Discover the Recommended Uses of Common Standardized Shipping Containers

right marine freight container

The trade industry is responsible for providing us with an incredibly valuable service: shipping and delivery. All over the world, import and export services allow for international trade and distribution of merchandise and goods ranging everywhere from high-end luxuries to everyday necessities.

But, how exactly can that be achieved with all the different customs and languages that may be encountered? How can a shipping company in the US be sure that their containers can be received at a port in China?

Standardized Shipping Sizes

In the 1960s, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) was created with the sole purpose of creating consistent sizes that can be used internationally. They provide specifications for things such as intermodal shipping containers, which visit many different countries in their lifetime. Known as the Incoterms, it helps reduces confusion amongst importer/exporters, distributors, manufacturers, and transport companies. In the guide below, we will explore the various standardized shipping containers mostly commonly used in the international trade industry.

Please keep in mind that there is an incredibly wide variety of containers used in marine transportation and, while their specifications are virtually standardized worldwide, the possibility exists that individual container manufacturers and shipping lines may offer specifications that vary slightly from those we will be covering.

General Sizing Information

As specified by the ISO 668, the following image lists the standardized specifications for the various sizes of shipping containers that can be used by marine freight import/export companies. It works in conjunction with ISO 1496, which specifies the internal dimensions and door openings for General Purpose Containers.

The following list touches on the various types of freight containers that can be used for international marine trade and shipping. When planning your ocean shipping services, it is important to select the correct container for your needs. Need help? Promptus LLC can offer their expertise to help simplify international shipping.

General Purpose Container

The general purpose container is suitable for general cargo, as the name describes, and can be used to house a variety of goods. The container comes in two standardized sizes: 20’ and 40’. They are both 8’ 6” tall and can be defined by ISO size type 22G0 & 22G1 and 42G0 & 42G1, respectively. In addition, these containers offer the following features:

  • Can be lined with bag ideal for bulk cargo, such as malt. (20’ only)
  • Features forklift pockets on many available containers.
  • Multiple lashing devices with an allowable load of 2,205lbs (1,000 kg) on the top and the bottom rails (running lengthwise) as well as the corner posts.

High Cube General Purpose Container

Similar to the above general purpose container, this particular transport device is slightly taller at 9’ 6” and comes in two standardized sizes: 40’ and 45’. The ISO size types for these containers are 45G0 & 45G1 and L5G0 & L5G1, respectively. Additionally, these containers offer the following features:

  • Idea for light, capacious cargo
  • Ideal for over-height cargo reaching a maximum height of 8’ 10 ¼” (2.70m)
  • Multiple lashing devices with an allowable load of 2,205lbs (1,000 kg) on the top and the bottom rails (running lengthwise) as well as the corner posts.
  • Recommended for inland transportation.

Hardtop Container

As the name describes, this transport container has a reinforced top. It is available in two different lengths: 20’ and 40’. Both sizes are 8’ 6” tall. The 20’ and 40’ sizes are defined in the ISO size types 22U6 and 42U6, respectively. These containers have the following features and recommendations:

  • Ideal for heavy loads, especially cargo that is excessively high, and top loading cargo – accessible through the roof opening and door sides.
  • Steel roof with rings so they can be removed easily with a forklift.
  • In the event of over-height cargo, the roof sections offer the option to lash to the sidewall, taking up only 13cm of space.
  • Disposable tarpaulins can be fastened to the exterior walls using lashing devices.
  • Forklifts with a front axle not exceeding 16,000lbs (7,280 kg) can be used inside the container.
  • A variety of lashing devices can be used in conjunction with the hardtop container, such as on the corner posts and horizontal (lengthwise) roof and floor rails (holds up to 4,410 lbs or 2,000kg) or the middle of the side walls (holds up to 1,100 lbs or 500 kg).
  • The 40’ container is recommended for use of goods that do not comfortably fit in the 20’ container.

High Cube Hardtop Container

This is the High Cube version of the Hardtop Containers described above. Essentially, this container is recommended for taller loads that require a reinforced top. The high cube container is 9’ 6” tall and is available in a 40’ model.

This model is recommended for all the same uses as the above-referenced Hardtop Container, though it is used when the cargo is excessively high and will not comfortably fit in the 8-foot-tall model. In addition to those recommendations and features, this model also offers:

  • An expandable roof that can be raised up to 2¾” (70 mm) using roof-locking devices. This allows the door-header to be swung open without having to remove the roof.

