Types of Containers for Shipping

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Shipping containers can be loaded onto ships, trains and airplanes.
Shipping containers can be loaded onto ships, trains and airplanes. (Image: Felipe Dupouy/Lifesize/Getty Images)

Large quantities of bulk items require a container that suits the nature of the cargo, therefore shipping containers come in a range of sizes and designs. There are a few key factors that affect the type of shipping container, including shipping destination, weight and size of the shipment and special needs of the item. Containers can be modified to an individual's needs or chosen from a selection of uniform types.

ISO Containers

Typical shipping containers are known as ISO containers. They can be used by rail, ship or truck and are specially designed to fit in standard shipping processes worldwide. The most common type of ISO container is a top-loading container. This type of container opens from the top and is used for heavy items. Flat racks are also used for heav, bulky items, particularly ones that are harder to move.

Unit Load Device

A Unit Load Device, or ULD, is the type of container that is used to ship cargo on a commercial aircraft. Typical cargo includes mail, luggage and freight. ULDs are used for both wide-body aircraft and narrow-body aircraft and can contain a large quantity of cargo. The size of these units makes the ULD particularly useful because it means that fewer units are needed. Each unit has its own tracking identification to improve identification.

Insulated Shipping Containers

Some sensitive cargo, such as food, may need to be shipped in an insulated shipping container. These containers are specifically designed to control the temperature of the cargo, which helps to maintain product freshness. Pharmaceuticals and chemicals are shipped using these containers. They can be used on ships and trains, and the exterior resembles a medium-size steel drum. An insulated container might also contain a vacuum flask, similar to a thermos bottle, to keep cargo well insulated.

Intermediate Bulk Shipping Container

An intermediate bulk shipping container, or tank, is used to transport liquids and gases. They are either made of plastic or steel and are generally cubic in form. The shape of these containers allows more material to be stacked in the same area. The inside of the container is lined with plastic and there is usually a tap-like system to allow the liquid to be dispensed quickly.

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