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15 Types of Container Units for Shipping Cargo

The ocean moves over 90% of the world’s goods, and most of these sea shipments move in containers. To accommodate the wide variety of goods, there are different types of shipping containers, each used to serve a specific purpose. 

These containers play an integral role in global trade and ensure that cargo makes it to its destination in one piece. Let’s take a look at some of the most commonly used types of shipping containers: 

1.  Dry storage container

Dry storage containers are also known as general-purpose containers and are the most widely used containers. They are fully enclosed, have a robust roof, floor and sidewalls. 

These containers come in various sizes standardised by the ISO. Typically, their sizes are 20 ft, 40ft and 10ft. Dry containers also come with specific adaptations, such as liner bags for shipping liquid bulk cargo. 

2. Flat rack container

Flat rack containers have collapsible slides, which makes it possible to store a wide range of cargo. The sides of the container can be folded to make a flat rack. In these containers, the end walls are sturdy and stable enough to secure the cargo in place. 

These containers are ideal for oversized cargo such as construction materials, heavy machinery, vehicles, etc. 

3. Open top container

Open top containers are built so that its top can be removed entirely to accommodate cargo of any height easily. 

They are suitable for tall machinery or other bulky goods that cannot be loaded through the container’s door. In the case of such cargo, with the help of a crane or rolling bridge, goods can be directly loaded into the container from the top. These containers are available in 40′ and 20′ and have lashing rings installed. These rings are attached to the upper and lower side rails and corner posts to secure the cargo. 

4. Tunnel container

As the name suggests, tunnel containers have doors on both ends. It facilitates easy and quick loading and unloading of cargo. They are instrumental in shipping steel or other heavy metals as the open doors allow more space. 

Both ends of the container have a robust locking mechanism and weather tight seals to keep cargo protected during transit.

5. Open side storage container

Open side storage containers are provided with doors that can change into entirely open sides. They thus offer a much wider room for the loading of materials. The units are quite similar to the regular dry containers but what sets them apart is that their doors can open entirely on the side too. 

These boxes typically are available in 20′ and 40′ and are used for goods that can’t easily pass through regular doors. 

6. Refrigerated ISO containers

Refrigerated ISO containers are temperature regulated shipping containers. A low controlled temperature is maintained in these containers. They are mainly used to transport perishables such as fruits, meat and vegetables and pharmaceutical goods that require a temperature-controlled environment. 

Also known as reefers, they usually come in 20’ and 40. They are commonly made from weathering steel known as ‘Cor-ten’ steel.

7. Insulated or thermal containers

Thermal containers are storage units that allow regulated temperature control making it possible to maintain a higher temperature.

The material inside the container is such that it can easily sustain high temperatures without getting damaged. 

The units are equipped with electrical compliance to heat the air within the container.  They are used for long-distance transportation of products such as foods, biological materials, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, etc.

8. Tanks

Tanks are primarily used to transport liquid materials in bulk. These containers are made of robust still or other anti-corrosive materials to ensure durability and protection of the materials being transported. 

9.  Cargo storage roll container

These containers are foldable and specially made to transport goods in sets or stacks. Thick or strong wire mesh and rollers are used to make these units, facilitating easy movement of goods. 

10. Half height containers

As the name suggests, these containers are mostly made of steel half the usual full-sized containers’ height. They’re widely used to transport goods in bulk, such as coal, iron ore, stones, etc., which require easy loading and unloading. 

As these containers have a low centre of gravity, they can better handle heavier loads than taller containers. This makes them suitable to withstand the harsh industrial environment. 

11.  Car carriers

Car carriers are container storage units specially built for transporting cars or vehicles over long distances. They are provided with collapsible sides that help a vehicle fit inside the containers without the risk of damage or moving from the spot while in transit. 

12. Intermediate bulk shift containers

Intermediate bulk shift containers are storage shipping containers built solely for the intermediate shipping of goods. 

They are designed to handle goods in bulk and made specifically for shipping materials to a destination.  

13. Drums

As the name suggests, drums are circular storage units made from steel, fibre, rigid plastic, lightweight metals, etc. 

They are widely used for the bulk transport of liquid materials. They are smaller in size but occupy more space on a vessel due to their shape. 

14.  Special purpose containers

These containers are made to meet specific purposes. These custom made containers are used for high profile services like the shipment of weapons and arson. 

The material used in their construction depends on the purpose they need to cater to. 

15.  Swap bodies

Swap bodies containers are exchangeable units used for road and rail transport. Commonly used in Europe, they have a convertible top, which makes them suitable for shipping a wide variety of goods. 

However, these units do not have upper corner fittings and are not stackable. Thus, they are restricted to land transportation only. 

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