Shipping container

This article is about packaging in general. For 20- and 40-ft-long metal boxes, see intermodal container.

A shipping container is a container with strength suitable to withstand shipment, storage, and handling. Shipping containers range from large reusable steel boxes used for intermodal shipments to the ubiquitous corrugated boxes. In the context of international shipping trade, "container" or "shipping container" is virtually synonymous with "(standard) intermodal freight container" (a container designed to be moved from one mode of transport to another without unloading and reloading).[1]

Types of shipping containers

Intermodal freight containers

A Flatcar with a 20 ft tanktainer and an open-top 20 ft container with canvas cover

Freight containers are a reusable transport and storage unit for moving products and raw materials between locations or countries. There are about seventeen million intermodal containers in the world, and a large proportion of the world's long-distance freight generated by international trade is transported in shipping containers. In addition, it's estimated that several million of these containers have now been discarded due to the shipping cost of sending them back to their port of origin. Their invention made a major contribution to the globalization of commerce in the second half of the 20th century, dramatically reducing the cost of transporting goods and hence of long-distance trade.[2][3]

Corrugated box

Main article: corrugated fiberboard

Corrugated boxes are commonly used as shipping containers. They are made of corrugated fiberboard which is lightweight, recyclable, and strong enough to ship a variety of products.

Wooden box

Main article: Wooden box

Wooden boxes are often used for shipping heavy and dense products. They are sometimes specified for shipments of government or military shipments.


Main article: crate

A crate is a large container, often made of wood, used to transport large, heavy or awkward items. A crate has a self-supporting structure, with or without sheathing.

Intermediate bulk shipping container

A typical IBC

An Intermediate bulk container (IBC) is a container used for transport and storage of fluids and bulk materials. The construction may be plastic, composite, steel, stainless steel, etc. Some are foldable (collapsable).

Flexible Intermediate Bulk Container

A Flexible Intermediate Bulk Container, FIBC, big bag, bulk bag, or super sack is a standardized container in large dimensions for storing and transporting and storing granular products. It is often made of a woven synthetic material.

Bulk box

Main article: Bulk box

A bulk box, bulk bin, skid box, or tote box is a pallet size box used for storage and shipping of bulk quantities.


Main article: Drum (container)
Example of steel drum

Drums are cylindrical shipping containers made of steel, plastic or fiber. They are often used for liquids and granular materials.

Insulated shipping containers

Insulated shipping containers are a type of packaging used to ship temperature sensitive products such as foods, pharmaceuticals, and chemicals. They are used as part of a cold chain to help maintain product freshness and efficacy.


Main article: Pail (container)

Some pails are used as shipping containers.

Unit load device

A "LD3-45" unit load device on a trailer.

A Unit Load Device, or ULD, is a container used to transport cargo on commercial aircraft.

A ULD can be a pallet or container used to load luggage, freight, and mail on wide-body aircraft and specific narrow-body aircraft. It allows a large quantity of cargo to be bundled into a single unit. Since this leads to fewer units to load, it saves ground crews time and effort and helps prevent delayed flights. Each ULD has its own packing list, manifest, or tracking identification to improve control and tracking of contents

Specialized shipping containers

A container for shipping weapons, with carrying handles

Custom containers are used for shipments of products such as weapons and aviation components. Customized cushioning, blocking and bracing, carrying handles, lift rings, locks, etc. are common to facilitate handling and to protect the contents. Often, these shipping containers are reusable.

Specialized shipping containers include: High Cube Containers (Providing an extra 1 ft in height to standard shipping containers), pallet wides, open tops, side loaders, double door or tunnel-tainers and temperature controlled containers.

Another specialized container known as Transtainer is a portable fuel and oil freight container. The hybrid bulk fuel tank is originally intended for the construction, mining, logging and farming sectors. The tank can be used to transport and store bulk fuels as well as dangerous liquids, by road, rail and sea.[4]

Transit and Flight Case
Main articles: transit case and flightcase

Flight cases and transit cases are usually custom designed for shipping and carrying fragile equipment: audio visual, camera, instruments, etc. Although generally light in construction, they tend to have reinforced edges and corners.

Road Case
Main article: Road case

Road cases are often used for shipping musical instruments and theater props.

See also


  1. Dictionary of International Trade: "Container: ... must be b) specially designed to facilitate the carriage of goods by one or more modes of transport without intermediate reloading. ... Ocean shipping containers are generally 10, 20, 30, or 40 feet long ... and conform to ISO standards"
  2. Levinson, Marc. "Sample Chapter for Levinson, M.: The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger.". The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger. Princeton University Press. Retrieved 17 February 2013.
  3. Gittins, Ross. "How the invention of a box changed our world – Business –". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 17 February 2013.
  4. Portable fuel, oil freight container
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