Refrigerated Containers: Porthole Vs Integrated Reefer

Refrigerated containers


What Are Porthole Containers?

Porthole shipping containers, also known as Conair systems are large, well-insulated shipping units that keep items cool through the use of external cooling mechanisms.

When transporting via ship, this external cooling is provided by an onboard refrigeration unit that is permanently installed below the deck. This process involves blowing cold air into openings on the container from the lower portion of the vessel. The air travels through a T-frame under the cargo and pushes the hot air up and out near the top of the container.


Benefits of Porthole Containers

This type of container for the transport of temperature-sensitive goods benefits companies in a few ways.

Primarily, porthole containers can generally transport a much larger volume of goods. This is due to no interior space used up by an integrated cooling device. Consequently, shippers who make constant deliveries of large amounts of goods may find it beneficial to primarily use porthole reefers.

Lastly, converting porthole containers into standalone containers once decommissioned for temperature-controlled shipping is a bonus.


Drawbacks of Using Porthole Containers

The biggest drawback with porthole containers is that companies have to trust that the ships, trains, and other transportation methods will take all of the proper steps to keep the porthole container at the right temperature. This often includes monitoring the temperature through an external device. Real-time monitoring is much harder to perform in almost all regards in comparison to integrated reefers, especially during long hauls.

Over time, porthole containers are subject to a lot of handling, positioning, and bumping around. A majority of this happens when positioning the container over a new cooling source. The process, while not intrusive, adds more wear and tear over time in comparison to integrated containers. This means that, by default, porthole containers are susceptible to more damage in general.


What Are Integrated Reefers?

This type of container is newer than the porthole version and many shippers prefer them. Unlike porthole containers, integrated reefers contain a built-in refrigeration unit that keeps the contents within a specific temperature range.

However, integrated reefers also allow for real-time monitoring without the need to connect external equipment to take a reading.


Benefits of Using Integrated Reefers

Naturally, these units provide more flexibility in terms of switching between transportation methods, as they need only a connection to a power supply. The good news is that even on board ships with insufficient power to handle the entire reefer fleet, shippers can overcome this problem with external energy packs.

When switching to over-the-road transportation, there is no need for external clips or cooling mechanisms to attach.


Drawbacks of Using Integrated Reefers

As mentioned earlier, integrated reefers have a bit less space available than do porthole containers as it is occupied by the internal cooling system. This space may be negligible in most scenarios but it is certainly a consideration to bear in mind.

Integrated reefers also require more ongoing maintenance and this is where the majority of costs associated with them come into play. Porthole containers have the benefit of the majority of costs being upfront.


What Should You Use: Porthole or Integral Reefers?

The right type of refrigerated shipping container for your company depends on your industry and specific requirements. To further that, it also partially depends on what type of goods you are shipping. If you are shipping produce, for instance, your requirements may be slightly different than if you were to ship refrigerated medicines.

Integrated reefers can carry a few drawbacks, but those running small operations may not need to worry much about them. Specifically, small shipments that don’t require as much space inside a container can easily be packaged in an integrated container.

Also, due to the wider usage of integrated containers, workers will be more familiar with them and able to deal with problems that may arise.

In contrast, when completing large shipments regularly, porthole containers are an ideal solution. However, by most accounts, porthole reefers are declining in popularity.