Containerization (or containerisation) is a system of intermodal freight transport cargo transport using standard ISO containers (known as shipping containers, ITUs (Intermodal Transport Units) or isotainers) that can be loaded and sealed intact onto container ships, railroad cars, planes, and trucks.
The introduction of containers resulted in vast improvements in port handling efficiency, thus lowering costs and helping lower freight charges and, in turn, boosting trade flows. Almost every manufactured product humans consume spends some time in a container.
By the 1830s, railroads on several continents were carrying containers that could be transferred to trucks or ships, but these containers were invariably small by today's standards. Originally used for shipping coal on and off barges, 'loose boxes' were used to containerize coal from the late 1780s, on places like the Bridgewater Canal. By the 1840s, iron boxes were in use as well as wooden ones. The early 1900s saw the adoption of closed container boxes designed for movement between road and rail.
In the United Kingdom, several railway companies were using similar containers by the beginning of the 20th century and in the 1920s the Railway Clearing House standardised the RCH container. Five or ten foot long, wooden and non-stackable, these early standard containers were a great success but the standard remained UK-specific.
From 1926 to 1947, in the US, the Chicago North Shore and Milwaukee Railway carried motor carrier vehicles and shippers' vehicles loaded on flatcars between Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Chicago, Illinois. Beginning in 1929, Seatrain Lines carried railroad boxcars on its sea vessels to transport goods between New York and Cuba. In the mid-1930s, the Chicago Great Western Railway and then the New Haven Railroad began "piggy-back" service (transporting highway freight trailers on flatcars) limited to their own railroads. By 1953, the CB&Q, the Chicago and Eastern Illinois and the Southern Pacific railroads had joined the innovation. Most cars were surplus flatcars equipped with new decks. By 1955, an additional 25 railroads had begun some form of piggy-back trailer service.
Toward the end of World War II, the United States Army began using specialized containers to speed up the loading and unloading of transport ships. The army used the term "transporters" to identify the containers, for shipping household goods of officers in the field. A "Transporter" was a reusable container, long, wide, and high, made of rigid steel with a carrying capacity of 9,000 pounds. During the Korean War the transporter was evaluated for handling sensitive military equipment, and proving effective, was approved for broader use. Theft of material and damage to wooden crates, in addition to handling time, by stevedores at the Port of Pusan, proved to the army that steel containers were needed. In 1952 the army began using the term CONEX, short for "Container Express". The first major shipment of CONEX's (containing engineering supplies and spare parts) were shipped by rail from the Columbus General Depot in Georgia to the Port of San Francisco, then by ship to Yokohama, Japan, and then to Korea, in late 1952. Shipment times were cut almost in half. By the time of the Vietnam War the majority of supplies and materials were shipped with the CONEX. After the U.S. Department of Defense standardized an 8'x8' cross section container in multiples of 10' lengths for military use it was rapidly adopted for shipping purposes.
These standards were adopted in the United Kingdom for containers and rapidly displaced the older wooden containers in the 1950s.
Even the railways of the USSR had their own small containers.
The U.S. container shipping industry dates to 1956, when trucking entrepreneur Malcom McLean put 58 containers aboard a refitted tanker ship, the Ideal-X, and sailed them from Newark to Houston. What was new in the USA about McLean's innovation was the idea of using large containers that were never opened in transit between shipper and consignee and that were transferable on an intermodal basis, among trucks, ships and railroad cars. McLean had initially favored the construction of "trailerships" - taking trailers from large trucks and stowing them in a ship’s cargo hold. This method of stowage, referred to as roll-on/roll-off, was not adopted because of the large waste in potential cargo space onboard the vessel, known as broken stowage. Instead, he modified his original concept into loading just the containers, not the chassis, onto the ships, hence the designation container ship or "box" ship. See also pantechnicon van and trolley and lift van.
In the United States, the Interstate Commerce Commission was created in 1887 to keep railroads from using monopolist pricing and rate discrimination on customers, especially rural Western farmers, but fell victim to regulatory capture, and by the 1960s, before any shipper could carry different items in the same vehicle, or change rates, the shipper had to have ICC approval, which impeded containerization and other advances in shipping. The United States' present fully integrated systems became possible only after the ICC's regulatory oversight was cut back (and later abolished in 1995), trucking and rail were deregulated in the 1970s and maritime rates were deregulated in 1984.
However, few initially foresaw the extent of the influence containerization would bring to the shipping industry. In the 1950s, Harvard University economist Benjamin Chinitz predicted that containerization would benefit New York by allowing it to ship industrial goods produced there more cheaply to the Southern United States than other areas, but did not anticipate that containerization might make it cheaper to import such goods from abroad. Most economic studies of containerization merely assumed that shipping companies would begin to replace older forms of transportation with containerization, but did not predict that the process of containerization itself would have some influence on producers and the extent of trading.
The widespread use of ISO standard containers has driven modifications in other freight-moving standards, gradually forcing removable truck bodies or swap bodies into the standard sizes and shapes (though without the strength needed to be stacked), and changing completely the worldwide use of freight pallets that fit into ISO containers or into commercial vehicles.
Improved cargo security is also an important benefit of containerization. The cargo is not visible to the casual viewer and thus is less likely to be stolen and the doors of the containers are generally sealed so that tampering is more evident. This has reduced the "falling off the truck" syndrome that long plagued the shipping industry.
