades when properly stored and maintained, and after their life at sea, they can be refurbished and repurposed for many other purposes, including materials to build homes and businesses.
What are the dimensions of a shipping container?
Shipping containers are 8’ wide. They can be 8’6” or 9’6” tall and 20’ or 40’ long.
What types of shipping containers are there, and what are they used for?
The most commonly used shipping containers are called “dry containers” because customers use them to store and transport dry goods. The different types of shipping containers are named for their dimensions.
20-foot shipping containers
The 20’ shipping container is the most popular choice for intermodal transport because it’s the easiest to move around. These small but mighty boxes often transport heavy machinery or raw materials.
40-foot shipping containers
Another popular choice is the 40’ shipping container. Unlike the 20’, 40’ units are typically used to carry lighter consumer goods. This is because shippers get charged a fee if their container is overweight.
High-cube or HC shipping containers
High cube containers are one foot taller than traditional shipping containers. This extra foot of height provides extra storage space and/or better air circulation. HC containers come in both 20’ and 40’ lengths and often transport large, bulky, and higher-volume goods like furniture or clothing.
Other sizes of shipping containers include 10’, 16’, 24’, 30’, 45’. Insulated and refrigerated containers [cross link ‘refrigerated containers’] are also available.
Because ConGlobal has a nationwide network and access to equipment owners, we can source containers in various sizes to meet the needs of our customers.
External Dimensions for Shipping Containers
40' High Cube Container
Internal Dimensions for Shipping Containers
40' High Cube Container
How long do shipping containers last?
Shipping containers typically last 10-15 years. Once they can no longer be used for shipping, they are retired and can be used for other purposes.
What are container modifications?
Shipping container modifications include cutting, welding, painting, and more so the container can be used for purposes other than shipping. Container modifications make it possible for containers to be used for storage or even a home or business.
Who performs container modifications?
One of ConGlobal’s areas of expertise is container modifications. From doors and windows to plumbing and electrical, we have the in-house expertise to modify containers for just about any purpose. Visit our container modifications page to learn more or contact us to get started.
How do I buy a shipping container?
ConGlobal sells new and quality used shipping containers. When you purchase a container through ConGlobal, you get:
- up-front and transparent pricing
- individually inspected containers
- detailed photographs
- an honest representation of the condition of every piece of equipment
ConGlobal provides these details so you can make the best buying decision, whether in person or online, and don’t have any surprises upon delivery.
If you’re interested in purchasing a new or used container, get started with a quote.
How much does it cost to buy a shipping or storage container?
Pricing for shipping and storage containers varies based on the size, type, and use for the container. Our sales team can provide you with the most up-to-date, local pricing. Click here to get your quote started.