The Evolution of Containerization: A Comprehensive History of Container Shipping

Container Shipping: When exporting freight via sea routes, container shipping is the best option. The emergence of containerization, which is highly significant to the nature of maritime operations, created a much-needed push into the marine sector and helped it reach previously unheard-of heights.

Nonetheless, using various kinds of cargo container units to convey freight is not a new technique. Learn how the practice of containerizing freight began with container ships and how it spread throughout the globe.

Container Shipping History

The origins of containerization can be traced back to the middle of the 20th century. Freight containers were invented by US-based transportation businessman Malcolm Mclean to streamline the labor-intensive procedures associated with shipping freight by sea.

The long processes basically meant that before the cargo could be placed into the ships, it needed to be appropriately divided or deconstructed. Due to technical limitations, large volumes of cargo had to be separated, and there was a complete lack of consistency throughout the shipping process. This resulted in the initial disassembly and subsequent assembly processes wasting productive labor.

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Malcolm Mclean solved this long-term problem of cargo transportation by altering the fundamental design of a tanker ship from World War II. Wheel-less truck-carts served as the vessel’s original cargo containers, which were also modified. But the whole success of this innovative project hinged on how well the modified truck-carts loaded with goods could be loaded onto the ship and driven to the required location.

The cleverly designed device exceeded expectations and became an enormous success. Due to this achievement, carrying cargo—bulk or otherwise—could be done with the fewest complications going forward.

Important Aspects of Containerization

Container Ships, what is Container Ships, types of Container Ships
(Credit: Wikipedia)
  • Transiting costs for the cargo to be shipped were reduced drastically on account of the elimination of the unwanted processes
  • Large amount of cargo could be transported which meant that transporters benefited from the economies of scale
  • The feasibility offered by shipping containers also ensured that the water navigable channels could be utilised for transiting freight internationally
  • Development of harbour facilities also took place simultaneously once the qualitative worth of container shipping began to spread far and wide

The recognition of the unique benefits that shipping containers provided to the maritime industry marked a significant milestone in the history of container ships. A further indication of this acknowledgment was the formulation of specific guidelines and standards about container size. To provide a uniform foundation for all containers, the International Standardizing Authority (ISO) established the following:

  • Cntainers with a length of twenty feet. These containers, which had a length of 40 feet, were soon known as TEUs (Twenty-foot Equivalent Units).
  • Forty-foot Equivalent Units, or more popularly, Two-TEUs, became the term for these containers quite quickly. Negative Consequences for the Cargo Shipping Industry

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Negative Impacts on the Cargo Shipping Industry

Despite being a major advancement for the world’s shipping industry, containerization brought about many unfavorable consequences.

  • Before cargo containers were developed, the labor force that was once used for assembly-line and disassembly tasks began to become obsolete.
  • Because of motorized operating links, less labor was required for the lading and unloading of the cargo that was going to be shipped.
  • Negative effects also extended to skilled and semi-skilled laborers who performed a single type of function at harbor facilities.

Current Times: Container Shipping

How A Container Ship Transports Its Cargo
(Credit: globalialogisticsnetwork)

Many advancements have been made in the more than half-century since shipping containers were first used in commercial maritime freight operations. The scope of international cargo shipping has expanded to truly massive proportions nowadays, assisting some more recent shipping companies and even countries to enter the market.

It wouldn’t be incorrect to argue that the scope of containerized operations and the corresponding technology advancements are growing virtually daily, to the point where it is impossible to envision cargo movement in the modern day without container shipping.

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