Example of Open Top Container

Learn about Containers & Pallets: Types, Sizes, Applications, Load Capacity

Example of Open Top Container

Learn about Containers & Pallets: Types, Sizes, Applications, Load Capacity

Products and equipment for projects, such as pipes, valves, and fittings can be shipped on wooden, plastic, or metallic pallets or with containers (20, 40 feet, side or top entry). The article reviews gross and net weights, types, and carrying capacity of pallets and containers



Shipping containers are large, standardized metal boxes used for transporting goods by sea, land, or air. They are designed to be easily transferred between different modes of transport, such as from a ship to a railcar or truck, without the need to unload and reload the cargo they contain. This interoperability makes them a cornerstone of the modern global logistics and freight system, facilitating the efficient and secure movement of goods across the world.


List of Types

Shipping containers are available in a multitude of variations to accommodate different needs:

  • Standard Dry Storage Container: The most common type used for dry goods. Standard sizes are 20-ft (TEU) and 40-ft (FEU).
  • High Cube Container
  • Refrigerated (Reefer) Container: Equipped with refrigeration units to transport perishable goods at specific temperatures. Available in 20-ft and 40-ft lengths.
  • Open Top Container: Has a convertible top that can be removed to fit cargo of varying heights. Useful for heavy or bulky items that are loaded from above.
  • Flat Rack Container: Has collapsible sides that can be folded to make a flat rack for heavy loads. Ideal for heavy machinery, construction materials, and oversized items.
  • Tank Container: Designed for transporting liquids, gases, and powders. Built according to strict safety and construction standards.
  • Ventilated Container: Used for organic products that require ventilation during transport. Features ventilation holes in the top and bottom rails.
  • Insulated or Thermal Container: Features Insulating materials in the walls to protect goods from temperature fluctuations. Used for sensitive products that don’t require active refrigeration.
  • Double Door (Tunnel) Container: Features doors on both ends, providing easier access for loading and unloading. Useful for quickly moving goods through the container.
  • Open Side Container: Side doors open fully to provide wider access for loading materials. Ideal for cargo that needs to be loaded from the side.
  • Half-Height Container: Shorter than standard containers, designed for heavy and dense cargo like stones or coal. Easier to load and unload heavy goods.
  • Platform Container: Essentially a flatbed with no sides, top, or end walls. Used for extremely heavy or large items that don’t fit in a flat rack.

Let’s now delve into the characteristics of some non-standard types of containers.

Open-Top Containers (“OT”)

An open-top container is a type of shipping container designed without a solid roof, allowing cargo to be loaded from the top. This feature makes it particularly suitable for transporting tall, bulky, or heavy items that cannot be easily loaded through standard container doors.

Open Top Containers
Open Top Containers

Instead of a fixed roof, open-top containers come with a removable cover, typically made of canvas, tarpaulin, or a hard top that can be secured over the container to protect the cargo during transit.

Key Features of Open-Top Containers:

  1. Ease of Loading and Unloading: The open top allows for cargo to be loaded or unloaded with cranes and other overhead equipment, making the process more efficient for certain types of goods.

  2. Versatility: They can carry a wide range of cargo, including machinery, construction materials, heavy equipment, and any oversized items that exceed the height limitations of standard containers.

  3. Security and Protection: Despite the open top, these containers still offer security and protection for the cargo. The removable cover shields the contents from weather, dust, and damage while in transit.

  4. Standard Sizes: Open-top containers typically come in standard 20-foot and 40-foot lengths, similar to dry cargo containers, but with the added flexibility of height due to the removable top.

  5. Lashing Rings: The interior walls are often equipped with lashing rings to secure the cargo in place, preventing movement that could lead to damage during transport.

Applications of Open Top Containers:

  • Industrial Equipment: Ideal for transporting large machinery or industrial components that need to be lowered into the container from above.

  • Tall Cargo: Useful for items that are too tall for standard containers, allowing them to protrude above the top edge if necessary and permitted.

  • Heavy Loads: The structure of open-top containers is designed to handle heavy loads, making them suitable for dense materials like metals and stones.

