What are Shipping Containers Made From? – Components and Materials

Shipping containers have reshaped the world of logistics and architecture in the last century, becoming an icon of global trade and modular construction. These seemingly simple, ubiquitous metal boxes are more complex than they appear on the surface. They are the backbone of the global supply chain but have also become the canvas of eco-conscious architects and designers. Delving deeper into what constitutes a shipping container can reveal insights into its endurance, versatility, and even its aesthetic appeal for those with a keen eye for industrial design.

The Evolution of the Shipping Container

Once upon a time, products traversing the globe were loaded loose on board ships, leaving them vulnerable to the elements during long voyages. It wasn’t until 1956thatthe modern shipping container, a standardized steel box, was introduced. This was the birth of containerization, a key milestone that revolutionized the transportation industry, making it more efficient and secure. Today, shipping containers are not only a symbol of that shift but a physical embodiment of it, too.

Diving into the Components

To fully understand a shipping container, it’s essential to break it down piece by piece. The frame, walls, doors, roof, and flooring are the container’s key components, each with a specific function that contributes to the strength and utility of the whole structure.

The Frame

The skeleton of the shipping container, the frame, gives it the structure to endure the rigors of transit. Typically made of high-strengthCorten steel, the frame is welded together into a series of vertical and horizontal supports.


Shipping container walls are the most recognizable feature, usually corrugated for added strength. They are comprised of steel panels, insulated in some models for temperature control, and each is fitted with multiple cargo tie-down points.


One of the most critical components for loading and unloading, the double swing doors of a container are extra-wide and incredibly sturdy. They aid in quick access to goods and withstand the massive vertical pressure containers undergo when stacked.


The roof, also corrugated and often flat to maximize stacking capability, seals the container from the top. It’s designed to be water-tight and includes ventilation to prevent condensation while goods are in transit.


The floor structure of a shipping container is usually made from marine-grade plywood, offering termite resistance and strength. Below the plywood, there are steel cross-members that provide support and rigidity, ensuring that the container can handle the tonnage of goods on top of it.

The Material World of Shipping Containers

Understanding the materials that compose a shipping container can lead to a deeper appreciation of its strength and durability. The main materials used are steel, aluminum, wood, and increasingly, composite materials.

Steel, the Bedrock

Steel is by far the dominant material used in the construction of shipping containers. It’s chosen for its unparalleled strength-to-weight ratio, making it perfect for bearing heavy loads, including stacking. The high carbon content of Corten steel increases its durability and corrosion resistance, essential for oceanic voyages where exposure to saltwater is inevitable.

Aluminium, the Lightweight Alternative

Aluminium, though more expensive than steel, offers certain advantages such as being lighter, which equals better fuel economy and lower carbon emissions for shipping companies. While less common in container walls, it’s often used for components like window frames and roll-up doors for this reason.

Wood, Nature’s Contribution

Inside the container, the flooring is made from wood. Marine-grade plywood is a solid and sustainable choice for this application. It provides a smooth, hard surface for the goods inside, allowing forklifts and other handling equipment to glide across the floor with ease. It’s also a recyclable, renewable resource, aligning with the sustainability goals of many companies.

Composites, the Future Maybe?

While not yet prevalent, composite materials offer intriguing possibilities for the future design of shipping containers. By combining fibers with resins, materials are being developed that promise to be lighter yet stronger and more resistant to corrosion. Future containers may see a blend of these materials, taking the best attributes of each to create the ultimate in durability and sustainability.

Sustainability Aspects of Containers

The shipping container, for all its industrial might, also has a softer side when it comes to its impact on the environment. The emphasis on sustainability in recent years has led to many exciting developments in the green usage of shipping containers.

Recycle and Reuse

The modular nature of shipping containers makes them ripe for recycling and reusing. Decommissioned containers often find second lives as building materials for homes, offices, and even public spaces. This not only gives them a new purpose but also significantly reduces the carbon footprint associated with construction.

Eco-Friendly Alternatives

With the surge in environmental awareness, the industry is exploring alternative, eco-friendly materials for container construction. The push for recyclable, biodegradable, and sustainable materials is inspiring a new wave of container designs that are not just sturdy and reliable but also good for the planet.

Role in Architecture and Design

Shipping containers have become the darlings of visionary architects and designers who value their robust structure, modular characteristics, and industrial charm. They have been repurposed into a myriad of architectural projects, from low-cost housing solutions to high-end coffee shops. Their utility has extended into the realm of art and public installations, where their simple elegance and symbolism stand out.

Where to Purchase Shipping Containers in New Zealand

NZBOX is the leading supplier of new and used shipping containers in New Zealand, serving the needs of various industries. With a commitment to quality and sustainability, NZBOX offers a diverse range of container types, sizes, and conditions, ensuring that each customer receives the perfect container for their specific requirements.


Shipping containers are not just metal boxes that we see on ships and trains. They represent a testament to human innovation and a transition towards a more sustainable future. The materials used in the construction of these containers, and how they are utilized and repurposed, speak volumes about our progress in logistics, construction, and environmental stewardship.

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