The Impact of Shipping Containers on Logistics and the Supply Chain

In 1956, a change in how we transport marine cargo transformed global trade forever. The catalyst for that change was the invention of shipping containers. In 1937, a US truck driver was struck by the lengthy process of loading and unloading cargo vessels. He thought it might be more efficient if his loaded trailer could be lifted intact onto a ship without disturbing its contents.


The idea persisted, and in 1956, he put it into practice with a rectangular metal box that could be transported by truck or train to and from a port and lifted directly on or off a modified freighter. He purchased and converted a World War II tanker and transported 58 of the metal boxes we now know as shipping containers from Newark to Houston. Malcolm McLean’s dogged determination not only slashed the cost of marine freight but also revolutionised the associated logistics and supply chain management.


How Shipping Containers Changed the Logistics of Maritime Trade


Before containerisation, transporting goods by sea was slow, labour-intensive, and prohibitively expensive for most would-be exporters. By extension, imported goods were equally costly. However, the expense wasn’t due to the sea voyage but the cost of loading and unloading the cargo.


Upon arrival at the dock, the trucker would offload a truck’s contents to the dockside, where stevedores would stack them individually in the cargo hold. Containerisation meant cargo was loaded at the source, transported to the dock, transferred to and from the ship, and delivered to the destination port and onward without further handling.

Range of New Shipping Containers for Sale

The Supply Chain Benefits of Shipping Containers


Estimates vary but suggest there may be 17 million containers worldwide – clear evidence of their positive impact on supply chain management. One of the most profound effects has been on the cost of marine freight. Before their introduction, hand-loading cargo averaged $5.86 per ton. Containerisation slashed that figure to 16 cents. While this was a massive bonus, it was just one of several benefits to the supply chain:


  • Increased Capacity: The average container ship can accommodate around 15 000 units, while some larger vessels can hold more than 24 000.


  • Increased Flexibility: It is easier and safer to transfer oddly sized or hazardous items in these rectangular metal boxes. Perishable goods like fruit, flowers, and pharmaceuticals can be transported in refrigerated containers (reefers).


  • Increased Security: Once loaded, cargo remains inaccessible and impervious to the weather until delivered.


Shipping Containers for Sale


We at Absolute Containers have been the premier supplier of new and used shipping containers in Gauteng for 15 years. We can supply 6-metre and 12-metre standard and climate-controlled units and welcome your enquiries.