Shipping Container Basics

Many of the customers that purchase a cargo container from Containers Hawaii to modify don’t have any idea of its provenience. Almost all of the containers we use were shipped back and forth internationally, or to and from Hawaii to the mainland.

CSC Plate on Shipping ContainerOnce the cargo container is manufactured it is given an approval plate called a CSC plate or Container Safety Convention plate. It is then sold or leased to a shipping line where they are assigned a unique 7 digit number that supplies the basic description of the container and tracks it en route its destination.

The shipping ID numbers on the container will enable the shipping terminals to read who is the owner or shipping line, the cargo that’s in the container, whether it’s an import or export, full or empty, and its destination. The destination could be anything from a rail line, to a port for loading on an freight ocean vessel.

Cargo Container BoatOn ocean voyages these containers are stacked together and locked into place by the containers’ locking combs, and further secured with lashing bars. Containers can be loaded into the vessel either above or below deck with thousands of other containers. Despite securely stowing the cargo anywhere from 200 to 10,000 containers fall overboard every year.

Once the containers arrive at the port they are then are then offloaded to a shipping yard where they are typically stacked 5 containers  high. The cargo units have a lifespan of about 10 to 20 years although over 50% of that time will be spent with the container sitting empty in a warehouse, “repositioning.” These wait times for the containers are often due to international trade disputes which means the containers are losing revenue while, in a way, paying rent to be warehoused.

Shipping Container Loading DocIf a destination has been selected for the shipping container it is loaded from the shipping yard onto an empty chaise of an semi truck. The trucks are weighed into and out of the shipping yard to insure that it is carrying a safe load. These trucks could carry everything from scrap metal to television waiting to be delivered at your local Target store.


Legos, Architecture and Shipping Containers

I just recently revisited online searches I conducted with regards to shipping container modifications. The versatility and creativeness that can be derived from a simple 20 foot cubic container reminds me of the recent Wired article that asked word-class architects to go crazy with Legos.

Legos and Containers HawaiiA cargo container’s dimensions are somewhat similar (albeit on a smaller scale) but I’d bet a lot of the architectural Lego executions could be mimicked on a grander scale with a container.

What do ya think? Maybe 30 to 40 storage containers, some heavy duty cranes, and a lot of white paint and we could get a real world version of the Lego model below???
Lego Execution Containers Hawaii    I suppose  both Lego’s and shipping containers lend themselves more to the mid century modern movement or the Bauhaus movement of architecture. In fact, I think this Bauhaus design could be fabricated entirely from storage containers:

Bauhaus Containers Hawaii But there’s really no need to consider the what if’s since there are real world examples. Shipping containers have  spawned their own movement aptly named “cargotecture.” Behold some examples below:

Hawaii Cargo Architecture 1




Hawaii Cargo Architecture 2Hawaii Cargo Architecture 3

How Storage Containers are Refurbished

Refurbishing Shipping ContainerContainers Hawaii is in the unique and privileged position where the green movement converges with commerce. In fact, there is yet another aspect of art and architecture (cargotecture) that comes into play when shipping containers have been repurposed. Considering shipping containers are decommissioned after about 10 years of being exposed to the ocean environment that means every year old containers come onto the market asking to be recycled. All of the labor that goes into converting and modifying cargo containers are done on our Midway Street location. We employ 15 people to basically gut and convert the container into whatever a contractor may want. So as you can imagine our machine shop employs plenty of fabrication equipment including blow torches for welding, grinders, cutters, and tools for sheet metal bending.

Tools To Convert Shipping Containers

All of these tools, that are run off of Hawaiian solar power, have been used to convert the unit depending on specifications given by the buyer or contractor.  That can include cutting openings into walls to run electrical or install doors or windows. We’ve also been asked to install insulation and wi-fi. The storage containers have been purposed for almost anything: urban homes, shoppings malls, abstract art, concession stands, press boxes… you name it.

Since these containers are very durable and built for heavy duty transport it requires a staff specialized knowing how to handle steel. You can’t just hire a typical contractor that’s used to dealing with wood frame construction and dry wall. Before and after the conversion process the shipping container is cleaned  by staff wearing gear suits, dust masks and goggles. The process usually starts simply with a heavy duty push broom then a pressure washer or sandblaster is used, making sure to hit the nooks and crannies of the unit. This process helps remove any loose rust or paint and will identify any areas for repair. Rust spots are further cleaned with vinegar, wire brushes, aluminum foil and cloths.  Sometimes belt sanders are used for bigger projects. Once everything is dry we come back and hit the shipping container with a coat of primer followed by exterior paint.