Side Opening shipping containers are built for intermodal transportation of goods that may be bundled or stacked on long pallets or other shipping units requiring loading and unloading from the side instead of one end. Examples of cargo that is shipped in these containers includes bundled lumber, pipe, elongated tanks in bins or on long skids, and other cargo that must be side loaded.


There are a few ways these containers are built to provide the easiest, most efficient way to load and unload them:

Side doors on one side with doors on one end – The side doors may be the same dimensions as the rear doors, or they may be door sections that allow the entire side to be opened, for optimal access to cargo.

Side doors on one side with doors on both ends – This configuration provides even more access to cargo

Side doors on both sides with doors on one end – like the first configuration, but with side doors on both sides

Side doors on both sides with side doors on both ends – Provides maximum possible access to cargo.


Side opening containers must be built to specifications that meet or exceed the stresses of intermodal shipping using Corten® steel or similar product. Also known as weathering steel, this alloy steel contains copper, chromium, and nickel. As the steel weathers, these added metals create an insoluble oxide layer that protects the underlying steel from rusting.

These containers are made by fabricating the base, doors, side panels, and roof sections. When all components are completed, they are moved to a station where the final assembly team sets and welds the components. After the box is completed, it is sent to be prepped for painting.

Painting and Finishing

To prep the assembled container for painting, it is shot blasted, removing all residue left from fabrication and assembly. After that, the entire unit is painted with a marine-grade primer to ensure the finish paint bonds. After the primer is dry, a marine grade, epoxy-based paint is used to apply the finishing coats of paint. In recent years, environmental concerns have grown over the use of solvent-based paints, with water-based coatings becoming more common. These new coatings, however, may not perform as well as their epoxy-based counterparts. Once the painting is finished, the container is sent to have all of its identification codes applied. The most important of these identifiers is the ISO 6346 code, which is assigned to every container manufactured. It consists of a three-digit prefix that identifies the owner, followed by a single-digit equipment category identifier, which identifies it as a container. Next is the actual serial number of the container, followed by a single check digit. This last digit provides a means of validating the accuracy of the recording and transmission of the owner code and serial number.

Stacking & Handling

Each side opening container is built with posts made from high-tensile strength steel, capped at each end with a rugged casting for locking containers together during shipment. For containers with a length of 6 or 12 meters (20 or 40ft), these are the corner posts. For containers that exceed 12 meters (40ft) in length, the posts are located at the 12 meter (40ft) coupling width. Stacking of containers must be in accordance with guidelines. Generally speaking, all 6 meter (20ft) containers can be stacked up to nine high. When stacking longer containers, however, they can only be stacked on top of two 6 meter (20ft) containers set end-to-end. Under no circumstances should a 6 meter (20ft) container be stacked on top of any other longer container.

High-value cargo

Cargo that is high in value, sensitive, or classified is shipped in containers that are equipped with various alarm and intrusion detection systems. More recently, in an effort to cut down on thieves stealing high-value loads, companies are utilizing state-of-the-art technology to create laser etched seals, tamper evident seals with RFID and GPS locators, along with improved security at every transfer point of the cargo from origin to destination.


There are a number of different ways these containers can be repurposed. Containers that have been removed from intermodal service make cost effective, convenient storage space. Other uses include building homes from these containers, even a cafe or a small shop. Some people have built man caves and outdoor entertainment areas using containers. Side opening containers make a great stage for a band, with protection from the weather. For outdoor events, they can serve as a place to set up a buffet line or a short order cook line. There really is no limit to what these containers can be used for. If they are to be used for building a home, however, there are some things to consider. These containers were built with a certain kind of structural strength to withstand the stresses of seagoing passage and intermodal transport. That structural strength is quite different from the structural strength required for building homes or subterranean spaces. If there are plans to stack containers or bury them, research how to safely do this. Without proper reinforcement or additional structural strength, a structure made with containers can collapse, causing damage, injury, or death. The additional effort to research the limitations of containers when used to build homes will be well worth it.

Advantages of Side Opening Containers

These containers came about as a way to solve the problems associated with transporting long, bundled cargo. Adding side doors to a container made it possible to ship items long-length items such as lumber, plastic pipe, glass, sheets of steel, machinery, and many other items that were difficult or impossible to load and unload from one end of a container. Efficiency and convenience is what these containers deliver.