  • Odd-Shaped Goods: Accommodates irregularly shaped items that would not fit through the doors of a standard container but can be easily loaded from the top.

Flat-Rack Containers (“FR”)

Flat rack containers are a type of shipping container designed to transport oversized, heavy, or awkwardly shaped cargo that cannot be easily accommodated in standard containers.

Flat-rack Container
Flat-rack Container

Key Features of Flat Rack Containers:

  1. Structure: Flat rack containers are characterized by their open sides and ends, with a flat base and strong, reinforced steel frames. This design provides the structural support needed to carry heavy loads and allows for the transportation of items that extend beyond the dimensions of traditional containers.

  2. Loading Flexibility: The open sides and ends facilitate easier loading and unloading of cargo, especially items that are too wide or tall for standard containers. Cargo can be loaded from the top, sides, or ends, using cranes or forklifts.

  3. Collapsible Sides: Many flat rack containers have collapsible end walls, which can be folded down to create a completely flat surface. This feature is particularly useful for ease of storage and return transport when the containers are empty.

  4. Secure Transportation: Despite their open design, flat rack containers are equipped with multiple lashing points to securely fasten and stabilize cargo during transit, preventing movement and reducing the risk of damage.

  5. Sizes: Flat rack containers are primarily available in two lengths: 20-foot and 40-foot, accommodating a range of cargo sizes and weights. The choice of size depends on the dimensions and weight of the cargo being shipped.

Applications of Flat Rack Containers:

  • Heavy Machinery and Equipment: Ideal for transporting heavy machinery such as tractors, bulldozers, and mining equipment that cannot be disassembled into smaller components.

  • Oversized Items: Used for shipping oversized items like large vehicles, boats, industrial components, and construction materials that exceed the height or width limits of standard containers.

  • Construction Materials: Suitable for carrying construction materials such as steel beams, precast concrete elements, and large pipes, which require the structural support a flat rack container provides.

  • Project Cargo: Often used for project cargo, which includes the shipment of goods required for a specific project, like setting up a factory, construction site, or energy plant, where various oversized and heavy items need to be transported together.

High-Cube Containers

High cube containers are a variation of standard shipping containers designed with an additional height dimension to accommodate taller cargo. While standard containers typically have a height of 8 feet 6 inches (2.59 meters), high cube containers boast a height of 9 feet 6 inches (2.90 meters), offering an extra foot (approximately 30 cm) of vertical space.

High-Cube container
High-Cube container: comparison between a Standard 40-ft (right side) and 40-ft High Cube (Source: Container Technology Inc. USA)

Key Features of High Cube Containers:

  1. Increased Capacity: The additional height provides more volume, making high cube containers ideal for transporting light but bulky cargo. This extra space allows shippers to maximize their cargo load within a single container, potentially reducing shipping costs per unit.

  2. Standard Lengths: Like standard containers, high cube containers are commonly available in lengths of 20 feet and 40 feet, providing flexibility for various cargo sizes and shipping requirements.

  3. Construction and Materials: High cube containers are constructed from corrosion-resistant steel or aluminum, ensuring durability and the ability to withstand harsh environmental conditions during transit. Their design includes the same strength and security features as standard containers, such as lockable doors and robust walls.

  4. Versatility: Despite their extra height, high cube containers can be used in much the same way as standard containers, including for storage and as modular components in construction projects. They are suitable for transporting a wide range of goods, including palletized, boxed, or loose cargo.

  5. Intermodal Transport: High cube containers are designed for intermodal transport, meaning they can be used across different modes of transportation (ship, rail, and truck) without the need to unload and reload the cargo.

Applications of High Cube Containers:

  • Volume-Intensive Cargo: Perfect for goods that take up a lot of space but aren’t necessarily heavy, such as furniture, light machinery, textiles, and agricultural products.

  • Industrial and Construction Materials: Used for transporting materials that require extra vertical space, such as tall machinery or equipment, construction materials, and large pre-assembled components.

