Specialized containers are designed to serve specific industrial applications.

You might not know it, but shipping containers come in all shapes and sizes. Well, maybe not all shapes, but the umbrella term covers a few types of containers. Some come with only minor differences like different types of doors and features but some are much more distinct.

The most common shipping containers are the standard and high cube boxes that come in 10’, 20’, 40’, 48’, 45’ and 53’ lengths. Other than the difference in length, these units are all pretty similar.

The specialized units on the other hand are significantly different from each other. These units tend to cost more and are less common. Instead of transporting common consumer products, they’re designed to carry specialized cargo, including crane components, heavy equipment, oversized pipes and sometimes even perishable food items.

The specialized containers this article will focus on include open tops, flat racks, reefers and containers with side doors.


As their name suggests, open top shipping containers are built similarly to standard containers, with the only difference being that they have a removable top that’s made out of tarp or tarpaulin instead of CORTEN steel. To accommodate different sizes and volume of cargo, they come in 20’ and 40’ lengths.

The advantage of open top shipping containers is that they make it easy to load large and oversized items that doesn’t fit through standard container doors. Whatever the cargo may be, cranes can easily lift it up over the container walls and drop it down slowly on the floor. To protect the cargo, the tarp is installed using roof support bars that will keep it from collapsing on itself in case it rains or snows.

Some common uses for open top containers include industrial length steel and plastics, heavy equipment and machinery, oversized tires, scrap metal and more.


Flat rack containers get their name from the shipping container being flat, without any side walls and sometimes without a front and rear. These come in 20’ and 40’ options but they also offer fixed or collapsible ends, and sometimes no ends at all, although those are more rare.

These units make it possible to transport cargo that is oversized in length, height AND width. Because of the lack of side walls, it’s possible have some overhang on both sides of the container to be able to fit cargo whose width spans wider than that of the container itself. As with open top containers, you can load flat rack containers with a crane or forklift to save time.

Among all shipping containers, flat racks are probably the easiest to store when not in use. The lack of walls and ability to collapse their ends means you can save a lot of space. Commonly, flat racks are used to transport vehicles and boats, large pipes, drums and metal sheets but can be used for other cargo.


Containers with side doors are not significantly different than standard units, but we include them in this article because they’re used for specific applications.

Because standard containers have walls at the front and doors at the rear, it means they can only be loaded from the front to the back. Since containers with side doors have doors on the side of the container, this is no longer a restriction. The doors on the side create partitions through the length of the container so each section can be accessed through its respective door.

Heavy cargo can easily be loaded inside with the help of a forklift and stored securely with locks on each door.


The term reefer refers to shipping containers that have a functioning a/c unit that controls the interior temperature of the container consistent. Unlike regular shipping containers, reefers are built with an aluminum outside that is rust safe. Their interior is also different and made of stainless steel walls and floor. The stainless steel used inside is food safe and easy to clean for care-free maintenance. Despite being built with different materials, all reefer containers are weather sealed to keep the temperature inside constant and protect the contents inside from spoilage.

Each reefer has a functioning temperature control unit but the specifications vary with some units being more powerful than others. They also come in 20’ and 40’ length options with the 40’ being a high cube. Generally, these units are used to transport perishable food items or anything else that needs to be kept cool.

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