Containers are standardized large-capacity containers for transporting goods. ISO containers are standardized to specified dimensions so that it is easy to load, transport, store and unload goods. The exact specifications of ISO containers are laid down in ISO standard 668.

ISO containers – 20-foot and 40-foot

Containers are most relevant for freight transport by sea. The ISO container is used in international freight transport. Container ships are designed to transport these standardized containers so that the loading capacity can be optimally utilized.

This is available as a 20-foot variant with external dimensions of 6.058 m x 2.438 m x 2.591 m and as a 40-foot variant with external dimensions of 12.192 m × 2.438 m × 2.591 m (both LxWxH). There are also longer and taller ISO containers. Currently, more than 35 million ISO containers are used in goods traffic worldwide.

The 20-foot containers are also referred to as TEU (Twenty Foot Equivalent Unit) and the 40-foot containers as FEU (Forty Foot Equivalent Unit). The capacities of today’s container ships are expressed in TEUs. The largest container ship to date, the OCCL Hong Kong, which entered service in 2017, can load over 21,400 TEUs. Thanks to the container volume and the simplified transportation due to standardization, the share of transportation costs by container ship is often far below 10% in relation to the total cost of the individual product.

Interchangeable container for the Euro pallet

However, since the ISO container is not designed in its dimensions to fit the Euro pallet commonly used in European goods traffic, the swap body has become established. The swap container is also known as a swap body, swap bridge or swap box. This container is slightly wider and thus designed for loading with the Euro pallet. Swap bodies use the same locking system as the 20-foot ISO containers and thus can also be transported on the same carrier vehicle.

ISO containers in intermodal logistics

By means of ISO containers, intermodal logistics traffic easily connects different means of transport within the logistics chain through standardization. Transferring the container from one means of transport to the next is time- and cost-efficient, as the container is transferred and the load carrier and loading unit do not have to be changed in the process.