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Industry history

Making global trade possible

Developed in the 40s and 50s, containerised shipping transformed international trade by lowering the cost of products and goods, revolutionising ports and shipping times, and reducing losses. The brainchild of American Malcolm McClean, the container could be loaded, unloaded, stacked and transported without being opened. Today, container ships – often the largest commercial vessels on the ocean – carry about 60 per cent of seaborne trade by value each year. Improved equipment and developments such as automation have increased handling speeds, as well as efficiency and safety, in terminals all around the world. 

The box that revolutionised the world 

The metal shipping container replaced the traditional break-bulk method with a standardised box that could be loaded, unloaded, stacked and transported without being opened. Malcom McLean’s invention was a key enabler of globalisation. Traders quickly recognised the potential of container shipping.The international standards for container size agreed in 1961 paved the way for international containerised transport.

The introduction of mechanised handling systems meant movement from massive container ships to trailer trucks, or from cranes to forklifts, could be done smoothly and efficiently, as well as safely and securely. As ship capacities increased, ports modernised their handling facilities. Modern container ships can carry more than 18,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU). 

Development in container handling and automation

Modern container handling equipment such as straddle carriers, reachstackers and mobile yard cranes have increased loading and unloading speeds, as well as terminal efficiency.

Automation has also played a big role in lowering costs, increasing operational effiency and uptime, improving container tracking and more. The history of container terminal automation extends back some 20 years. The world’s first automated terminal was ECT Delta in the Netherlands, operational since the early 1990s. It was followed by the HHLA CTA Terminal in Hamburg, Germany, in 2000. In 2005, the first stage of Patrick’s AutoStrad(TM)  terminal went live in Port of Brisbane, Australia. In addition to greenfield projects, operators are increasingly interested in automating their existing terminals.

Read about Kalmar history and milestones