A shipping container is a transportation vessel used to store and/or ship goods. The basic design is ISO-regulated, to ensure the height and weight of different containers don’t conflict. These containers come in different physical dimensions: length (8, 12, 16, 24, or 32 feet), height (8 feet 6 inches or 9 feet 6 inches), and width (8 feet). The interiors are corrugated – some storage space, usually in the 1-3 inch range is lost to the padding. The floor is made of plywood or planking wood – a strong, resilient, dent-proof and easily repairable wood.

Shipping containers stacked at the yard. Image credit: Flickr
Shipping containers stacked at the yard. Image credit: Flickr

Most empty containers get deposited at depots and yards. Container presence across the world is not balanced and they are, therefore, shipped empty or semi-filled to places with deficits. This results in substantial wastage of money and time. If the whole shifting process is not worth it, the containers end up serving as mobile housing, medical clinics, cafes, temporary shops, etc.    

Containers typically have a double-door design on one end. When closed, a rubber seal between the doors ensures an environment-proof protection. Modern shipping containers are made from high-quality metal, such as weathering steel. The steel body is robust enough to withstand movement. High-quality factory paint ensures the container lives through marine life.              

There are different kinds of shipping containers:

i) Intermodal Container – A standardized and widely used container. It’s synonymous with shipping containers.

ii) Wooden Box – A wooden box used for storage or shipping.

iii) Crate – A wooden shipping container, much larger than the wooden box.

iv) Bulk box – Used for storing and shipping items in large quantities.

v) Drum – Cylindrically-shaped container used for storing and transporting powders and liquids.

vi) Pail – A bucket-like small container with a handle.

Malcolm McLean, referred to as the “father of containerization”, invented and patented the container in 1956. Before shipping containers, commercial goods were transported in sacks, bales, or barrels carried using cargo hooks, pulleys, and labor. Shipping containers became popular as earlier carriers were less safe and secure.