Open Top Container

Again, as the name describes, this container opens from the top, allowing for easier loading and accommodating of certain cargos. The container is 8 ‘ 6” high and is available in two sizes: 20’ and 40’ long. The ISO size types for these containers can be found in 22U1 and 42UI, respectively. These containers are recommended for the following uses and offer the following features:

  • Ideal for cargo that is overheight, or cargo that needs to be loaded top side or door side, usually using a crane or forklift.
  • The door header can be swung open, allowing for easier loading and unloading.
  • Disposable tarpaulins can be fastening on the exterior walls using lashing bars. One-way tarpaulins will require access to the corner castings.
  • Forklift pockets on many available containers.
  • All open top containers allow capacity for forklift trucks, exceeding the ISO standard by 33%.
  • Lashing devices are located on the top and bottom rails (running lengthwise) as well as the corner posts. These devices hold up to 2,205 lbs (1,000 kg) each.

Flat

Unlike the others we have covered in this guide, this shipping device is the only “container” that is completely open. It is outfitted with a reinforced bottom and two fixed walls at either end. The flat rack is available in a 20’ option that reaches 8‘ 6” tall. The ISO size type for this rack is 22P3 and 22P8. In addition to its open-side design, this shipping container offers the following features and recommendations:

  • Ideal for exceptionally heavy and overwidth goods and cargo.
  • Many brands include forklift pockets for increased portability.
  • Durable lashing devices included on the corner posts, longitudinal rails, and on the floor of the flat. The rails that run lengthwise can withstand up to 4,410 lbs (2,000kg) or 8,820 lbs (4,000kg), respectively.
  • Must be used for payloads that can be distributed over the total floor area, as a heavy load concentrated in one particular area can cause an imbalance.
  • Flats are typically delivered without stanchions or support poles, but they can be requested with an authorized representative or distributor.

High Cube Flat

This is the high cube version of the flat rack described above. The high cube flat’s end walls reach 9’ 6” tall and it is currently available in a 40’ model.

This option is suitable for all the same needs as the above-referenced flat, though it is recommended for use when cargo is excessively high and needs to be stacked higher than allowed with the 8’ model. In addition to those recommendations and features, this model also offers:

  • A gooseneck tunnel on either end.

Platform

Similar to the flat rack, this shipping device features a reinforced bottom, however, this model has no surrounding side or end walls. Platform containers are best suited to transport awkward cargo that cannot be comfortably enclosed in other container devices like an open top or flat rack. The platform is available is a 20’ and 40’ model and the ISO size type can be found at 29P0 and 49P0, respectively. This shipping “container” offers the following features and recommendations:

  • Ideal for heavy loads and oversized cargoes.
  • 40-foot platforms have a gooseneck tunnel on either end.
  • Many brands offer reinforced lashing devices on the longitudinal rails, which can withstand weights up to 6,615 lbs (3,000 kg) each.
  • Heavy loads can be concentrated in smaller load transfer areas.

Ventilated Container

This is a specialty container, intended for a specific use: to house cargo that requires ventilation during transport. This container is 8’ 6” tall and is available in two standard sizes: 20’ and 40’. The ISO size type for these containers is outlined in 22V0 and 42V0, respectively. These shipping containers offer the following uses and features:

  • Natural ventilation by way of opening running lengthwise across the top and bottom rails. A labyrinth construction prevents damage against weather damage.
  • Lashing devices that can withstand up to 2,205lbs (1,000 kg) each throughout both the top and bottom longitudinal rails as well as the corner posts.

Insulated Container

This container is essentially the opposite of the above-mentioned shipping device and is intended for use with cargo that needs to maintain a constant temperature. The insulated shipping containers are 8’ 6” tall and can be found in two standard sizes: 20’ and 40’. The ISO size type for these containers is 20H0 and 40H0, respectively. These insulated containers offer the following uses and features:

  • Side and end walls feature a “sandwich-construction” using polyurethane foam to maintain temperatures and insulation.
  • Temperature is accurately maintained through two apertures in the front wall. Supply air is fed to the lower opening and return air via the upper opening.
  • Maximum stowage to maintain proper ventilation is clearly indicated by a visible red line within the container.
  • The 20’ container can maintain cargo at temperatures between 54˚F (12˚C) to -14˚F (-25˚C), below or above freezing, as necessary.
  • The 40’ container can maintain cargo at temperatures between 57˚F (13˚C) to -8˚F (-22˚C).

