Source: Notteboom, T. and J-P Rodrigue (2009) "The Future of Containerization: Perspectives from Maritime and Inland Freight Distribution", Geojournal, Vol. 74, No. 1, pp. 7-22.
- Transport unit. Irrespective of what it carries, the container is a transport unit requiring modes, terminals, infrastructure and equipment to undertake modal and intermodal operations.
- Production unit. Relates to what is carried in a container, from inputs, intermediary goods to outputs. As the container became the standard transport unit for international transportation, many production segments have embedded the container as a production planning unit with inputs and outputs considered as containerized batches. Industrial capacity is as such a function of intermodal capacity.
- Distribution unit. The container became a distribution unit leading to radical changes in freight distribution with a switch to time-based management strategies. The shorter the transit time (which is not necessarily proportional to distance), the lower the inventory level, which can result in significant cost reductions. The fact that the container is also its own warehousing unit has led to new distribution strategies where the modes as well as the terminals can be part of inventory management systems.