Containerization is a method of distributing merchandise in a unitized form, thereby permitting an intermodal transport system to be developed providing a possible combination of rail, road, canal, and maritime transport.


Back in 1956, most cargoes got loaded and unloaded manually and individually by longshoremen. At that time, loading a vessel by hand cost $5.86 a ton. The implementation of containers reduced costs enormously – reducing them down significantly to 16 cents per ton, a 36-fold saving, and also the time it took to perform this previously time-consuming manual process.

The container market was slow to develop initially, only coming into its own in the late 1960s, and this was likely due to the following reasons:

  • few ports had cranes to lift containers on, and off, vessels
  • the industry was notoriously steeped in tradition
  • unions resisted change, considering it a threat to their livelihood


As the container industry expanded at an exponential rate, numerous but meaningful questions got raised. These pertained to:

  • the future of trade growth – globalization and trade policy
  • containerization trends and evolving consumer habits
  • the sources of value add – scale, flexibility, consolidation and integration, productivity, more predictable supply chains, environmental performance
  • how industry leaders can evolve to capture opportunities
  • will players become more vertically integrated, or will “digital natives” reshape the industry

Of course, no one has this advanced knowledge, so, we can only imagine and consider the implications of each.


The main advantages of containerization are:

  • The container is a standard transport product that can be handled anywhere in the world (ISO standard) through specialized modes (ships, trucks, barges, and wagons), equipment, and terminals
  • Flexibility
  • Costs
  • Velocity
  • Warehousing
  • Security and safety.


From the appearance of the first units in the 50s to the present day, a great variety of maritime and multimodal containers have emerged as a response from the logistics chain to ensure the correct handling of loads. Important points to keep in mind:

  • The size and weight of the load;
  • The solid or liquid nature of the cargo;
  • The degree of standardization of the cargo;
  • The type of crane and spreader required for that cargo
  1. Flat rack container: A flat rack container has no top and only two sides. This makes room for heavy loads to be set on the rack from above or from the side.
  2. Dry storage container: Dry storage containers are the most common containers used in the shipping industry. They come in lengths of 20, 40, and 45 feet, and they are designed to transport dry goods.
  3. Open-top container: This type of container is basically a Dry Storage type but without a top. This allows for easy loading of bulk cargo. There is a roof structure, plastic, that can be secured to the container with ropes, and that provides protection against rain and other forms of precipitation.
  4. Refrigerated ISO containers: A refrigerated container or reefer is an intermodal container used in intermodal freight transport that is refrigerated for the transportation of temperature-sensitive cargo.
  5. Open-side storage container: An open-side container has one long side that can completely open. This is beneficial for wide merchandise that may be difficult to get through the end of a tunnel container or dry storage container.
  6. ISO Tanks: Tanks are storage containers designed to hold liquids. They are usually constructed out of anti-corrosive materials because of the chemicals they are used to carrying.
  7. Special purpose containers: Special purpose containers can be made in nearly any shape or dimension. They are used for transporting items that require a custom container to be made for them.
  8. Half-height containers: Made mostly of steel, these containers are half the height of full-sized containers. Used especially for goods like coal, stones, etc. From experience, it has been noticed that these are the most commonly used types of containers among the others.

The arrival of containers and intermodality revolutionized the shipping industry. Containers could be efficiently stacked, allowing more and more goods transported across the seas. Labor costs dropped dramatically and, since containers were sealed, theft declined.


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