Shipping containers are used by numerous industries to move goods from manufacturers, warehouses, ports, rail yards and distributors to regional and global locations. These 20-foot to 40-foot containers made of steel and plywood invented in 1956 have not changed much as their strong and durable design has been trusted over the decades.
With the changing needs and demands of the market, however, shipping containers must also keep up with these changes to provide greater levels of functionality and safety while providing cost-saving benefits. Let’s check out the future of shipping container technology and the impact it will have for supply chains.
While the outward design of the shipping container can be hard to change without compromising its integrity, engineers are looking at integrating technology onto containers for safety and tracking purposes. A shipping container modification company may add sensors, matching learning and artificial intelligence to detect changes in the air quality in the container.
When shipping hazardous materials that could produce toxic gases that may pose a fire hazard, the sensors can send real-time information to connected logistics systems on the containers or the transport vessels. Workers will know about the dangerous conditions before opening the containers. These early warning systems may allow workers to prevent or contain the toxic fumes and potential fires to minimize damage, injuries and potential fire spread.
Reduction of Port Wait Times
Port wait times have become a major challenge for shippers. Their truck fleets must sit idle wafting for their turn to load and unload shipping containers. This problem leads to an increase in fuel usage and shipping delays.
In addition to using monitoring tech for container safety, this same technology can be used for tracking when containers arrive and when container trucks leave ports. Understanding how the shipping containers move throughout the supply chain allows companies to better plan out how to use their available fleet assets. They can use the data analytics from the gathered tracking information to develop smarter logistical strategies on when and where to send vehicles and shipments out.
Improved Container Maintenance
Using ecofriendly and alternative materials for the container is something that container manufacturers and designers are looking at to reduce the carbon footprint of shipping companies. Steel has long been the go-to material for containers due to its strength, durability and longevity. Yet steel containers are heavy, making them cost more to build, transport and maintain.
New material innovations would need to address this weight issue and continue providing similar strength and longevity of steel. While performing material design trial and error, another way to make improvements is to develop ways to monitor the conditions of existing steel containers. Instituting new ways to promote corrosion control, implementing repairs and painting may involve placing additional additives during steel manufacturing, sealants and coatings to better protect the interior and exterior surfaces. By investing in alternative materials and improving the steel materials used can reduce maintenance while also lowering energy costs to transport shipping containers.
Shipping Vessel Innovations
Besides changing the containers themselves to be safer and cost effective, the shipping container industry is looking to make major innovations to the maritime vessels that transport these containers. Container ship companies are looking to make three changes: increase the number of available vessels, add smaller ships to their fleets and switch to alternative fuel sources.
Since 2021, shipping lines have commissioned roughly 52 ships with a +17,000 TEU capacity and over 221 ships with 14,000 to 17,000 TEU capacity. There has also been renewed interest in smaller capacity ships of 1,000 to 8,000 TEU vessels. These smaller vessels will be used for more local and regional distribution to lower the amount of delivery trucks on the road. They will also help reduce pollution by reducing traffic congestion and vehicle carbon emissions.
Lastly, companies are looking to move away from fossil fuels and lower sulfur content in fuels that raise carbon emissions. Shipping companies are looking to switch over to liquefied natural gas (LNG), hydrogen solutions, methanol solutions and ammonia solutions. Other alternative energies such as electric propulsion and wind power are also being looked at as possible solutions.
New Technology Requires Full Buy-In
The future of the shipping container industry and the new technologies introduced to containers, vessels and supply chains will be reliant on the types of investments that companies are willing to make. Having companies pursue full buy-in and implementation will dictate the type of technologies that will trend and come into demand. Other changes will be dictated by policymakers and regulations that may encourage the shipping container industry to adopt these sustainability changes sooner to benefit the environment.