Product Developments (Engineering) Ltd


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Mass Force and Weight

Terms used in both commerce and container handling often appear to be inconsistant, the units also may be confusing, in particular mass and weight, both usually given in the same units kg or lbs. For legal reasons an effort was made to define both terms and their associated units as long ago as 1972 and are given in the amendments to the International Convention for Safe Containers. This is necessary because in commerce and the legal profession, weight means mass whilst in lifting and engineering it means force. To clearly define weight and mass, their basic units are those adopted from the SI system and are summarised here:
First and foremost is mass, this is the amount of matter an object contains and at last we now know what keeps it together, the Higgs Field, but we are not absolutely certain how this works but it does. The units used to quantify mass are kilograms (kg or kgs) and in some parts of the world, pounds (lb or lbs) are still used mainly because of tradition, familiarity, or resistance to change.
The general terms and symbols used to define mass include: LOAD m, LOADED m, PAYLOAD P and RATING R, however, these do NOT apply internationally.
When we need to move the mass of a container from one place to another, sufficient force will have to be applied to overcome the resistance to want to be moved. Newton called this resistance "inertia" and became his 1st Law. He next gave us the equation to evaluate the magnitude of the force needed to overcome this inertia, his 2nd Law, the Law of Motion and is Force= mass x acceleration. Now if the container is being transported, then, whatever it is mounted on must provide enough force to move it (if it's on an incline it may even move on its own accord). The main problem arises when anything has to be lifted, again Newton's 2nd Law applies but this time the force required is that to overcome gravity.
This is where the anomaly with the terminology becomes a problem because the same units are STILL used to define force and mass. So to understand the difference we need to clearly define the units of force so restating Newton's 2nd Law, with its units.
Force= mass(kg) x acceleration (m/s2)
or F=ma
where F and a are vectors,having both magnitude and direction,
whilst m is a scalar just stuff in this case.
Thus the units are kg m s-2 and named newtons or simply N
after the great man. Loading signifies Force.

Now in this equation acceleration is that due to gravity and is assumed to be constant around the world and taken as 9.81m/s2. (The standard value for general use is 9.8m/s2 and for approximate use 10m/s2) so the force required to lift 1kg is 9.8N and this is what is termed WEIGHT and should be stated in Force units N, but nobody does, nor does anyone ever ask for 4.9N of apples just half a kilo so we just carry on using kgs or lbs, as usual.

The resulting force due to gravity is known as a Body Force and acts throughout the mass towards the centre of the earth and in this form is difficult to manage, however, to simplify the problem the total resulting body force is considered to act at the mass centre, generally known as the Centre of Gravity (C of G) acting in the direction of acceleration, thus simplyfing the evaluation of all other forces involved when lifting anything.

For example when top lifting a container with a hook attached to a sling assembly, the force at the hook must equal the weight of the container expressed in N's but as already stated it isn't. Instead we use kg, or lbs, the unit of mass, so to differentiate weight (force) due to gravity from mass, the suffix g is added.
Hence a container of mass m, Payload P plus Tare T, rated at R needs a force of Rg to lift it, the units being the same, the difference between them is just a g.
If still confused, an elegant explanation is given at Weight or Mass

Contemporary Mass Units

Mass unit of 1
Short ton USA
Imperial (long) ton
Ton  ton
Metric ton SI
tonne mt
Mass / weight units are used in appropriate places with differing topics and, therefore, are not necessarily consistant, this is because of national definitions of these units as explained in Tonne. Since the information on this site has been derived over the past 40 plus years it was relevant to contemporary terminology based on the weight of Series 1 containers ie from 30Ton for 40ft units to 10Ton for 10ft units etc. Subsequent lifting equipment capacities were, therefore, based on Safe Working Loads (SWL) and now Working Load Limits (WLL) and quantified in Imperial Ton unit. obviously this practice is slowly changing and limiting lifting capacities are given in SI kg / KG units.

Having precisely defined the units of mass, weight and force, in accordance with the 1993 ammendment, the units used on the CSC Safety Approval Plate, should be :

Maximum Operating Gross Mass (GM)
Units kg, kgs and lb, lbs
(Upper or lowercase)

Allowable stacking load for 1.8g,
Units same as GM above.

Transverse Racking Test Force. Side/ End wall strength
Units newtons or N

Slowly these units have been adopted as shown on this CSC plate for a container made in 2016. But many containers still bear the a mixture of units (in upper and lower case, singular and plural )

Finally, Newton's 3rd Law states that To every action there is an equal but opposite reaction. Lifting forces are the reaction forces, susceptible to failure, and to prevent this they have to be predicted and evaluated in order to select the appropriate gear and avoid failure. Having evaluated a Working Load Limit (WLL) or Safe Working Load (SWL) based on the all the known information, there are the famous "unknown unknowns" scenario where the lifting forces induced may be well in excess of those predicted and here is where the Factor of Safety (F of S) comes into play.

The mandatory minimum F of S is 4 from ISO 3874.

It is straightforward when applied to a top lifting twistlock subjected to simple tension only, whereas bottom side lifting lugs are subjected to a complex stress state induced by offset loading whose F of S can only be truely ascertained by a test to destruction. A test was conducted on one of these lugs, prior to general release, and terminated, for safety reasons, at 64.6 Tons, sustaining deformation but without failure of any component parts.