After Decades of Success in its Basic Form, the Shipping Container is About to Undergo a Transformation

When first introduced in 1956, the shipping container sparked a revolution in marine freight transport, but is it still fit for purpose in a digital world? The concept of packing goods in a standard-sized metal box significantly reduced the time needed by stevedores to load and unload a cargo ship, slashing the overall cost of shipping and conducting international trade in the process.


However, numerous technological advances have occurred during the nearly seven decades that followed the launch of the first container ship. Today, in the digital world of the 21st century, it has become clear that the industry will need more from these iconic metal boxes in the future. Let’s explore some of the emerging trends in this crucially important field.


6M Storage Shipping Container Rental

Automation and the Shipping Container


Despite the drop in international trade due to the pandemic, the demand for sea freight is increasing faster than ever, forcing the industry to look for alternatives to human handlers. Robots, cobots, and AI have been gaining ground in many fields and are proving their worth daily. An autonomous self-driving forklift offers an easier and faster way to position cargo in a container and remove it while leaving human workers free to focus on external tasks like securing them properly. The process also reduces wear, tear, and damage caused by previously necessary inspections.


It may be necessary to rethink the design of the standard shipping container to facilitate the automated loading process. As things stand, the single entry point could act as a bottleneck. A configuration that permits 360-degree access from each side and both ends will offer a more flexible loading solution.


Sensors to Detect Events Inside a Shipping Container


Stacking cargo inside a robust metal box will protect it from external forces, such as extreme weather and collisions. However, sometimes the danger can originate within and remain hidden from those outside. For example, lithium batteries can release ethylene and hydrogen, leading to fire and explosion, threatening the cargo, crew, and ship. Sensors provide an early warning system, allowing crew members to avoid such risks.


An Alternative to the Steel Shipping Container


While steel is strong, it is also heavy and expensive, and its production produces a substantial carbon footprint. Manufacturers must consider new materials if they are serious about achieving the desired net-zero goal. Composites can be as strong as steel yet far lighter, thus also helping to reduce fuel consumption.


Whatever the future of marine freight, we at Absolute Containers will remain South Africa’s industry leader. Why not click here to view our range of new and used containers to buy or rent?