If you’re in the business of international shipping, it’s important to know the different types of containers available to you. There are many factors to consider when choosing the right container for your cargo, including weather conditions and the type of product you’re shipping. In this blog post, we’ll introduce you to 24 different types of containers used in international shipping. With this information, you’ll be able to choose the right container for your next shipment with confidence.
Shipping containers are a key element in international shipping, responsible for carrying large amounts of cargo around the world. Though their size and durability makes them ideal for this purpose, containers must be carefully packed to ensure that the items inside are not damaged during transit. By understanding how to best use shipping containers, businesses can save money on transportation costs and take advantage of global trade opportunities.
Types of shipping containers
1. Intermodal Containers
Intermodal containers are containers that can be used in multiple modes of transportation, such as ship, rail, and truck. These containers are large in size and often standardized in design, which makes them ideal for transporting cargo across different types of transport. Intermodal containers are a versatile and convenient option for shipping cargo internationally.
Types of intermodal containers:
General Purpose container / Standard containers
General purpose containers, also known as standard containers, are the most commonly used type of shipping container. They are large and durable, made from weather-resistant steel with reinforced corners that allow them to be stacked up to eight containers high. General purpose containers can be used for a variety of cargo, making them a versatile option for international shipping. There are several types of general purpose containers, including refrigerated containers, side-open containers, and double-door containers.
Dry freight containers / Dry Storage containers
Dry freight containers, also known as dry storage containers, are containers that are airtight and do not have a ventilation system. They cannot be used to transport liquid goods. Dry freight containers are commonly used to ship nonperishable goods. The dimensions and types of the containers are standardized, but the variations can be as per the customizations made by the owner or the provider.
Insulated or Thermal container
Insulated containers are mostly classified based on their insulations. There are three commonly used insulations for containers: Spray Foam Insulation, Fiberglass Insulation and Rigid Foam.
- Spray Foam Insulation is a liquid that when sprayed expands to completely seal the openings to the container surfaces. It is one of the most commonly opted solutions for insulated containers.
- Fiberglass Insulation creates a thermal protection layer in a boxed enclosure using fiberglass insulation. This insulation is cost-effective and easy to install.
- Rigid Foam uses foam panels that are fit inside the container with the help of adhesive or sidebars. This type of insulation is chosen for space management as it helps to free up
Open top containers / Hardtop containers
Open top containers are a type of shipping container that has an opening at the top. This makes them ideal for carrying larger loads than other types of containers, though they are also more expensive. The opening at the top is usually covered with tarpaulin or rubber, and the floor is made of wood. Open top containers are commonly used to transport raw mining materials, pipes, tools, cable spools, cables, bulky non-uniform cargo, logs, and scrap metal.
Flat rack containers
A flat rack container is a specialized container with walls only at short ends. These containers are employed when the cargo is loaded from the top or sides because of its dimensions. Flat rack containers are usually used to transport very bulky cargo, such as machinery, timber, buses, and boats. There are two types of flat rack containers: non-collapsible and collapsible. Non-collapsible flat racks have fixed walls at both the short ends and higher top load, while collapsible flat racks have collapsible walls, which makes it easier to transport cargo.
Reefer container / Refrigerated ISO containers
Reefer containers are specifically designed to transport temperature-sensitive cargo. This type of container is essentially a large fridge with temperature control, and is often used to transport perishable items like fruits, vegetables, meat, seafood, dairy, pharmaceuticals, and flowers. There are five main types of reefer containers: closed reefers, modified/controlled atmosphere (MA/CA) reefers, automatic fresh air management containers (AFAM), cryogenic cooling reefers, and redundant refrigeration reefers. Each type has its own advantages and disadvantages, so it’s important to choose the right one for your particular needs.
Tank containers / Tanks
There are various types of tank containers available for transporting hazardous and non-hazardous products. The most common type is the stainless steel tank container, which is typically filled to 80% of its capacity to prevent spillage during transportation. These containers have a layer of insulation to keep contents at a consistent temperature, and an outer protective layer made up of either polyurethane or aluminum. The capacity range of these containers is between 10,000 to 26,000 liters, with a maximum gross weight of 30 tonnes.
Other types of tank containers include baffle tanks, lined tanks, heated tanks, refrigerated or cool tank containers, and gas tanks. Each type is designed for specific types of products and environments.
High cube containers
High cube containers are the most commonly used containers for international shipping, as they offer more space than standard containers. Their extra height makes them ideal for carrying larger cargo, and they can be made from either steel or aluminum. There are several different types of high cube containers, including refrigerated, side open, double door, and pallet wide containers.
Double Door containers / Tunnel containers
Double door containers, also known as tunnel containers, are a modified version of the standard general purpose containers with doors at both short ends. When both doors are opened, these containers resemble a tunnel, hence the name. These containers are built from aluminum or steel and are a good choice for quick loading, unloading, and sorting of goods. They can also be repurposed as general-purpose dry containers by closing one of the doors permanently. There are four types of double door containers: standard, high cube, side open, and reefer.
