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Standard Shipping Containers
Shipping Containers are by their very nature “Standard”. The design is regulated by ISO (International Standards Organisation). Containers “standardised” carriage of freight, starting from the 1950's and really taking hold in the 1960’s, not least because of the Vietnam war.
But like almost everything that is standard, there are variations.
Container sizes are usually defined by the length (external dimensions) e.g. 20ft or 40ft. The second variant is the height, most commonly 8ft 6ins but with 9ft 6ins becoming more common. The width is generally 8ft but can also be 2.5m. Mixing of measurements between imperial feet and inches and metric is common when discussing containers.
Weight capacities are also standard but with some variations.
The information here is intended to give guidance which will help when considering one of the almost infinite applications for a standard shipping container.
ISO 6346 - Shipping Container Identification Standard
Looking for information on ISO 6346 standard which governs shipping container identification? Click here.
Standard Shipping Container Doors
The doors of a standard shipping container are double doors fitted into one end and hinged so as to maximise the size of the opening when both doors are open and swung back. The doors swing back on the hinges almost 270° and can be secured to the sides of the container. The doors are secured in the closed position by two locking locking bars on each door which rotate so that handles drop into keepers and the locking bars are secured by cams top and bottom. The doors are sealed all of the way around with rubber seal, which means that the container is sealed against external conditions.
Cut down containers are often fitted with doors manufactured to a lesser specificationThan original shipping container doors. The steel will often be of a lower gauge (thickness), the seals may be a lower specification, and there may be only one locking bar per door. It is also worth noting that because of the way they are fitted and the fact that the structural integrity of the container has changed these doors can never be as good as original doors though this is not to say that they are not fit for purpose e.g. for use as a store.
Container stores can also be fitted with fabricated single steel doors (or personnel doors). These can be fitted anywhere in the container that they are required. Although they do not provide the same width of access as double doors they can be very convenient and easier to open and close.
Whichever type of door is fitted the entrance to a container involves a step of about 8 inches (203mm). This needs to be borne in mind if wheeled access is required such as by forklift truck or for storage of a car. A ramp is generally required.
Container Construction Materials
Contemporary shipping containers are manufactured to a very high standard utilising quality materials such as Corten Steel. The paint is also of a high quality and applied in factory conditions. Door components such as seals and locking bars are also quality. The container is designed for a life in a marine environment and is manufactured accordingly. This means that containers are generally over-specified for use as a store but it does mean that they have a very long life in this application.
History of Shipping Containers
Malcolm McLean "the father of containersization", from the USA invented and patented the first shipping container in 1956. Owner of the largest trucking company at the time, he aimed to increase efficiency and load time by implementing a standard loading system from truck to warehouse. After Malcolm purchased new company Pan Atlantic Tanker Company, he experimented with various sizes and materials until settling on what we now know as a standard shipping container in 1956.
Globally accepted in a short period of time, McLeans invention changed shipping cost per ton to load from $5.86 to a mere 16 cents. He was awarded “Man of the Century” by the international Maritime Hall of Fame and has surely changed the face of transport forever.