The incredible proliferation of shipping containers is so vast that it is easy for current generations to take the existence of these steel boxes for granted. It’s the same for cell phones; anyone born in this millennium assumes that there have always been cell phones. Yet both were revolutionary in their invention and introduction.
Any Supply Chain professional is always looking for ways to reduce costs, improve efficiency, and increase speed. And it is with that mentality that the common, standardized shipping container was invented. Such a simple concept may seem obvious now but it was truly revolutionary when it was created.
In 1956 Malcolm McLean invented the current standard shipping container. He had observed the process of loading goods and found it to be very time consuming, costly, and wasteful. By focusing on creating and promoting a standardized container he was able to revolutionize shipping which resulted in dramatic reductions in cost, time and quality.
In 1982 McLean was inducted into the Business Hall of Fame by Fortune. In 1995 he was named one of the 10 outstanding innovators of the prior 40 years by American Heritage. And in 2000 McLean was named Man of the Century by the International Maritime Hall of Fame.
The shipping container is the globally recognized standard. This standardization is critically important when you consider that over 95% of all of the world’s cargo moves by ship. And transportation by ship is dramatically more cost effective and environmentally friendly than over the road transportation.
At any point in time over 20 million shipping containers are crossing the globe. There are over 530 million containers in total. And there are over 55,000 container ships which make over 200 million trips per year. A single container ship can hold over 20,000 containers. These are staggering numbers!
Over 97% of shipping containers are manufactured in China. This is due to the low labour costs as well as proximity to where most goods in the world are manufactured. A shipping container can cost between $1,000-$5,000 depending upon its size and quality.
They are made of corrugated steel which provides for incredible strength. And shipping containers can be stacked up to 6 containers high. They will also last somewhere between 20-30 years with proper maintenance. Over 675 containers are lost at sea every year which can be highly dangerous.
The world’s largest container ship operators are: Maersk, Mediterranean Shipping Co, CMA CGM Group, Cosco Shipping Co Ltd, Hapag-Lloyd, Evergreen Line, OOCL, Yang Ming Marine Transport Corp, MOL, and NYK Line.
Shipping containers are so popular that they have many uses other than just for transportation. Companies like Mobile Modular Portable Storage sell used containers to people who have converted them into homes, swimming pools, buildings, clinics, restaurants, apartments and more. Because they are standardized, strong, modular, low cost, and easily transportable there are innumerable uses for these containers.
Shipping Containers in Conclusion
The shipping container is such an integral part of the Supply Chain today that it is often taken for granted. The concept may seem intuitive and obvious these days but when it was invented there was no universal opinion, support or infrastructure in place to make it a reality.
Now you can see shipping containers every day. They may be on a ship, a train, a truck or they may be part of a building in your town or city. Wherever you see them, need them, or use them we have a lot to be thankful for in their invention and introduction!