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What is an Intermodal Container?

Intermodal containers are large metal boxes with rectangular parallelepiped shapes. These containers transport goods between ports via air, water, rail, and road. They meet ISO standards, making them universally acceptable for various freight purposes. Since their introduction, these storage and shipping tools have revolutionized logistics and supply chain processes.

How do businesses use these boxes? What are their benefits and some of the challenges associated with their uses? Our post answers these questions and every other question you might have regarding intermodal containers. Remain on board to learn more.

Uses of Intermodal Containers

Primarily, intermodal containers ship and store goods within an international containerized intermodal freight system. Here are some of the common goods these containers carry.

  • Nonperishables like manufactured goods
  • Temperature-sensitive perishables like medicines and chilled foods
  • Nonperishables such as cocoa and coffee that could spoil during transit due to condensation
  • Large items such as building materials and heavy machinery
  • Heavy hazardous or non-hazardous chemicals, oil, and other liquids.

8 Types of Intermodal Containers

Intermodal containers come in different forms suited for various uses. Here are the leading types of intermodal boxes.

  • Dry Storage Containers 

Dry storage containers are the most commonly used intermodal boxes. They store and transport dry cargo like wood. These boxes are totally airtight but don’t have ventilation or cooling facilities. They come in various sizes, like 10ft, 20ft, and 40 ft. You can also find them in high cube forms (a foot higher than other ordinary boxes).

  • Insulated Containers

These containers have a regulated temperature that withstands high temperatures. Their design makes them ideal for all-year usage. They supply dry and warm storage for goods. You can find them in various lengths like 20ft and 40ft.

  • Tank Containers 

These containers are suitable for transporting bulky containers, powders, and gases. They are designed with steel and other anti-corrosive metals to protect liquid cargo. You should fill them up to at least 80% capacity to avoid hazardous liquid surging during transportation. However, you shouldn’t fill them beyond 95% to allow enough room for thermal expansion.

  • Flat Rack Containers 

Flat rack containers are foldable because they have collapsible sides. Their end walls are strong to permit the stacking of multiple flat rack containers. They are ideal for carrying heavy shipments like heavy machinery that require loading from the top or sides. The containers come in 20ft and 40ft lengths.

  • Double Door Containers 

These containers are standard intermodal boxes with doors on both ends. They are suitable for loading and unloading heavy construction materials such as steel. Their doors have weather-resistant seals to protect shipments. They are available in high cube dimensions and measure 20ft or 40ft long.

  • Refrigerated Containers 

Just as their name suggests, these containers are refrigerated to maintain temperatures of between -35ºC and + 15ºC. The boxes are suitable for transporting time and temperature-sensitive perishables like food and medical supplies. They can connect to external power sources. You can find them in different dimensions, like 20ft and 40ft long, and they come in high cube form.

  • Open Side Containers 

Just like their name, these containers open on their two sides. They have bi-folding doors that let you access each of the containers’ sides. Such containers are suitable for loading and unloading oversized items. They have a high cube for and are available in 20ft or 40ft lengths.

  • Open Top Containers 

Open top containers are types of dry storage containers, except that they are roofless. Shippers use them to transport huge goods that don’t fit in standard dry storage containers or are too heavy for manual handling. These containers come in 20ft and 40ft lengths. The former can load some 28 metric tons, while the latter loads up to 30 metric tons.

types of intermodal containers 

Benefits of Intermodal Containers

Intermodal containers have many benefits. Below are some of the advantages of using them.

  • Increased Security 

These containers move between different shipping modes without anyone opening them. They can only be opened at their origin, customs, transload facilities, and destinations. Thus, the chances of theft and tampering are significantly reduced. Moreover, they have unique tracking codes to enable supply chain managers to locate them in any supply chain section.

  • Durability 

Intermodal containers are durable because they meet ISO standards. They meet all the ISO durability, strength, and size requirements and specifications. They are crafted with corrugated steel panels to make them water-tight and wind-resistant.

  • Flexibility 

Their intermodal nature allows easy goods transfer between barges, trucks, trains, and ships.

  • Efficient Handling Processes

These containers allow for mechanized handling using cranes and other automated systems. Therefore, the loading and unloading process is more efficient.

  • Minimal Transfer Times

These boxes’ intermodal nature allows for faster transfer between various transport means.

benefits of intermodal containers 

Challenges Empty Intermodal Containers Cause and Their Solutions

We have examined intermodal containers’ benefits. It’s worth noting that shipping empty containers also presents shippers with unique problems. The reason is that transporting loaded containers generates money for shippers while transporting empty ones doesn’t. Additionally, imbalances in international trade and other challenges make it impossible to transport only full containers. Here are the reasons for these challenges.

  • It costs money to transport full or empty containers.
  • The cost of transporting empty containers is almost the same as that of full ones.
  • Storing empty and full shipping containers costs money.
  • At times, it’s more costly to transport containers to where they should be reused than to buy new ones.
  • Increased access charges, wasted manpower waiting to access cargo, and lost productivity because of congestion.

All these imbalances and circumstances combined make it difficult to reposition empty boxes.

  • The Solutions 

Fortunately, these challenges are solvable. Various industry players can reduce empty container movements by formulating and implementing different strategies. These tactics can further reduce costs, efforts, and other resources used to move empty intermodal containers. Below are some of the practical solutions that can address this problem.

  • Supply chain players can use efficient positioning systems for optimizing container routing to ensure fewer containers move empty.
  • Industry players can optimize IoT gadgets to monitor the status, positions, capacities, and use of containers every time.
  • Improving cargo rotation through more efficient supply, demand, and transport planning also solves this challenge.
  • Developing more robust international and export markets for goods helps reduce trade imbalances.
  • Enhancing information exchange between all industry players optimizes full container utilization.
  • Stakeholders can transfer container leases and other documentation processes between themselves.
  • Industry players also need to optimize supply chain technologies like blockchain, artificial intelligence, prescriptive and predictive analytics, and machine learning to streamline their operations.

intermodal containers cause 

Contact Us for Help Today

Intermodal containers lie at the heart of local and international freight. Without them, intermodal freight will collapse on its face. These containers are critical and come in various forms businesses can utilize to meet their unique transportation needs.

Additionally, intermodal boxes benefit businesses in many cost-effective ways. Transporting empty containers presents industry players with various problems due to different dynamics outside their control. Fortunately, all these challenges are solvable if industry stakeholders implement appropriate strategies.

Do you want to make the most of intermodal shipping to accelerate your business? Don’t hesitate to reach out to Canada’s premier logistics partner for cost-effective solutions. Contact us today for a free quotation and consultation.

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