  • Automotive: Suitable for shipping vehicles and automotive parts that require additional height clearance.

  • Conversion Projects: Their increased height makes high cube containers a popular choice for conversion into mobile offices, workshops, homes, and pop-up retail spaces, providing more interior space for design and insulation.



Shipping containers come in standardized sizes, with the most common being 20-foot (TEU, Twenty-foot Equivalent Unit) and 40-foot (FEU, Forty-foot Equivalent Unit) lengths. This standardization ensures that containers can be handled, stacked, and transported efficiently using existing equipment and infrastructure.


Made primarily from corrosion-resistant steel or aluminum, shipping containers are designed to withstand harsh conditions, including heavy weather, and are stacked several units high, which makes them durable for repeated use over many years.


Containers can be sealed and locked, providing a secure environment that protects the cargo from theft, loss, and damage during transit.


While primarily used for transporting goods via container ships, containers are also commonly transported by rail and truck. They can carry a wide variety of cargo, including dry goods, liquids (in tank containers), refrigerated goods (in reefer containers), and oversized cargo (using open-top or flat-rack containers).


The use of shipping containers has significantly reduced the cost of cargo transport by standardizing operations and allowing for the use of automated handling equipment. This has also decreased loading and unloading times, further reducing transportation costs.

Environmental Impact

By enabling multimodal transport, shipping containers reduce the environmental impact of shipping goods. Containers loaded onto trains or large ships can move cargo more efficiently and with lower greenhouse gas emissions per ton-mile than road transport.



  • INSIDE LENGTH: 5.895 m
  • INSIDE WIDTH: 2.350 m
  • INSIDE HEIGHT: 2.392 m
  • DOOR WIDTH: 2.340 m
  • DOOR HEIGHT: 2.292 m
  • CAPACITY: 33 m3
  • TARE WEIGHT: 2230 Kgs
  • MAX CARGO WEIGHT: 28230 Kgs

20 feet container


  • INSIDE LENGTH: 5.888 m
  • INSIDE WIDTH: 2.345 m
  • INSIDE HEIGHT: 2.315 m
  • DOOR WIDTH: 2.286 m
  • DOOR HEIGHT: 2.184 m
  • CAPACITY: 32 m3
  • TARE WEIGHT: 2250 Kgs
  • MAX CARGO WEIGHT: 30480 Kgs


  • INSIDE LENGTH: 5.698 m
  • INSIDE WIDTH: 2.230 m
  • INSIDE HEIGHT: 2.255 m
  • DOOR WIDTH: 0.000 m
  • DOOR HEIGHT: 0.000 m
  • CAPACITY: 0 m3
  • TARE WEIGHT: 2500 Kgs
  • MAX CARGO WEIGHT: 21500 Kgs


  • INSIDE LENGTH: 12.029 m
  • INSIDE WIDTH: 2.350 m
  • INSIDE HEIGHT: 2.392 m
  • DOOR WIDTH: 2.340 m
  • DOOR HEIGHT: 2.292 m
  • CAPACITY: 67 m3
  • TARE WEIGHT: 3780 Kgs
  • MAX CARGO WEIGHT: 26700 Kgs

40 feet container


  • INSIDE LENGTH: 12.024 m
  • INSIDE WIDTH: 2.350 m
  • INSIDE HEIGHT: 2.697 m
  • DOOR WIDTH: 2.340 m
  • DOOR HEIGHT: 2.597 m
  • CAPACITY: 76 m3
  • TARE WEIGHT: 4020 Kgs
  • MAX CARGO WEIGHT: 26460 Kgs


  • INSIDE LENGTH: 12.029 m
  • INSIDE WIDTH: 2.342 m
  • INSIDE HEIGHT: 2.326 m
  • DOOR WIDTH: 2.341 m
  • DOOR HEIGHT: 2.274 m
  • CAPACITY: 65 m3
  • TARE WEIGHT: 3810 Kgs
  • MAX CARGO WEIGHT: 26670 Kgs


  • INSIDE LENGTH: 11.832 m
  • INSIDE WIDTH: 2.228 m
  • INSIDE HEIGHT: 1.981 m
  • DOOR WIDTH: 0.000 m
  • DOOR HEIGHT: 0.000 m
  • CAPACITY: 0 m3
  • TARE WEIGHT: 4200 Kgs
  • MAX CARGO WEIGHT: 40800 Kgs


FCL (Full Container Load)

FCL stands for “Full Container Load”, whereas LCL means “Less Than Container Load”. Full Container Load means that all goods in the container are listed under one single Bill of Lading (BL), and as such are owned by a single party.