Use of the same basic sizes of containers across the globe has lessened the problems caused by incompatible rail gauge sizes in different countries. The majority of the rail networks in the world operate on a gauge track known as standard gauge but many countries (such as Russia, Finland, and Spain) use broader gauges while many other countries in Africa and South America use narrower gauges on their networks. The use of container trains in all these countries makes trans-shipment between different gauge trains easier.
The use of Imperial measurements to describe container size (TEU, FEU) reflects the fact that US Department of Defense played a major part in the development of containers. The overwhelming need to have a standard size for containers, in order that they fit all ships, cranes, and trucks, and the length of time that the current container sizes have been in use, makes changing to an even metric size impractical.
The maximum gross mass for a dry cargo container is 24,000 kg, and for a 40-ft (including the 2.87 m (9 ft 6 in) high cube container), it is 30,480 kg. Allowing for the tare mass of the container, the maximum payload mass is therefore reduced to approximately 21,600 kg for , and 26,500 kg for containers.
Since November 2007 48-ft and containers are used also for international ocean shipments. At the moment (April 2008) the only ocean company who offer such containers is APL. However, APL containers have slightly different sizes and weights than standard and containers (that are used in the US by rail and truck services).
The following table shows the weights and dimensions of the three most common types of containers worldwide. The weights and dimensions quoted below are averages, different manufacture series of the same type of container may vary slightly in actual size and weight.
|20′ container||40′ container||45′ high-cube container|
|length||20′ 0″||6.096 m||40′ 0″||12.192 m||45′ 0″||13.716 m|
|width||8′ 0″||2.438 m||8′ 0″||2.438 m||8′ 0″||2.438 m|
|height||8′ 6″||2.591 m||8′ 6″||2.591 m||9′ 6″||2.896 m|
|length||18′ 10 ″||5.758 m||39′ 5 ″||12.032 m||44′ 4″||13.556 m|
|width||7′ 8 ″||2.352 m||7′ 8 ″||2.352 m||7′ 8 ″||2.352 m|
|height||7′ 9 ″||2.385 m||7′ 9 ″||2.385 m||8′ 9 ″||2.698 m|
|door aperture||width||7′ 8 ⅛″||2.343 m||7′ 8 ⅛″||2.343 m||7′ 8 ⅛″||2.343 m|
|height||7′ 5 ¾″||2.280 m||7′ 5 ¾″||2.280 m||8′ 5 ″||2.585 m|
|volume||1,169 ft³||33.1 m³||2,385 ft³||67.5 m³||3,040 ft³||86.1 m³|
|52,910 lb||24,000 kg||67,200 lb||30,480 kg||67,200 lb||30,480 kg|
|empty weight||4,850 lb||2,200 kg||8,380 lb||3,800 kg||10,580 lb||4,800 kg|
|net load||48,060 lb||21,600 kg||58,820 lb||26,500 kg||56,620 lb||25,680 kg|
20-ft, "heavy tested" containers are available for heavy goods (e.g. heavy machinery). These containers allow a maximum weight of 67,200 lb (30,480 kg), an empty weight of 5,290 lb (2,400 kg), and a net load of 61,910 lb (28,080 kg).
While major airlines use containers that are custom designed for their aircraft and associated ground handling equipment the IATA has created a set of standard container sizes, the LD-designation sizes are shown below:
|Designation||Width (in)||Height (in)||Depth (in)||Base (In)||Max load (lb)||Max load (kg)||Shape|
|LD-7||125.0||64.0||80.0||n/a||13300||~6033||Rect. or Contoured|
|LD-9||125.0||64.0||80.0||n/a||13300||~6033||Rect. or Contoured|
LD-1, -2, -3, -4, and -8 are those most widely used, together with the rectangular M3 containers.
In 2007 the International Chamber of Shipping and the World Shipping Council began work on a code of practice for container storage, including crew training on parametric rolling, safer stacking and marking of containers and security for above-deck cargo in heavy swell.
Most flatcars cannot carry more than one standard container, but if the rail line has been built with sufficient vertical clearance, a double-stack car can accept a container and still leave enough clearance for another container on top. This usually precludes operation of double-stacked wagons on lines with overhead electric wiring. However, the Betuweroute, which was planned with overhead wiring from the start, has been built with tunnels that do accommodate double-stacked wagons so as to keep the option to economically rebuild the route for double stacking in the future. The overhead wiring would then have to be changed to allow double stacking. Lower than standard size containers are run double stacked under overhead wire in China.
|Company||TEU capacity||Market Share||Number of ships|
|A.P. Moller-Maersk Group||1,665,272||18.2%||549|
|Mediterranean Shipping Company S.A.||865,890||11.7%||376|
|Evergreen Marine Corporation||477,911||5.2%||153|
|China Shipping Container Lines||346,493||3.8%||111|
|American President Lines||331,437||3.6%||99|
The project tracks a standard 40 foot long shipping container as it is transported by the Nippon Yusen Kaisha (NYK) shipping line with various cargoes. Through an onboard GPS tracker the Box's past route and current location is being recorded on a live updating map The Box is painted in a special BBC paint scheme and was named after the book, The Box, which was about the effects of containerisation.