Shipping containers aren’t high tech, and they aren’t low tech; at the heart of the matter shipping containers could be described as “no tech”. They have no electrical components and no gears or parts that rely on a series of other cogs or sprockets to make them move. Since their introduction to the market in the 1950’s there have been relatively few improvements to their design and a container that’s 20 years old isn’t obsolete. So, what are the parts that make up a shipping container? With the exception of the doors; the largest parts of a container consist of the rails, flooring, side walls, and doors.
Let’s start with the skeletal system of any intermodal shipping container: the rails. All shipping containers have two top rails, two bottom rails, two top end rails (one of which is a door header), and two bottom end rails (one of which is the door sill). When combined, these rails provide the strength of any shipping container and all weight is carried on this frame.
Cross Members and Flooring
Between the bottom rails of any shipping container spans the cross members, in a house these would be called the floor joist. These cross members are (18?) inches apart and run cross ways for the entire length of the container. The flooring of most containers consists of marine grade plywood that is XX thick. This plywood is strong enough to last 10-15 years and carry nearly anything that’s loaded onto it (the limitation here is the cross members and bottom rails).
The side walls and top, of nearly all shipping containers is COR-TEN steel. This type of steel is used specifically because of its ability to withstand rust and corrosion; and it does this by allowing a small amount of surface corrosion to form if the paint is chipped, scratched, or otherwise damaged. Most shipping container walls are XX thick and very difficult to penetrate without the use of heavy duty tools and machinery.
The doors on a shipping container are the most complex part of the equipment, and by today’s standards they are fairly simple. They have no gears, only handles locking rods and cams to secure the door. That being said, if the locking rods are damaged or a cam is broken the security of the container will be completely at risk and the doors make not lock properly. These components are generally poured or stamped steel and designed to last as long as the container does – 10-15 years or more.
Some shipping containers come with optional parts, and these parts tend to be built into new shipping containers that are sold after one use, or one trip containers.
Forklift Pockets: Since lease, and long term use shipping containers are typically moved by overhead container handling equipment, shipping lines and leasing companies don’t invest the extra expense and weight of fork lift pockets. Forklift pockets make it easier for lifts to pull under and properly balance a shipping container when it’s being moved around a yard or other property
Lock Boxes: Long term use shipping containers tend to spend much of their lives on vessels, trucks, trains, or secured container yards, so the extra cost of a factory installed lock box isn’t necessary and often inhibits and slows the entry to the container; with this in mind most used shipping containers do not come with factory installed lock boxes.
It may be hard to believe, but that is the complete inventory of nearly all standard 20’ or 40’ shipping container. There have been many companies that have tried to improve on the design, but each has fallen short in one aspect or another (durability, strength, cost effectiveness, the list goes on). As a container ages and is phased out of sea going service, it can be redeployed as a storage unit or modular building structure, or if it’s severely damaged it can be sold for scrap steel.
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