It does not matter how full the container is (i.e. a shipper may book an FCL but occupy only a portion of it). When an exporter books an FCL, the payment is based on the price of a full container regardless of the actual weight being shipped.

LCL (Less Than Container Load)

LCL cargos are used when an exporter doesn’t have enough goods to ship to fill one full container completely. LCLs are managed by forwarders that book FCLs and stuff them with goods from different exporters (groupage shipment).

Each seller pays only the portion of the weight and of the space actually occupied by their goods, and the load is split by the shipper at arrival. Each seller has a separate bill of lading that can be negotiated separately.

The main differences between FCL and LCL are:

  • occupied space/weight (total or partial)
  • cost per kg (LCLs are generally more expensive)
  • transit time (LCL may take longer time due to consolidation operations at departure and deconsolidation at arrival)

The choice between FCL and LCL shipping depends on the volume of goods being transported, the budget, and specific shipping needs. FCL is typically chosen for larger shipments where the cost per unit is reduced by shipping in bulk, offering faster transit times and less handling. LCL is ideal for smaller shipments, providing a cost-effective solution for shippers not able to fill an entire container but still wishing to leverage the benefits of containerized shipping. Each option has its advantages and considerations, making it important for shippers to assess their specific requirements when planning their shipping strategy.



Shipping pallets are portable platforms used to package and secure goods for freight shipment. Made from various materials such as wood, plastic, metal, or recycled materials, pallets are a fundamental component of the global logistics and warehousing industry. They provide a stable base for assembling, storing, handling, and transporting goods as a single load.



  1. Standardization: Pallets come in standardized sizes and shapes, facilitating efficient handling and storage in warehouses, as well as compatibility with equipment like forklifts and pallet jacks. The most widely used standard size globally is the 48 x 40-inch pallet, commonly known as the “GMA” pallet.

  2. Durability and Strength: Designed to bear heavy loads, shipping pallets are built to withstand the rigors of transport and multiple uses, offering protection to the goods they carry.

  3. Stackability: Pallets allow goods to be stacked in stable loads, maximizing space in warehouses and transport vehicles, and reducing the risk of damage during handling and transit.

  4. Material Varieties:

    • Wood Pallets: The most common type, valued for their strength, affordability, and ease of repair.
    • Plastic Pallets: Durable, lightweight, and resistant to moisture and pests, making them suitable for international shipping.
    • Metal Pallets: Used for heavy or high-value goods, they are the most durable but also the most expensive.
    • Presswood Pallets: Made from processed wood fibers, these are lightweight and often used for air freight.
  5. Sustainability: Many pallets, especially those made of wood or recycled materials, can be reused, repaired, or recycled, contributing to sustainable supply chain practices.

Applications of Shipping Pallets:

  • Transportation: Pallets are used to consolidate goods for easy loading and unloading from vehicles and containers.
  • Warehousing: They enable efficient storage and inventory management by allowing goods to be stacked in vertical spaces.
  • Display: In retail, pallets can be used to display merchandise directly on the shop floor, facilitating easy restocking and sales.



Wooden pallets are the most common type. Typically, they consist of three or four stringers that support deck boards, on top of which the goods can be positioned.

The most used wood is waste lumber, which cannot be used for the construction of furniture.

