Intermodal Containers and How it Changed the Face of Container Shipping

Intermodal Containers and How it Changed the Face of Container Shipping

intermodal freight carriers

Modern-day shipping or intermodal freight movement primarily involves the widespread use of shipping or intermodal containers, called ISO containers. This container-integrated movement and transportation are called containerization.

Characteristics of Intermodal containers

  • The shipping containers used internationally have standard dimensions and sizes.
  • These can be used across different transportation modes – container ships, trucks, railway flatcars, trailers, etc.
  • The containers can be loaded, off-loaded, and stacked across multiple transportation modes, sent across the world without the need of being opened, and the products inside dislodged and lodged.
  • The containers are handled via mechanical handling systems, mostly using cranes and forklift trucks. With the help of computerized systems, the containers are numbered and tracked.

Importance of intermodal containers or containerization

To understand the importance of containerization, it is essential to know how things were shipped prior to containers getting innovated and used.

  • The scenario before intermodal containers were introduced 
    Before containerization, the usually followed norm for domestic and international shipping of goods and products was the manual break bulk cargo system. The cons of this process were delays in the cargo delivery as it would need to be off-loaded, unpacked, and then re-packed again for the next journey. Not just that, the packing and unpacking process or the multiple handling processes rendered the process unstable and unreliable. All of this also impacted the transportation costs greatly, making the entire process considerably expensive.
  • How have intermodal containers changed it all?
    Containerization was developed in Europe and North America just after the 1929 crash of Wall Street. There are multiple reasons why intermodal containers are preferred by shippers and transport companies vis-à-vis the age-old bulk cargo system. The pros are:
    • Sustainable solutions – when full-truckload freight needs to be moved across 500 miles or more, it is sustainable to go in for intermodal transportation. The model helps reduce carbon emissions. Compared to the freight movement through the highway, the intermodal works out to be sustainable because an intermodal rail can transfer goods equal to 280 truckloads. Similarly, a train can move about a ton of freight on a single gallon to across 450 miles, while on the land, freight will move to comparatively lesser miles with a single gallon of fuel. Not just that, there is a significant saving of fuel as the model helps reduce highway congestion.
    • Cost-efficient – shippers can help reduce transportation costs to a great extent. Shifting from an only-road freight or truck movement to a combo of train and trucks or cargo ships helps enhance process efficiency and reduce transportation costs. All of this can make a key difference to the organization’s bottom line, contributing majorly to the cost-reduction goals of the company.
    • Standardization – Intermodal containers are of standard size compliant with ISO with a unique ID number and a code that depicts its size type. The entire process becomes simpler and smoother to manage and track.
    • Carrying a wide variety of goods – containers can carry almost all types of goods, including perishable products, commodities, manufactured goods, luxury goods, dry cargo, refrigerated cargo, liquid cargo, etc. International movement of goods has become easier and faster with the availability and reuse of these containers.
    • Safety of goods – the container is a warehouse in itself. It protects the cargo inside. Also, the warehousing aspects can improve with increased stacking density with double-stacking in trains, on the ground stacking for container yards etc. There are increased safety aspects not just this way because the container cannot be opened or closed other than the destination or the source. It helps reduce the risks of theft and spoilage.

The many benefits of intermodal containers have truly changed the face of container shipping.

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