Since Malcolm McLean invented and patented the shipping container in 1956, they have revolutionized the logistics industry. Today, over 90 percent of all goods sold worldwide have been transported using one decedent or another of Malcolm's original design.

Here, we will examine the most popular types of shipping containers in use today and explain what distinguishes them.

Container on a trailer.

The Top 10 Common Types of Containers for Transport

  1. Dry storage container

Also known as general-purpose containers, dry storage containers are what most people think of when they picture a shipping container. Commonly found in 20—or 40-foot lengths, they have a set of swinging doors on the end to allow loading and unloading and provide excellent protection.

  1. Flat rack container

The second most popular type of shipping container today is the flat rack container. These are heavy flatbeds with walls at each end. Some may have collapsible or detachable side panels. They are mostly open and ideal for large, oddly shaped cargo such as heavy equipment, steel coils, or vehicles.

  1. Open-top container

An open-top container is a dry storage unit with a convertible top. Moving the roof out of the way makes it possible to load taller-than-normal items with a crane or rolling bridge. They come with large lashing rings mounted along the top and bottom rails that can be used to secure cargo properly.

  1. Open-side storage container

Open-side containers have grown in popularity for transporting goods and for many other uses. In addition to doors on the end, double doors on the side swing out of the way to allow access to almost the entire container length. This allows larger equipment to be used for loading and unloading the container and allows easier access to the stored cargo.

  1. Double-door (tunnel) containers

As the name implies, double-door containers have doors on both ends, forming a tunnel when both sets are open. This makes them easier to load and unload and allows them to be compartmentalized, with different users or purposes on each end.

  1. High cube container

High-cube containers are almost identical to dry storage shipping containers except for one respect. They are one foot taller. This makes them ideal for lighter cargos with greater bulk, as they can utilize the added space without exceeding legal weight limits. Some have a gooseneck recess at the front, allowing them to be built taller but lie lower.

  1. Half-height containers

We have half-height containers moving in the opposite direction from the high cube. As their name states, these are only half as tall as general-purpose shipping containers. Their primary use today is for containerized bulk cargo like coal and stone. They can be moved with standard spreaders and hauled on regular trucks.

  1. ISO Reefer container

ISO refrigerated shipping containers rely on an external power source to run their cooling units. These specialized shipping containers transport perishable products such as fruits, vegetables, medications, and meat that higher temperatures could damage. They are typically constructed of weathering steel commonly referred to by the trademarked name "Cor-ten."

  1. Insulated shipping containers

For example, reefer and insulated shipping containers use a mechanical compressor unit similar to a heat pump to maintain a more constant temperature during transit. Some of these shipping containers are constructed of foam and steel sandwich panels. Still, most are made like vacuum flasks for superior insulating properties and lower operation costs.

  1. ISO Tank containers

Tankers are an entire class of transport containers that can vary widely depending on their intended cargo. LPG and milk have vastly different needs. Generally, these shipping containers are constructed of heavy gauge, anti-corrosive steel. However, aluminum may be used for certain cargo types. Because of the nature of liquids, there are special regulations regarding shipping liquids. They must be at least 80 percent full to avoid weight surges caused by sloshing. At the same time, they cannot be over 95 percent full to allow for thermal expansion. Some types of tanker cargo require specific pressure relief safety equipment.

Shipping containers have been with us for almost seven decades. Our list shows that many specialized container types have been developed to serve the shipping industry's needs better. Regardless of what tomorrow may hold, you can rest assured that logistics companies will continue to evolve the lowly shipping container to meet their clients' ever-changing needs.

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