After a frustrating experience in 1937 having to wait an entire day for his truckload of cotton to be loaded onto a boat bound for Istanbul, a seed was planted for Malcolm McLean – a seed that became the modern marine container that is ubiquitous today! McLean is today credited with implementing the standard container in 1956, which could be lifted up and placed on a ship from a truck – saving time and money.
In the decades since, the shipping industry has encountered periods of change as shipping continued to expand and the relative distance between countries continued to shrink. However, one thing has stayed the same – formal sizes of containers, which were established by the International Standards Committee in 1961: the twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU = 20' length x 8' width x 8.5' height) and the forty-foot equivalent unit (FEU = 40' x 8' x 8.5'). TEU and FEU are often considered the defining capacity unit for all container ships today instead of Dead Weight Tonnage (DWT).
The current generation of containerships has pushed the limits of ship design and harbor capabilities. Similar to the super-tankers of the 1970s, containerships are now exceeding original expectations. Containerization and intermodalism have radically altered the movement of cargo. Today's merchant fleet worldwide consists of 3,375 containerships with a capacity of 7.2 million TEUs. Caterpillar is currently supplying engines to Maersk Lines vessels being built today that are capable of carrying up to 10,000 TEUs.
Their impact on the world's trade is significant. In 1983 the total US foreign ocean-borne commerce was 694.4 million metric tons; ten years later, this had increased to 884.4. Ten years after that, it had magnified to 1,167.9 million metric tons, nearly doubling in just twenty years. Growth of this magnitude is only possible through the use of containers.
"Containerization has allowed businesses around the world to link up in a smooth, very efficient way of transporting goods,” said Chris Koch, president of the World Shipping Council, a Washington trade association representing container ship operators. "Before McLean, the cost of transportation would be prohibitive for many commodities." Without McLean’s innovative transportation ideas, we would never be able to grow the shipping industry.
So as the global economy rebounds, I wonder what the next trend in the shipping industry will be. Of course, Caterpillar Marine Power Systems is there for propulsion and auxiliary power as ships get larger and larger. However, I wonder where the next momentous idea will come from – could it be you? What trends are you seeing in your part of the world? Who knows – you could be the next Malcolm McLean, quietly revolutionizing the world around you! Please post your feedback below.
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