Bulk Container

This container has a similar concept to an open top container, except it uses manholes at the top to load cargo. It is used exclusively to transport dry bulk cargo, such as malt or grain. The containers are available in 20’ sizes and reach 8’ 6” high. The ISO size type is 22B0. Bulk containers offer the following features and recommendations:

  • Three convenient manholes sized 18” (455mm) and located 6’ apart that can be used for top loading.
  • A discharge opening sized 13.5” x 15” (340 x 380mm) in each door wing.
  • A liner bag can be fastened to the interior when necessary.
  • Forklift pockets in most models.
  • Lashing devices available on the top rails running horizontally.

Refrigerated Container

While different than insulated containers, these refrigerated shipping containers can also be used for cargo that needs to maintain a particular temperature. This shipping device is available in a 20’ model that stands 8’ 6” tall. The ISO size type is defined under 22R1 and 22R9. These temperature-controlled containers offer the following features and recommendations:

  • ATO-approved containers that can have controlled fresh-air supply upon request.
  • “Sandwich-construction” on the interior wall using polyurethane foam to ensure temperatures and insulation.
  • A reefer unit with a compact-design compressor unit that features an air-cooled condenser. It can switch from cooling to heating automatically as necessary based on exterior temperatures.
  • A visible red line indicates the maximum stowage allowed to ensure proper ventilation is maintained.
  • Can withstand technical and electric voltages ranging between 380 V/50 Hz to 460 V/60 Hz and 200 V/50 Hz to 220 V/60 Hz.
  • Can be maintained at temperatures between 77˚F (25˚C) to -13˚F (-25˚C) as long as the difference in temperature between the interior and exterior does not exceed 76˚F (42˚C) for heating and 117˚F (65˚) for cooling.

The tank containers are strange-looking contraptions that are used exclusively for certain gases, oils, and liquids, such as chemical products or even food items. For example, flammables, corrosives, or toxic substances can be transported safely with a tank container. They are available in 20’ sizes and can be found in two heights: 8’, outlined in the ISO type code 20T5 and 8’ 6”, outlined in ISO code 22T5 and 22T6. In addition to their specific use, these containers have the following features and recommended uses:

  • Tanks cannot be less than 80% full, nor can they be filled to 100% of their capacity. Maintaining 85%-95% capacity can help to prevent dangerous surges or swells during the transport process.
  • In some cases, products considered toxic or dangerous must be carried in containers that have no openings below the surface level of the liquid to ensure safe transport.
  • Residue tariffs may apply for the cleaning and/or disposal of tank containers unless exempted based on a predetermined rule.

Flexitank

This shipping container is really a combination of a standard 20′ ISO ocean shipping container fitted with a flexible plastic “bladder” on the inside that can be used to store and transport bulk liquids. It can be used to house/transport food items such as flat beer, olive oil, sauces, wine, fruit juice concentrate, and more. It can also be used to house/transport industrial cargo such as adhesives, biodiesel, glue, oils, emulsions, and more. Here are some the advantages, recommendations, and features of the flexitank shipping container:

  • A “one-way cost system” that uses disposable bladders, which helps keep the cost of use and maintenance low.
  • Higher storage and transport capacity compared to rigid tanks.
  • Reduces transport costs thanks to lower tare weights, decreased labor costs, and reduced packaging costs as compared to drums, bottles, or traditional tanks.
  • Can hold capacities ranging from 3,170 to 6,340 US gallons (12,000 to 24,000 liters).
  • Heating pads are available to make discharging certain liquids (like oils) easier.
  • Various different materials can be used to manufacture flexitanks, which allows them to handle a variety of cargo, including food grade and industrial goods.
  • Has an easily accessible infill and discharge valve for easy loading and unloading.

Make the Decisions the Best Suits You

Still having trouble figuring out which shipping container is the best for your cargo? Promptus LLC is here to help! We have a number of highly trained Licensed Customs Brokers on staff as well as a number of other freight forwarding services available. Contact the experts today to get a free quote for all your global logistics needs!