Open side storage containers / Side door containers
Side door containers, also called open side containers, are a type of container used for easy loading/unloading of cargo that does not fit from the shorter end, oversized cargo. These containers have doors on the longer side of the container and two pairs of doors, normal doors with the breadth and special doors along the length of the containers. The doors of these containers are manufactured from steel or tarpaulin for high durability and tensile strength. To make the container moisture-proof, rubber seals are fitted along the length of the opening. Side door containers come in three types: standard side door containers, side door high cube containers, and side door reefer containers.
If you’re in the business of shipping large quantities of paper goods, you’ll want to become familiar with Stora Enso Cargo Units (SECUs). These containers were invented by the Finnish forest and Paper Company and are specifically designed to ship bulk cargo via rail or sea. Because they are larger than standard containers, SECUs can carry more product units, which reduces handling costs. Keep in mind, however, that because of their size and weight, SECUs can only be transported by railway or ferry – not by road. So if you’re planning on using SECUs for your shipping needs, be sure to have the proper infrastructure in place.
2. Ocean freight containers
There are two main types of ocean freight containers – dry van and reefer. Dry van containers are used for general or dry freight and are made from aluminum or steel. They are watertight with no ventilation system and doors on one side. Reefer containers are refrigerated containers used to transport temperature-sensitive cargo like food products, beverages, and chemicals. There are several types of reefer containers based on the method of cooling, such as closed reefer tanks, modified atmosphere reefer tanks, and cryogenic cooling reefer tanks.
3. Other container types
Drum Containers / Cylindrical containers
Drum containers, also known as cylindrical containers, are made of steel, fiber, or hard plastic. They are strong and durable, making them ideal for storing and shipping bulk cargo like liquids and powders. Drum containers come in two main types: Open Top and Welded Top. Both types are used for all liquids that are dangerous or highly flammable. Open Top containers can store up to 208 liters of liquid and are 35’ tall with a diameter of 24’.
Swap body Containers / Swap bodies
Swap Body containers are a type of intermodal container that can be used for both rail and road transport. They have foldable legs that allow them to be supported in between transportation modes. Swap bodies are widely used in Europe and are open from the top. They cannot be stacked on top of each other like standard shipping containers because of their different wall strengths. Swap Body containers are lighter and less expensive than standard shipping containers. Swap bodies come in a variety of sizes with varying numbers of doors or sliding panels. Some even have keyholes for expanded usage as cargo nets or shoring bars.
A half-height container is a general-purpose container that is only half the height of a standard container. These containers have a lower center of gravity and are stronger overall, making them ideal for transporting heavy loads such as ore, gravel, sand, and machinery. Half-height containers are only available in open-top formats, with no top, removable hardtop, or removable soft top. They also have smooth, lined internal walls that make filling and emptying them easy.
Car carrier containers
Car containers are designed to carry cars internationally via rail or road transportation. In some exceptional cases, cars can also be shipped via sea route on a RORO (Roll On Roll Off) shipping arrangement. The name may be suggesting a car however, any type of vehicle or automobile can be shipped via car carrier with minor adjustments.
Car carrier containers are dry containers that are available in two sizes i.e. 20ft and 40ft. Selecting the type of car carrier depends on the number and types of cars to be transported.
Cargo storage roll containers
Cargo storage roll containers, also known as bulk containers, are specialized foldable containers used for the transportation of sets or stacks of materials. These containers are made up of thick and strong wire mesh with rollers at the bottom, allowing them to move freely and easily. While their transportation and manufacturing can be expensive, they can be very useful for certain types of goods. Variations in cargo storage roll containers depend on the number of close sides and the material used for manufacturing the same.
Intermediate bulk shift containers
Intermediate bulk containers, or IBCs, are large containers designed to hold and transport liquids or powders. IBCs are typically made of stainless steel or plastic and range in size from 275 to 330 gallons. IBCs are often used to transport chemicals, solvents, pharmaceuticals, food ingredients, and other materials.
There are three main types of IBCs: rigid, folding, and flexible. Rigid IBCs are the most common type and are made of either stainless steel or plastic. Folding IBCs are made of a flexible material that can be folded for storage or transporting. Flexible IBCs are made of a soft material that is easily collapsible.
Pallet wide containers
Pallet wide containers are specially designed to accommodate a large number of Euro pallets. These containers are slightly wider than standard ISO containers, both internally and externally, allowing them to accommodate more pallets. There are three general types of PW containers: 20′, 40′, and 45′. Each type can accommodate more Euro pallets than a standard container of the same size. These containers are ideal for shipping large quantities of goods or materials.
Special purpose containers
Special purpose containers are customized containers that are designed for a specific cargo transfer. These containers can come in any shape or dimension according to the requirement of the shipment item.
Most companies avoid using special purpose containers as their manufacturing and transportation is quite expensive. However, for companies that need to transport unique or delicate items, special purpose containers may be the best option to ensure safe delivery.