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How Shipping Containers Are Built

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With Australia being an island nation, we rely heavily on the import and export of goods for our economy, as well as for the everyday living of our lives. One of the biggest partnerships that Australia has is without a doubt China as it accounted for around 25% of all of Australia’s exports in 2011.

Meanwhile, Chinese imports accounted for about 20% of all the imports to Australia covering a wide range of goods and materials. This means that the transportation of goods is critical to both countries and one of the most used forms is the humble shipping container.

Shipping containers come in a wide variety of different shapes and sizes, and are suitable for transporting many different types of products and materials. We have all seen these corrugated metal boxes on the back of trucks, stacked up, and even on container vessels, but have you ever wondered how these versatile containers are made?

The Design of the Shipping Container

You may think that these giant metal boxes are easy to make. There is nothing much to them, although the design is quite simple. There is a lot of time and effort which goes into making each and every shipping container than what you see.

Shipping containers can range in size from 10 feet in length, up to 40 feet. They come in a wide variety of different configurations. Not all shipping containers are a simple metal box, and some are more complicated to build than others. Some of the most popular ones available are:

  • General Purpose Shipping Containers
  • Open Top Shipping Containers
  • Insulated Shipping Containers
  • Flat Rack Shipping Containers
  • Refrigerated Shipping Containers

With so many different varieties of shipping containers available, the process to build the external shell of the shipping container is usually pretty similar, with the fitting of the internal components varying from each design. So where do you start when building a shipping container?

Rolling the Steel

The first part of the process when making a shipping container is getting the steel in order to make the frame. Companies that make shipping containers will source solid steel sheets which will then be manipulated into the forms that we all know.

rolling steel sheets

The steel arrives on a large roll and is cut into the correct sizes for the style and size of shipping containers that are being made. The steel will be rolled flat between massive wheels which make sure that each metal sheet is perfectly straight.

When the steel has been cut to the right size, it is then sandblasted and the surface of the steel is primed. The priming of the metal surface will allow anti-corrosive paint to be added at a later point, which will prevent the metal from corroding when exposed to the elements.

Corrugating the Steel

The reason that corrugated steel is used is to add strength and rigidity to the shipping container, which makes the shipping containers very strong and able to carry heavy loads, as well as being able to be stacked up on top of each other.

A large machine is used to press the grooves into the metal, usually starting at the centre, and then adding more grooves on either side. This process is repeated until the entire piece of steel has even grooves all the way along.

The edges are then trimmed and the corrugated steel is stacked up, ready to be assembled. When the floors, sides, and roof panels have been done, they also make braces in order to add strength to the shipping container, and also assist with assembly.

installation of wall panels

Fitting the Pieces Together

As well as have corrugated panels, the shipping containers also have a framework of square tubing, which gives it the strength that is required. Rather than build a metal frame and then add the panels, the tubing will be added to the top of the wall panels, as well as the floor panels before they are assembled together.

Then they start with the floor and start to assemble all of the pieces together, making sure that the welds are strong so that the integrity of the shipping container remains intact. The welding is mainly done by people, although there are some larger companies that also utilise robots.

Machines and cranes are used in order to move and manipulate the parts, as well as the finished products. When the floor is finished, they then add the doors, side panels, end panel, and lastly the roof. When this process is complete, you are left with the basic shell of a shipping container, which then only needs to be kitted out in the chosen configuration and have the finishing touches added.

Finishing Touches of the Shipping Container

With the basic shell of the shipping container finished and all of the seams welded, it is now time to add the finishing touches to the shipping container. The entire metal surface of the shipping container will be covered in an anti-corrosive paint, and specially treated wooden floors are also added.

finished product

For specialist designs such as insulated or refrigerated shipping containers, the specialist equipment and features will be added before the final touches are made. This can include adding insulation to the shipping container, or adding the compressor and motor for a refrigerated shipping container.

If the design calls for shelving or any other internal feature, then these will be added last, and securely fixed within the internal structure, to make sure that they do not move, no matter how much the shipping container may move in bad weather whilst being transported.

Then the last detail, which needs to be added to the shipping container, are the decals and writing on the outside. Then the shipping container is completed and ready to start transporting a wide variety of different goods from China, Australia, or any other country.

So the next time you sit at your desk and look at your computer, you know exactly how your laptop, desk chair, and possibly even your desk got to be where it is today.