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Different Container Types and Their Uses

Size and types of containers, and what they are used for.

This is by no means all encompassing.Shipping containers

Size of containers – these days the smallest size is a 20′ (or 6meter) container – commonly referred to as a TEU (twenty equivalent unit). Or there is a 40′ (or 12 meter) container – commonly referred to as a FEU (forty equivalent unit). The days of 10′ containers or less on any trades are long gone.

Container vessel sizes are normally described in TEU terms – eg 3500 teu – regardless of the quantity of FEU or otherwise that the vessel can carry.

Some trades and ports cater for 45′ containers, but not in Australia except for some domestic rail operators.

Types of containers.

The vast majority of cargo is transported in GP (general purpose) containers which are fully enclosed units with doors at one end only. These containers can be 20′ or 40′ long, are 8′ wide, and normally 8’6″ high externally. HC (high cube) containers are 9’6″ high – readily available for 40′ long containers, but 20’HC containers are not available from all shipping lines or all trades. You will need to consider internal dimensions, door openings and cargo weight in all cases.

Open Top containers come as either 20′ or 40′ in length. These are similar to GP containers except that they do not have a hard fixed roof. These are often used for machinery or similar items that can only be lifted at the shipper or the consignee by an overhead crane. And cargo can be either in or out of gauge; in gauge meaning that the cargo is below the height on the container, and out of gauge (OOG) is higher than the actual container.

Flat Rack containers are just that – they only comprise a container base and ends that can be either folded down or left in place. These can be either 20′ or 40′ in length. Mostly these are used for machinery or similar cargo that will not fit into GP containers. The cargo can be overdimensional in any or all ways. the main consideration is the securing of the cargo and subsequent lifting and handling of this type of container and cargo.

Refrigerated containers – commonly referred to as Reefer containers. These are either 20′ or 40′ insulated units with a refrigeration unit that can be set at a temperature suitable for the cargo – hard frozen or simply temperature controlled – e.g wine, beer, butter, ice cream, dairy products and so on.

ISO tanks – these are always 20′ cylindrical tanks in a square framework to fit into the vessel slots. These are commonly used for commodities such as wine in bulk, or chemicals in bulk, and can also be temperature controlled to suit the cargo.