A Closer Look at the Life of a Shipping Container
Shipping containers are built to last for decades. In fact, many of the containers built in the 1960s (back when the 20-foot equivalent unit was standardised) are still going strong today. This is one reason why you can pick up a second-hand container that’s still in excellent shape. You’ll also find plenty of suppliers across the world because shipping containers can be easily be manufactured and producing them is very affordable.
Perhaps the curious among you have wondered, what happens throughout a shipping container’s lifespan? How do they get manufactured and where do they end up after their service life? In this article, we’ll take a detailed look at the life of a shipping container to answer some of these interesting questions.
The creation of the shipping container
Shipping containers are built with strict international standards in mind. You can find a list of the International Standard Organisation’s (ISO) standards online regarding the size, weight, and specifications of shipping containers. As a result, you’ll find that most of the shipping containers are identical in terms of size and manufacturing.
The life of a shipping container begins in a factory in China where they create hundreds of new containers every week. Skilled workers build the containers by unrolling a sheet of steel on a machine. From there, the sheet metal is cut into sections and the components are produced such as the:
- Corner posts and floor beams which are bent into shape
- Shot blasting the metal sheets to prepare the surface for painting
- Corrugation is added to the walls and roof sheets for increased strength
- Wall and roof sheets are tacked manually by the workers on the factory floor
- The sheets are fed into a machine for consistent welding and quality control
The final assembly is then primed and spray painted. After the paint dries, the newly built shipping containers are wheeled out and the wooden floors are prepped and varnished. To complete the container, logo decals are added before it gets sent out into the yard where it awaits its new adventure.
The journey of a shipping container
The next chapter of a shipping container’s life is transporting the container through sea, land, or air. Containers from the factory are transported by road to railheads where they’ll be loaded with goods such as vegetables, dairy products, smartphone devices, and the like. Once the containers are loaded, they are then moved to seaports where a container ship awaits them for their new journey.
But not all containers go to the docks for life at the seas. Some are ordered straight out of the factory for a number of different applications like building container homes and using them for container storage. Other containers hop onto intercontinental trains where they journey through rails and arrive at their intended destination. One advantage of rail freight is that the shipping containers can take anywhere from 3-4 weeks to go from the manufacturer to the customer. In comparison to sea freight, it could take up to three months just to travel the same distance.
Some containers travel by air and are carried by cargo aircraft such as the Boeing 747F. With so many advancements in today’s air freight, it’s become the preferred mode of transport for shipping containers because it greatly reduces the travel distance between two points. The only downsides are that air freight can get very expensive and they’re limited in terms of the type of cargo they can carry.
Life after the shipping container’s travels
Most people think that shipping containers lead a life of adventure by traversing vast seas, railways, and airline routes. Not a bad life huh? But that’s not always the case. The truth is that only a few containers are sent to multiple trips and the rest of them either get resold or just left out to collect rust.
Because of the price that they can be made for, most containers are only used once or twice before being completely forgotten. But the good news is that there’s been a major resurgence in shipping container recycling, especially in terms of home storage. The possibilities are endless and there is a myriad of applications to shipping containers aside from just carrying goods and going on an epic journey.
Containers that have only been used once (known as one-trip containers) are often in pristine condition and can be modified into workshops, garages, office spaces, and more. Considering that the containers have only been to a single trip, they are bound to last for decades and enjoy a very long service life.
A portion of the shipping containers manufactured is also used in the Antarctic as storage and living spaces by locals and scientists within the region, withstanding the cold temperatures for many years. Meanwhile, other containers live an easier life in temperate climates, sitting quietly at sailing or youth clubs and just waiting to be repurposed.
With architects discovering how excellent shipping containers are for construction, thousands have already been used to create permanent living spaces. From apartment blocks to shipping container homes, there’s no limit as to how shipping containers can be utilised which makes their service life that much more interesting.