The Container that Changed the Shipping World

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Pretend it’s 1950. The ship you’ve been waiting for has finally arrived at the port, but now you have to wait for your cargo to be unloaded. In 1950, that took a while. Large items were moved from ship to dock by crane, but smaller items were piled up on trays or tossed into nets. Each item had to be individually handled. And then the process began in reverse, as your cargo was loaded, one item at a time, onto a rail car or truck.

Sound time-consuming and tedious? It was. In fact, it wasn’t unusual for a ship to spend more time in port – being unloaded and reloaded – than it did at sea. Things had been done that way for thousands of years – all the way back to the Phoenicians – but Malcolm McLean wanted to make things more efficient. In 1953, he designed a truck that could be driven off the road and straight onto a ship.

Malcom Mclean

The idea was a good one, but putting the entire truck on the ship gobbled up precious capacity. McLean then modified his design so that the container could be removed from the chassis and loaded directly onto the ship. He bought a ship, reinforced the deck, and loaded it with 58 metal containers. By the time the ship got to its destination, McLean’s company was already taking orders for the return trip.

That’s how the practice of containerization was born, and it jumpstarted the shipping industry into an era of greatly enhanced efficiency. The International Organization for Standardization issued guidelines for container specifications to make international trade easier. Today, over 90% of bulk goods are shipped in containers. Some ships can carry 15,000 twenty-foot containers, and even larger ships are being built.

Container Receiving


When it comes to global trade and imports, containerization revolutionized supply chain management. But importing is a complex, highly regulated process. You’ve got to have complete visibility into your shipments at every point along the way. You have to know what’s in each container, where it came from, and where it’s going. You have to know if you’re dealing with an aggregate shipment, where goods from multiple orders, and possibly even multiple suppliers, are combined in a single container. Or you might be experimenting with container sharing, where your order is in the same container as another business’s order. You also need to be aware of anything that could affect your shipment – things like storms at sea or strikes at ports.

And then there’s the one that really scares everybody: regulatory requirements. Customs is now part of Homeland Security, and they’re serious about preventing terrorism. Not only do they want to verify that no one is smuggling drugs or other contraband, they also want to make sure no one has the opportunity to slip a bomb or other weapon into a container after it’s been loaded. New, tighter regulations reflect that focus:

  • Under the Customs Cargo Security Initiative, customs officials perform risks analyses on shipments before they’re loaded. As part of that, the 24-Hour Advance Notification Rule requires that vessel operators provide electronic manifest information to Customs. To help meet that requirement, operators require that shippers get the information to them no later than 24 hours ahead of time. And some operators require 72 hours. You can’t do that if you don’t have visibility into what’s going to be in your shipment.
  • The Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) asks shippers to police themselves and to follow the program’s security guidelines. The program includes a certification process, and, if you don’t get certified, you’re going to have more inspections and more delays.

Whether for reasons of efficiency or regulatory compliance, full visibility into the import process from start to finish is more important than ever. In fact, it’s essential. That’s going to be a tough hurdle to meet without a comprehensive warehouse management solution like QStock Inventory management.

If you would like to schedule a free consultation to see if QStock is right for you, Contact Us Today by filling in the form below. We would love to hear about your business and how QStock can help you achieve your business goals.

Justin Velthoen

Justin Velthoen

Justin Velthoen has 20 years of supply chain experience, from food distribution to manufacturing, to systems management and implementation. His primary focus is helping businesses realize the cost savings directly to their bottom line.

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QStock offers Warehouse Control, Integrated Shipping, eCommerce, ASNs, Commercial Invoices, Customer Portal, Drop Ship, Lot & Serial Track and Trace, Work Order, with compliance label printing from FDA UDI compliance to SSCC-18 Labels.

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