Their standard size in the USA is 48″ x 40″. The key observations for this type of pallet are:

  • They are durable, cost-effective, and environmentally friendly (the use of waste lumber doesn’t require the cutting of additional trees)
  • Timber pallets can be reused and recycled many times
  • They can be equipped with saddle foam and protective supports, to increase the robustness
  • They are available in multiple grades as follows:
    • Grade #1A “Super” Heavy Duty Pallets: Hardwood construction, 5 bottom boards, for rackable pallets and one-way or return shipping
    • Grade A: hardwood/softwood mix, 5 bottom boards, repaired with plates (no stringer inserts), for rackable pallets, and one-way or return shipping
    • Grade B: hardwood/softwood mix, repaired with stringer inserts, for rackable pallets and one-way shipping


Paper pallets are also called “eco pallets.” They are made from corrugated fiberboard, partial wood decks, or manufactured with laminated paperboard (generally with a composite honeycomb).

These pallets are generally non-returnable and are ideal for one-way transportation, even of high-weight material (up to 1 ton).

Paper pallets continue to evolve, as new designs result in better-performing paper pallets, and new water-resistant coatings help with moisture while not impeding recyclability.


  • Lighter and thinner than wood pallets (approx.  – 10 kilogram for standard size), resulting in more optimized shipping weight and charges
  • They can be disposed of or recycled (environment-friendly)
  • Meet IPPC requirements
  • Not subject to export and import restrictions applicable to wooden pallets
  • No fumigation or certification is required
  • Do not attract dust and are generally very clean
  • Can be manufactured to custom sizes to adapt to the available space on cargo
  • Do not need the use of nails, wood splinters, molds, and fire retardants
  • Suited for clean room environments in medical, pharmaceutical, and non-wet food applications. Free of contaminants, they comply with phytosanitary ISPM regulations governing export shipments without the need for additional treatment and replace heat-treated pallets


  • Susceptible to moisture (unless an additional coating is added)
  • More expensive than ISPM-15 compliant wood pallets
  • Do not match the strength and the stiffness of comparable wooden pallets
  • Less durable than wooden pallets



  • Made out of recycled and recyclable plastic materials
  • Fully recyclable
  • Long lifespan
  • High handling safety as no nails (full plastic)
  • Adapt to any environment, from hot to cold
  • Low cost
  • Resistant to chemical materials
  • Not subject to bacterial contamination
  • High mechanical performance
  • ISPM 15 compliant
  • Easy to handle
  • Available in most global standards, including EUR and ISO
  • Built with an anti-slip surface
  • Light but strong


  • Have to be eliminated when unusable
  • Higher cost when compared to wooden pallets
  • Not suited for storage on shelves


Often have removable beams (can be used for firewood),

  • Resistant to fire and rust
  • Free from bugs, bacteria, and pests
  • Extreme long life
  • Comply with ISPM 15 international shipping
  • Lightweight but strong
  • The top surface can be fully loaded
  • Can be cleaned and recycled fully
  • Very common for chemical and food transport
  • Less expensive than plastic, more expensive than wooden
  • No repair and maintenance
  • Stronger than any other material
  • Sizes can be customized


American Sizes

Dimensions, in inches (W x L)Dimensions, in mm (W x L)Target Industry
48 × 401219 × 1016Grocery and general goods
42 × 421067 × 1067Telecommunications and Paint
48 × 481219 × 1219Drums
40″× 481016 × 1219Military and Cement
48 × 421219 × 1067Chemicals and Beverage
40 × 401016 × 1016Dairy
48 × 451219 × 1143Automotive
44 × 441118 × 1118Drums and Chemicals
36 × 36914 × 914Beverage
48 × 361219 × 914Beverage, Shingles, and Packaged Paper
35 × 45.5889 × 1156Military 1/2 ISO Container
48 × 201219 × 508Retail

Weight Capacity:

TypeDimensions (L x W)Weight Capacity (lbs)
Standard (GMA)48 x 404,600
Half Pallet48 x 202,500
Quarter Pallet24 x 201,250
Euro Pallet48 x 324,400
Automotive Pallet48 x 454,000
Drum Pallet48 x 484,800

