This month we are discussing the place shipping containers take in our lives. At one point or another everything would’ve ended up on a pallet, shipped on a container and delivered on a lorry. Follow the journey of consumer and capital goods below.

The Role of Shipping Containers

Malcom McLean is generally credited with bringing the container into full commercial operationю He called it his “Big Box” idea. Don’t get me wrong, the idea of crates and boxes has been around for many years and utilised profusely but it was McLean who made it work and to do that he needed a ship. He scraped the money together to convert a tanker and the rest is history.

Whole industries have grown up round this concept and today the real containerisation starts a very long way from the container itself. So if you are in warehousing or manufacturing and you need to get your products to market, this article would be of use to you.

In the universe of the container there is little they can’t or don’t handle. Wine, cars, chemicals, armaments, timber – it is all shipped out in containers. The world has standardised on the original McLean’s invention of 40’ and 20’ modules and 8’ wide and just a bit over that in height.  There are over nine versions of shipping containers splitting down in to three groups: Flat, Storage and Hybrid. Liners are available for the storage container. This comprises of metalised plastic, which fills out to form a liquid-proof liner converting the standard product into a cheap means of storage and transport for liquids.

How Containers Affect our Lives

At some point whatever we make finishes up on a lorry. Therefore not surprisingly the final units are made to fit the back of a lorry or the container it carries. If you stop to think about this for a second, the pallet evolved to soak up that space absolutely perfectly. Now the subdivisions of that work their way back into bottling plants, canning operations, packaging systems and yes, even the size of your motor car or pram. Even your bathroom toiletries are designed around this basic premise. From your pint to your glass of wine, your smoking habits, shoes, food, even dinner plates and cornflake, all conforms to these size patterns to make most use of every square inch of transport and packaging protective systems. From forest, field or mine, size decisions have been made to get to customers in the most efficient way.

Equipment Deployed

With some saying that shipping containers are pro-rata cheaper to hire than stately homes for social events, the demand for ever cheaper traffic costs continues. Rolls Royce has developed diesel engines that are a good deal lighter on pollution and so kinder to the environment, but it doesn’t stop there. Engine maker Cummins also announced a new generation of low emission engines. Along with Volvo these people are at the heart of our industry. They are pushing the boundaries for greener workhorses. You can actually have that discussion with your MHE provider when your fleets come up for discussion.

Land, sea and air power is working hard to bring goods to you with much less impact on the environment. Bearing in mind all handling equipment has its share of oil paint and metal goods that all start life in the ground for the most part, the big engine makers really are on the front line. That would include Toyota Materials Handling too.  Most material handling equipment is not cheaper than a horse, but it does the work of a whole team of them and that is the cutting edge, speed and volume.

Onward Shipment

This means the packaging industry to me. That’s pallets, smaller containers, outers, and of course a trailer to get it all mobile. Traceability plays an ever increasing role in this process. Once it comes to retail and the customer experience, the idea of soiled or soggy packaging will get your load turned straight round and sent back to you. If this is a problem and you are running out of marshalling space, yard buildings might interest you. If you think this is a cheap solution though, it is not. Most yard buildings are after-thoughts. To keep the cost down you need good, level ground with nothing under it that gets on the way of anchorage systems. Given space for vehicle flow it is land you already have so it will be cheaper to develop. You will need professional help, prices range form around £130 to £170 per meter up to but not limited to £380.00 per sqm. Cranes, pallet racking, ramps, loading bays and retractable structures are just a few of the options to choose from for guaranteed consignment condition. 

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industrial tent

© Piotrek Raczka

Support Systems

Vehicle tracking, GPS and camera technologies are just several new orders of equipment that secure the route to your customer. The service sector is still growing rapidly in this section with apps, tablets, phones and hand held devices keeping a tight control of events leaving the drivers free to do what they do best – drive. It all cuts time down. The ever humble shipping containers will freeze, keep dry and adapt to virtually anything we put in them. They still fall over board and can float, albeit level or just under the surface. This makes them a particular nightmare for smaller craft navigating at night. Even these incidents are now trackable. So the day is rapidly approaching when cargoes will be fully detectable, wherever they are.

Written by a Material Handling Hub correspondent Paul Casebourne.

This article was done in partnership with Engineered Solutions, who design and manufacture industrial tents.