Everything You Need to Know about Storage Containers

Storage Containers

Francis Lanvin, NegosentroThe shipping industry has used steel containers for decades now. A shipment gets transported using different modes of transportation. The process could begin at a plant somewhere in a city’s industrial area. A manufacturer packs cargo inside a metal container. Workers seal it before a forklift carries the box to the back of a trailer.

Loading and offloading

The trailer transports the load via a road network all the way to the port. Massive cranes lift the container from the truck and load it onto a ship. After several weeks on the high seas, the ship docks and the steel container is offloaded. This time around, the cargo gets transported by rail.

Intermodal system

In a nutshell, that is how containers help to carry cargo through a multimodal system referred to as intermodalism. The theory holds that by carrying cargo through different modes of transport from initial loading to the final destination, you improve efficiency.


To achieve efficiency, you must have an integrated transport chain. You do not just put cargo into a container and dispatch it to a destination. The players along the chain; train and truck operators, port terminals and ship owners must be in one page. The process is seamless meaning that every mode of transport should handle the container before passing it on to the next.

For a smooth process, makers of storage containers standardized them. Eventually, the boxes could stack neatly on ships. Besides, specially built cranes could lift the container from a ship to the back of a truck or a flatbed wagon.

In the 60s, shipping companies discussed and agreed on the way to standardize containers. Before long, the international standardization body (ISO) gave directions on the recognized sizes for shipping containers. These are:

  • 20-foot
  • 40-foot

In transport industry jargon, the steel boxes bear the names twenty-foot equivalent and forty-foot equivalent units respectively. Most consigners prefer using the latter.

Container types

The primary material used in the construction of vessels is steel or aluminum. The size is as per the ISO standards and hence the reason why the other name for these boxes is ISO containers. Other requirements stipulate that the weight of cargo in a container be established at the port before it is loaded to a ship.

However, there are different types of these containers as listed below:

  • Standard
  • Open-end
  • Open-side
  • Open-top
  • Half-height
  • Flat rack
  • Refrigerated
  • Liquid bulk
  • Modular

Machinery, logs and other goods with an odd size use open-top containers. Flat racks are ideal for machinery, vehicles, boats and other equipment. Vegetables go into open-sides while liquid bulk containers carry oil, wine, chemicals and other types of fluids.


Every container manufactured has a number. No two boxes can have the same number. They are also known as box numbers. They help in identification and tracking. Ship captains, customs officers, dock workers and warehousing personnel use the number to track inventory. You can track a container’s location through its box number.