SHIPPING CONTAINERS: The metal box that’s wrecking the business supply chain

Shipping containers, explained by a historian.

Piles of red and green shipping containers with a crane putting an Evergreen shipping container on an existing stack.
PHOTO: Shipping containers have piled up, throwing another wrench into the supply chain. –Mario Tama/Getty Images

Behold the simple shipping container. It’s a large, steel box that can carry tens of thousands of pounds of cargo. It’s also stackable and designed to fit on ocean freight ships, trains, and even trucks. These containers have been an unnoticed cog in the world’s highly complex manufacturing network for decades. But not anymore.

Thanks to the pandemic, the shipping container is now at the center of the global supply chain crisis, which has interrupted the delivery of everything from medical supplies to holiday gifts. Because of widespread manufacturing delays and bottlenecks, there aren’t enough of these boxes in the right place and at the right time.           

There are also too many containers at shipping terminals, which is clogging up ports and blocking more cargo from arriving. Exporters, meanwhile, are struggling to find the empty containers they would normally use to send their products to customers abroad. These shipping container problems are continuing to pile up as the larger manufacturing system they helped enable also struggles to adapt.



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  • wic  On 12/20/2021 at 12:09 am

    Ms. Hellweil’s analysis is inaccurate. She overlooks the real purposes of containers. They are to protect products from the weather, are more convenient to transport to various locations as diverse products can be grouped for transport to similar locations; another benefit is to curb the plain old-fashioned theft so prevalent in the past by stevedores/longshoremen on the docks.

    The supply chain problem has all to do with the Covid and workers being ill and lockdowns in the US in particular, on the west coast of the US. It’s the reason why port operators in Florida, North Carolina and Halifax, Nova Scotia, are now encouraging ship owners to go the extra distance to the east coast of the US. Had all those products now hung up on the west coast of the US been on skids and not in containers, losses from deterioration due to weather and theft would have been very high.

    Ms. Haldweil should open her eyes when next she is on an aircraft preparing for departure. She may note that containers and cages are the new norm for enclosing suitcases etc. prior to being loaded in an aircraft’s cargo bay since the space is more efficiently used as on container ships and there is less possibility of cargo shifting.

  • wally n  On 12/20/2021 at 1:12 pm

    Just in case you need to get rid of the old ones??? just sayin.

    Are shipping container houses cheaper?
    Shipping container houses are significantly cheaper to build than regular homes. They are very resource efficient and can be made to look like regular houses. You will need a building permit to build or install a container house, and you’ll likely need a site plan in order to obtain the building permit.Jan 18, 2021
    North American trend…

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