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Conex Box or Shipping Container: What’s the Difference?

2 min read
Jul 30, 2019

Conex boxes. Sea cans. Shipping containers. ISO containers. How do they differ – or do they? We’re asked this question about the appropriate terminology fairly often, so we thought we’d help reduce the confusion associated with these sturdy, hard-working structures.

How Conex Boxes Got Their Name

As we’ve discussed in previous posts, the origin of standardized steel shipping containers dates back to the 1950s. Commercial shipping operators and the U.S. military needed to find a way to efficiently ship goods overseas and across the country while keeping them safe. The logistics method associated with this type of shipping was referred to as Container Express and abbreviated as “ConEx.” This abbreviation became universal and was later used to identify the entire category of shipping containers – eventually becoming a single word: Conex.(Occasionally written as “Connex,” which is also an accepted spelling.)

Conex, though, isn’t the only term for 20-foot and 40-foot steel storage containers; they’re also referred to as intermodal containers, or ISO containers.  This industry term refers to the International Standards Organization (ISO), the largest developer of international standards and the organization that developed the standard dimension specifications for the steel shipping containers used worldwide. The design of the containers allows for intermodal shipping – the movement of containers from one mode of transport to another (ship, rail, or truck) without unloading and reloading its contents.

Shipping Containers Travel the World

Because Conex boxes have long been used to transport goods across the globe via the oceans,  regional terms have also been adopted, which is the case of the term “sea can.” Conex boxes are predominantly manufactured overseas, mainly in China. The structures are then stacked on top of each other and transported via freight liners filled with imported products destined for the U.S. and other world ports.

Now that we have the terminology down, we’d also like to answer a few of the other common questions we’re asked about Conex boxes:

What are the dimensions of a Conex box?
Conex boxes come in a variety of sizes: 20-ft. containers are the most common followed by 40-ft. and then 10-foot containers. Both are typically 8-ft. wide and 8-ft. 6-in. tall. “High cube” containers are also available, most of which are 40-ft. long and 9-ft. 6-in. high, making them taller by one foot. Check out our Common Container Specs for a complete list of the most popular container sizes.

How does Falcon acquire shipping containers?
As stated above, Conex box manufacturers are mainly overseas. Once the boxes travel to the US, they are either sold as “one trip” containers -- with minimal wear and tear-- or they are shipped off again, eventually being sold as “used” containers (having taken multiple trips). We use both “one trip” and “used” containers here at Falcon, making a decision based on what our clients need. Regardless of how used the container is, we implement a strict quality control process which ensures that all of our Conex boxes have maintained their structural integrity.

How much do Conex boxes cost?
This depends on a few factors: size, manufacturer, container age, and modifications. First, individual Conex box manufacturers price each of their containers based on size. Second, the age of the containers (“one-trip” or used) is factored into the cost. Third, modifications options such as windows, doors, climate control, or other features are added as needed. See the actual number breakdown by viewing our floor plans and, of course, you can always reach out to us directly to speak with an expert.

Whether you want to call it a Conex box, an ISO container, a sea box, or a shipping container, we have a wide variety of space solutions made from these remarkably sturdy structures! Look into our Storage Containers, Jack and Jill Living Container, Work and Store Container Office, or 40-foot Locker Room to learn more about their flexibility and the protections they offer.

Want to learn more? Stay tuned for our follow-up blog post, The Materials & Components of a Steel Shipping Container.

83 Uses for ISO Shipping Containers

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