The humble shipping container has had a profound impact on the international removals industry. Today, intermodal shipping containers perform an important role in the flow of international commerce. They account for an estimated 90% of maritime cargo transport, for instance. Designed for seamless transfers between tractor-trailer rigs, railroad cars, cargo planes, and maritime vessels, “intermodal” standardized containers permits the rapid movement of cargo between ports by international shipping companies. They help streamline the costs involved in using a variety of different shipping modalities. Shippers sometimes temporarily store packed shipping containers, depending upon carrier schedules.
For example, instead of spending precious time (and money) unpacking and re-packing in order to transfer a freight shipment from a boat to a railroad line or a trucking route, carriers simply transfer the entire packed and secured shipping container. Some containers undergo successive transfers within the chain of commerce until goods arrive at an intended destination. This brief article seeks to supply useful information about the features and specifications of these widely utilized transportation assets. It explores several important features of an intermodal shipping container.
The below table provides measurements for the most commonly used shipping containers.
|Container Type||Length (internal)||Width (internal)||Height (internal)||Load capacity (m3)||Load capacity (cft)||Tare Weight (kg/lbs)|
|20' Standard Dry Container||5.440 m|
|27.9||986||2,750 kg |
|20' High Cube Dry Container||5.919 m|
|2.286 m |
|33.0||1,179||1,900 kg |
|20’ Open Top Container||5.919 m|
|32.0||1,143||2,177 kg |
|20’ Flat Rack Container||5.935 m |
|2.327 m |
|N/A||N/A||2,560 kg |
|40’ Standard Dry Container||12.035 m |
|2.350 m |
|2.393 m |
|67.0||2,393||3,700 kg |
|40’ High Cube Dry Containers||12.030 m |
|2.350 m |
|2.690 m |
|76.0||2,714||3,930 kg |
|40’ Standard Reefer Container||11.577 m |
|2.210 m |
|58.7||2,073||3,950 kg |
|40 High-Cube Reefer Container||11.577 m |
|2.294 m |
|2.509 m |
|67.0||2,366||3,950 kg |
|40’ Flat Rack Container||12.080 m |
|2.420 m |
|2.103 m |
|N/A||N/A||5,480 kg |
|45’ High Cube Dry Containers||13.556 m |
|2.352 m |
|2.695 m |
|86.0||3,031||4,590 kg |
|45’ High-Cube Reefer Container||13.102 m |
|2.286 m |
|2.509 m |
|75.4||2,663||5,200 kg |
Shipping Container Specifications
The Structure of a Shipping Container
Shipping containers typically consist of rectangular box-like structures composed of durable corrugated thick steel (or in some cases, aluminum). Each one carries an ISO certification attesting to its use of standardized dimensions. Manufacturers expect customers to continuously re-use shipping containers. Consequently, they seek to build tough metal structures capable of withstanding heavy wear.
A typical shipping container must possess the strength to transport heavy items safely across long distances. Three weight measurements describe this asset’s capabilities: its weight without cargo (the “Tare Weight”), the weight of the cargo alone, and the combined weight of the cargo and the container (i.e. the container’s “Gross Weight”). A 40-foot shipping container usually maintains a standard maximum gross weight of 67,200 pounds.
During the course of shipping, large overhead cranes pick up and relocate shipping containers. This procedure requires durable container corners. Strong steel reinforced floors and corner posts contribute significantly to modern shipping containers.
Some Important Safety Handling Instructions
Today, shipping containers must carry stickers or plates indicating potential safety threats. They identify help cargo posing an explosive or fire risk. This important information helps alert workers to potential dangers associated with the cargo. Specific handling rules apply to this type of freight.
The CSC Plate
A Convention for Safe Containers (“CSC”) Plate supplies essential information about most shipping containers not transported by air. For instance, this plate typically reports the date when a manufacturer produced the shipping container. It also indicates the location of manufacture. Additionally, the CSC plate specifies applicable shipping container testing procedure regulations, offering an assurance that the container itself adheres to a nationally developed testing standard.
Protocols for the use of the CSC Plate originated during the 1970s, as the pace of global commerce intensified. However, this information remains very important today. If a shipping container breaks apart during transfer by crane, for example, the contents might spill and seriously injure or kill people in the immediate vicinity. The CSC Plate helps alert shippers to the age of the shipping container.
Locking Rods And Handles
Securely locking rods and handles perform an important function. Affixed permanently to the exterior of a shipping container with bolts, the locking rod and handles help ensure the cargo door closes securely. As long as the rod remains unbent and in good condition, the door won’t accidentally open during transit.
The Shipping Container ID Number
The Bureau International des Containers (“BIC”), a non-governmental organization, started in 1933. It seeks to encourage the use of standardized international shipping containers in global commerce. Today, BIC serves as the international prefix registrar of containers for the ISO. Since 1970, containers shipped through the chain of international commerce have carried specific identification prefix numbers assigned through the BIC code registry. BIC maintains a list of this information, enabling shippers to identify cargo container owners more easily.
Every shipping container number includes a unique identifying number following the prefix. Shippers maintain records of these numbers, enabling them to specifically identify a shipping container within a logistics database in real time. This capability helps reduce instances of misplaced or stolen shipping containers.
Size And Capacity Specifications
Standards for the dimensions of shipping containers promulgated by the International Organization for Standardization (the “ISO”) determine the parameters of these products for use in international commerce. ISO 668:2013 illustrates the highly detailed specifications for general purpose shipping containers. Shippers must adhere to ISO specifications in order to ensure their shipping containers fit available transport systems in different places around the world.
Shipping containers today frequently occur in two main sizes:
Standard containers: 8′ wide by 8’6″ high and 20′ or 40′ in length; or
“High Cube” containers: 8′ wide by 9’6″ high with lengths up to 53′
(The thickness of the container walls affects the available space within individual shipping containers, of course.)
If questions arise concerning the correct dimensions for particular shipping containers, the detailed current ISO standards offer authoritative information. Shippers sometimes measure the carrying capacity of containers informally using “Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units” or “TEUs”. That standard relies upon the carrying capabilities of a standard 20-foot long eight-foot-wide container as a reference point. ISO guidelines specify specific maximum weights marked on the outside of the container, and these requirements offer definitive information about maximum weight loads.
The Door Gasket
A rubber gasket runs along the edge of every shipping container cargo door. Much like the seal on a refrigerator door, this feature helps tightly secure the interior, ensuring moisture can’t seep inside and damage the contents during transit. The gasket also serves another purpose. If the load inside an intermodal shipping container experiences jostling or shifting, it helps ensure the contents won’t leak outside the shipping container and possibly contaminate other cargo.
Matt is a veteran of the moving industry, a recognized moving expert and is the founder of MoverFocus. Matt holds a Bachelor of Commerce (BCom) majoring in Finance and Marketing and Bachelor of Arts (BA) majoring in Economics and History. He also has completed the EiM (Essentials in International Moving) course from the FIDI Academy. His advice has been featured in Reader’s Digest, Yahoo Finance, MSN Money, Business News Daily and The SpareFoot Blog Go. Read more.