ASTM D4169 – Testing Shipping Containers

Railroad lineup of colorful ASTM D4169-16 performance-tested shipping containers under sunset.

ASTM D4169-16 – Standard Practice for Performance Testing of Shipping Containers and Systems provides a uniform basis of evaluating the ability of shipping units to withstand their distribution environment.

Shipping and transport were long used throughout human history as part of distant exchanges, and some type of shipping container has been in use since the utilization of rail- and horse-drawn transport in late Eighteenth Century England. However, modern shipping was conceived in 1955 when Malcom P. McLean, a trucking entrepreneur from North Carolina, bought a steamship company with the idea of transporting entire truck trailers with their cargo still inside. His later realized it would be simpler to have a container that could be lifted directly from a vehicle and into a ship, establishing the system of “intermodalism”.

Intermodalism means that the same cargo, within the same container, could be transported with minimum interruption using a variety of transport modes. These containers were to be moved seamlessly between ships, trucks, and trains. Since this immensely simplified the logistics of the shipping process, this type of container was soon standardized so that it would fit well with other containers on these different modes of transportation. It has been actively used now for 60 years.

Barge in open sea loaded with ASTM D4169-16 shipping containers.
Aerial view of freight ship with cargo containers on the sea. See similar photos: :

The enhanced shipping capabilities that were brought forth from the establishment of this industry standard are one of the primary causes of society’s current state of mass globalization. Prior to the birth of the Internet and other contributing factors of globalization, the standard shipping container made it possible for products and materials to easily spread throughout the planet in ways that were far too difficult before. By assuring their performance, ASTM D4169-16 helps to support the globalized web of individuals, companies, and nations that comprise our society.

ASTM D4169-16 covers a laboratory testing method that exposes the shipping containers to a sequence of anticipated hazards for their journey. The test specimen to be used should consist of complete shipping containers that are representative of the container system as a whole. This includes the actual cargo contents, but dummy test loads are acceptable under certain conditions.

The standard addresses a wide range of concerns through its different testing procedures. Some of these are applicable to almost any shipping container being used, while others are more specific to a particular usage. For example, the hazard of rail switching, which is tested through longitudinal shock, would not apply to shipping containers that are not transported using railways.
Other hazards that ASTM D4169-16 prepares for include handling, warehouse stacking, vehicle stacking, stacked vibration, vehicle vibration, loose load vibration, environmental hazard, low-pressure hazard, and concentrated impact. The appropriate procedures for these are detailed in the standard.

ASTM D4169-16 – Standard Practice for Performance Testing of Shipping Containers and Systems is available on the ANSI Webstore.

One thought on “ASTM D4169 – Testing Shipping Containers
  1. From an overall perspective, we as onlookers would definitely view the storage containers to be hazard-free probably due to the durability of the material that they are made of. However, external factors could affect the way they work and it is indeed necessary for the laboratory testing to be held before officially using them.

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