What is a Shipping Container?
A simple box has transformed the world’s economy and enabled the prices of goods to plummet thanks to obliterating the costs of transport by ocean. What is a shipping container and why has it changed the world?
A simple box…
A shipping container is essentially a durable steel box of fixed width, that has load bearing corners and a load bearing wooden floor. The basic ‘twenty foot equivalent unit’ (TEU) standard container is 20ft (6.096m) long X 8ft (2.438m) wide x 8.6ft (2.591m) tall.
The standard container is made of Corten steel and is weatherproof and airtight.
There are variations to its length and height:
With these variations it is possible to simply adjust the lifting or carrying equipment on trucks, ships, trains and cranes to quickly load and transport the container anywhere in the world by sea or land.
A box with endless possibilities
The standard container has weathertight doors at one end and is airtight. However, within the dimensions, a whole range of containers have emerged. For example:
‘Coffee’ containers are ventilated to allow airflow and stop the buildup of gas within
Some have refrigeration units (reefers)
Others are insulated to minimise temperature variations inside without active cooling units
Some are loaded from the top
Others are loaded from side doors
Another type is the flat rack container that can be loaded from either end, top or side
You can even get a bulk cargo container that has a chute at the bottom to unload
A final variation is the half height container – these will carry the same weight but in half the height.
These variations have increased the possibilities for potential cargo that can be carried inside, but they can still be loaded, unloaded and carried in standard slots, significantly speeding up the movement of cargo around the world.
A standard box that changed the world
In 1958 US trucking company owner Malcolm McLean (pictured) sent his first standard shipping containers to sea. McLean changed the world forever.
Through standardisation it has been possible to standardise the modes of transport and means of loading and unloading them. A crane in China will be able to load a ship at just the same speed as it is unloaded at Botany Bay Container Terminal. A train will be loaded quickly using a different crane and carry that container across the continent where it is then loaded onto a truck for the final mile.
Container transport standardisation
As a result of the cost differential it has allowed emerging economies like China to manufacture goods for other countries to consume. Simple manufacturing industries in richer countries have collapsed but their economies have transformed into service economies and complex manufacturing.
Even more possibilities
Architects soon saw the potential of a cheap, durable metal box with the ability to cut holes in it and weld it to another one. Shipping containers are as cheap and effective as a lego building block! As we have shown here at the Gateway Gazette, it appears that not only has the humble standard box transformed transport, it is rapidly changing the world of architecture too…
Have your own ideas for a container?
Whether it’s transport, storage or architecture, there are all sorts of reasons you may want to buy or hire a used shipping container.