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Everything you need to know about containers

In the transportation of goods, container transport is one of the most significant innovations today.

By definition, a container is manipulative transport equipment, usually in a stable, hermetically sealed portable box of standardized dimensions.

Containers are used to form large manipulative units of cargo to streamline storage operations.

There are different definitions of containers, but the International Organization for Standardization (ISO2) description is generally accepted.

The ISO defines a container as a rectangular transport device, resistant to all weather conditions intended for transport and cargo stacking. In a container, the goods are protected from damage and separated from the means of transport.

Due to the market's growing needs, the demand for containers' production is growing, so larger containers above 40 feet (45, 48, 53, 60 feet) are being produced.

There are more than 20 million containers of various sizes and uses worldwide. The largest number refers to maritime shipping, which has approximately 9 million TEU (20-foot equivalent units) containers.

Container standardization was first initiated by the ASA (American Standards Association) and in 1959 proposed dimensions of 8 feet in width and height and 12, 17, 20, 24, 35 and 40 feet in length.

Two years later, in 1961, dimensions of 10, 20, and 40 feet in length and 8 feet in width and height, now known as the "American Container Standard," were adopted.

ISO organizations also prescribed the universal marking system. The system has been accepted by all the world's major container manufacturers and must be adhered to by all transport industry participants.

Containers have been introduced to facilitate the transport of goods and are designed to be filled and emptied quickly, safely and efficiently.

They are resistant to atmospheric influences, equipped with quick, safe, and easy handling systems, made of sufficiently strong and resistant materials for multiple uses.

The construction of large and specialized container ships reduces fixed and variable costs per unit of cargo transported, which is a significant advantage.

Almost 90% of the total international freight traffic today occurs by sea, and greater containerization has contributed to the overall increase in maritime traffic.

Ports must meet several conditions, such as sea depth, transshipment facilities and cargo, to receive modern container ships.

When choosing container ports, shipowners must pay attention to several important things - distance, port costs, cargo volume, transport connectivity, port efficiency, cargo handling speed, type of goods and infrastructure adequacy.

In this article, we bring the basic types and dimensions of containers.

History of containerization

Container shipping has existed for more than 50 years. Throughout history, people have used various means and modes of transportation to transport goods. For example, the ancient Egyptians used baskets to transport goods.

The earliest container ships were rebuilt tankers after World War II. The first purpose-built container ship began its service in 1951 in Denmark.

In the same year, ships started transporting containers between Seattle and Alaska in the United States.

The first actual intermodal container system used a dedicated container ship Clifford J. Rodgers, built-in 1955 in Montreal. On its first voyage, he transported as many as 600 containers between North Vancouver, Canada, and Skagway, Alaska.

Most authors state that containerization began on April 26, 1956, when the first container was loaded on the IDEAL X ship deck, transporting 58 33-foot containers from Port Newark to Houston.

Containerization is one of the most widespread modern transport technologies.

According to estimates, today's entire world container park has more than ten million different containers, which carry about 5 billion tons of cargo annually, valued at approximately twenty-five billion US dollars.

As the transport of goods by containers becomes increasingly important, containerization is becoming one of the most influential modern transport technologies.

Types and dimensions of containers

Containers can differ in their specifics and characteristics. According to the purpose, containers are mainly divided into two primary groups: universal and special containers.

Universal containers are used for the transport of packaged goods intended for general consumption.

They include several subgroups:

  1. containers for general use, intended for accommodation, storage and transportation of various cargoes

  2. special-purpose containers that can be opened or closed, and

  3. platform containers with open sides.

Special containers are containers intended to transport goods and cargo that require certain transport conditions, such as containers with isothermal characteristics and tank-containers, designed to transport goods in a liquid and gaseous state.

Depending on the size, containers are divided into small, medium and large.

Small containers

Small general purpose containers can be classified into three categories: volume up to 1 m3, volume from 1 to 2 m3 and volume over 2 m3.

They are generally intended for rail transport and are not used in sea transport.

Medium containers

Medium containers are less than 6 m long, weigh 2.5 to 5 t and have a volume of up to 21 m3.

These containers are most often used to transport raw materials, minerals and specific construction materials and are most often used in rail transport.

Large containers

Large containers have a volume of more than 10 m3 and a capacity of up to 10 tons.

They are divided according to the type of cargo for which they are intended.

We distinguish between dry cargo containers, isothermal containers (for maintaining thermal insulation conditions), bulk cargo and gas containers, and liquid containers.

Large containers are better known as overseas containers because they are most commonly used in maritime traffic.

Standard ISO shipping containers are 2.43m wide and 2.59m high. They come in two lengths; 20ft (6.06m) and 40ft (12.2m).

Smaller containers - 10ft (2.99m) and 8ft (2.43m) are also available but cannot be shipped in the same way as 20ft and 40ft containers.

Interesting fact: A standard ISO 20ft shipping container has a capacity of 33.1m3 – enough room for almost 100 household washing machines!

ISO recommendations

According to ISO standards, we distinguish three basic types of large containers: 20, 30 and 40 feet in length and 8 feet in width and height. ISO standardization divides containers into two primary groups.

The first group's designations are 1A, 1B, 1C, 1D, 1E and 1F, the load capacity is from 5 to 30 t, and the length ranges from 1.52 to 12.2 m (5 to 40 feet). For the second group, the designations are 2A, 2B and 2C, the size ranges from 1.45 to 2.92 m and the load capacity is 7t.

ISO containers must meet several conditions:

  1. the resistance of containers to damage during transport

  2. minimum resistance of the entire structure at proportional loading of the container base

  3. the resistance of containers when stacking one container on top of another

  4. they need to have equipment for handling and attaching containers to means of transport

  5. internal impermeability of the container

Each container has its unique identification number and dimension label, which facilitates transportation planning. Dimensions are nominal and typical, there may be variations.

What do containers transport?

Cargo that can be transported in containers divides into two groups: classic and special cargo.

Classic cargoes are general cargoes that occur in maritime transport. These are loads in jute, paper or plastic bags, barrels (transport of liquid, dusty and granular materials), loads in bales (transport of textiles, leather, wool, paper and similar products), wooden crates and baskets (light and heavy, brittle, fragile and robust loads), cardboard and plastic boxes (transport of light loads, cans, bottles, fragile loads), cages, bundles, cars, household appliances, etc.

Special loads transported in containers are bulk cargo, liquids, compressed gases, oversized cargo, live animals and perishable goods.


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