European Sizes

Dimensions, in inches
(W x L)
Dimensions, in mm
(W x L)
EURO pallet
31.50 × 47.24800 × 1,200EUR 1
47.24 × 39.371,200 × 1,000EUR 2
39.37 × 47.241,000 × 1,200EUR 3
31.50 × 23.62800 × 600EUR 6

Weight Capacity:

TypeDimensions (L x W) mmWeight Capacity (kg)
Euro Pallet (EPAL)1200 x 8002,500
Industrial Pallet1200 x 10003,000
Half Euro Pallet800 x 6001,500
Quarter Pallet600 x 400500
Mini Pallet800 x 4001,500

ISO Sizes

ISO Standard 6780 defines six types of Flat pallets, the following:

Dimensions, in inches (W × L)Dimensions, in mm (W x L)Most common in…
48.00 × 40.001219 x 1016North America
39.37 × 47.241000 x 1200Europe, Asia
44.88 × 44.881140 x 1140Australia
42.00 × 42.001067 x 1067North America, Europe, Asia
43.30 × 43.301100 x 1100Asia
31.50 × 47.24800 x 600Europe

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About the Author

Picture of Fabrizio S.

Fabrizio S.

Fabrizio is a seasoned professional in the international trading of materials for projects, including piping, steel, and metal commodities with a distinguished career spanning over two decades. He has become a pivotal figure in the industry, renowned for his expertise in bridging the gap between EPC contractors, end users, manufacturers, and stockists to facilitate the seamless delivery of complex piping product packages across the globe. Starting his journey with a strong academic background in business administration and international trade, Fabrizio quickly distinguished himself in the field through his adept negotiation skills, strategic vision, and unparalleled knowledge of the project materials market. His career trajectory has seen him collaborate with leading names in the construction, oil & gas, and petrochemical industries, earning a reputation for excellence in executing large-scale projects (EPC Contractors, Oil & Gas End Users). At the core of Fabrizio's success is his ability to understand the intricate needs of EPC contractors and end users, aligning these with the capabilities of manufacturers and stockists. He excels in orchestrating the entire supply chain process, from product specification and procurement to logistics and on-time delivery, ensuring that each project phase is executed flawlessly. Fabrizio's role involves intense coordination and communication, leveraging his extensive network within the industry to negotiate competitive prices, manage complex logistical challenges, and navigate the regulatory landscape of international trade. His strategic approach to package assembly and delivery has resulted in cost efficiencies, timely project execution, and high satisfaction levels among stakeholders. Beyond his professional achievements, Fabrizio is an active participant in industry forums and conferences, such as Adipec, Tube, and similar, where he shares insights on market trends, supply chain optimization, and the future of project materials trading. His contributions to the field are not only limited to his operational excellence but also include mentoring young professionals entering the trade. Fabrizio is one of the co-founders of Projectmaterials, a B2B marketplace targeting the above markets. https://www.linkedin.com/in/fvs20092023/

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7 Responses

  1. I do agree that when looking for shipping containers, we are encouraged to ensure we have the right sizes. By ensuring that we get the right size, we will ensure that we have ample space to fit our needs. I think I will look at the things I need to be stored before I have a shipping container rented.

  2. I found it interesting when you mentioned that wood is the most common type of pallet. No matter what kind of pallet you have, it seems like it would be important to make sure that you don’t exceed the weight limit. Investing in some kind of industrial floor scale could be a good way to prevent a pallet’s weight limit from being exceeded.

  3. Very useful post, I think the most important things is the titles make it the easier to read. Definitely all empty shipping containers need to get fumigated to get rid of potential pests. ISPM 15 stamp is mandatory for hardwood, softwood and all wood pieces present in the packaging. Armour Pest Control is a Dubai Municipality approved pest control company specialized in fumigation services for import and export containers, food storage and processing plants.https://armourpestworld.com/fumigation-dubai/

  4. It’s good to know that wooden pallets can be recycled many times and have multiple grades. My uncle needs to order a bulk of softwood pallets for his manufacturing company in the next couple of months. I’ll be sure to share this with him as he continues to look for the best deal on bulk pallets.

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