What is CBM in international shipping? Learn how to calculate it

CBM in shipping is the amount of freight volume occupied by a shipment in an air or sea freight container. In this blog, learn more about how to calculate it.
CBM in shipping
In international shipping, it is crucial for businesses and freight companies to understand how freight costs are determined. For air and sea freights, especially less-than-container load (LCL) shipments, the volume of goods being shipped plays a key role in calculating freight costs. This is where CBM (or cubic meter) measurement comes into play. Here, we will discuss what CBM is, its significance in the shipping industry, and how it is calculated to determine freight charges.

What is CBM?

CBM or cubic meters is the freight volume of local or international cargo. It is one of the most commonly used volume metrics for air, ocean, and road transportation, used when measuring cargo or calculating costs. 1

What is CBM in shipping?

CBM in shipping signifies a shipping container or cargo unit’s volumetric capacity. The larger the CBM, the higher the number of products in the cargo, which means more goods can be sent. When dealing with international shipments, CBM is utilized as a volume-measuring unit. The volume of foreign exports may be measured in two ways – by weight and by volume. ‘CBM’ is the volume occupied by goods in a truck or a railway car, which is used to determine the cost of the shipment. It is also used by importers, exporters, and manufacturing organizations to determine the amount of freight.2

How does CBM affect shipping costs?

CBM measurement is critical in shipping cargo since it has a significant impact on overall transportation costs. It determines the freight cost of a shipment transported by air or ocean freight based on the volume of the package. While a package’s weight dictates its transportation cost, knowing the CBM rate is important in cases where the cargo is exceedingly light. Choosing the correct container size for your shipment allows you to move your goods more efficiently and control your freight costs.

What is CBM chargeable weight?

The chargeable weight is the weight used by the company to assess freight charges. A freight forwarder will compute dimensional or volumetric weight of your shipment and the gross or actual weight. Instead of deciding at random, your freight service provider selects the greater of the two.

How to calculate CBM in shipping?

Cargo may not necessarily be packaged in standard forms like a cube or a cuboid. It can come in a variety of sizes, depending on the type of goods. To determine the CBM of your cargo, you must first categorize it based on the form and size of your products. Below are some of the ways to calculate CBM for such packages2:

Regular packages

Cube and cuboid packaging are the most commonly used containers as they are widely accessible, simple to use, and a cost-effective option.

CBM = Height x width x length

Irregular packages

In unusual or extraordinary circumstances, you may be required to use unusual packaging for shipment purposes. Because these packages lack symmetrical dimensions, the traditional CBM formula is not applicable.

CBM = Longest height x longest width x longest length

Cylindrical packages

Cylindrical packages are valuable to certain traders that deal in unusual products. Oil dealers, for example, prefer cylindrical containers because they offer superior packing and shipping options.

CBM = π x r² x h (The value of π is generally taken as 3.14)

How do you calculate CBM chargeable weight?

Below are a few important terms to understand to calculate chargeable weight:
Actual Weight: The gross weight of the package to be sent is the actual weight.
Dimensional or volumetric weight: Once the CBM value of the package is determined, multiply it by the dimensional weight factor or ‘DIM factor’, as per the mode of transportation to obtain the package’s dimensional or volumetric weight3.

DIM factors for different shipping modes:

Truck LTL: 1:3000
Express Freight/Courier: 1:5000
Air Freight: 1:6000
Ocean Freight: 1:1000

In the end, whichever is higher accounts for the carrier’s chargeable weight.

How to calculate air shipment cost using CBM?

In an air shipment, the CBM calculation stays the same, but the freight is charged on gross weight or volume weight (after calculating CBM by DIM factor) – whichever is greater. The DIM factor for air freight is usually 1:6000.7

Volume weight plays a crucial role in calculating air freight costs because shipments that are light but occupy a lot of space shouldn't be charged less than heavier shipments that use less space. By considering both the gross weight and the volume weight, carriers can ensure accurate pricing for air shipments.

Example: Let us assume that a package has dimensions of 2m length, 2m height, and 2m width and a gross weight of 500kg. The freight forwarder has charged $2 per volume weight or gross weight, whichever is higher.

CBM = 2 x 2 x 2 = 8.

Volume weight = 8/0.006 (since dimensions are in meters, divide 1 CBM/0.006 to get volume weight in kilograms) = 1333.33 KG.

Since volume weight is greater than gross weight, it will be used for calculating the air freight cost.
Air freight cost = 2 x 1333 = $2666.8

The following example is provided for illustrative purposes only and should not be construed as an official definition or representation.

How to calculate sea shipment cost using CBM?

Ocean freight companies prioritize the space taken up in a container by an LCL shipment over the weight of the shipment.

Let us assume that an ocean freight forwarder has given you a quote of $20 per CBM or per 1000kg. The DIM factor generally used for ocean freight is 1:1000 (1 cubic meter is equal to 1000 kilograms).

Example #1: The dimensions of your package are 5m length, 5m width, and 5m height. The weight is 500kg.
CBM = 5 x 5 x 5 = 125.
Since the weight of the package is less than 1000kg and the CBM is greater than the weight, the CBM will be considered for freight cost calculation.
Freight cost = 125 x 20 = $2500.

Example #2: The dimensions of your package are 2m length, 1m height, and 3m width, and its weight is 8000kg.
CBM = 2 x 1 x 3 = 6.
Here, the weight of the cargo is over 1000kg, and the CBM is less than the weight. Therefore, the shipment weight will be used to calculate freight cost.
Freight cost = 8 x 20 = $160.9

The following example is provided for illustrative purposes only and should not be construed as an official definition or representation.

CBM fit for different containers

1. 20-ft container:

A 20-ft (20-ft long) container may hold 25–28 cubic meters of cargo, with a maximum capacity of 33 cubic meters of cargo. This depends on the nature of the goods since certain items may be unstackable, or have large boxes that are hard to fit within the container.

2. 40-ft container:

Typically, a 40-ft container with a length of 40 feet may hold between 54 and 58 cubic meters of cargo, with a maximum capacity of 66 cubic meters of cargo. Again, this depends on the product's characteristics and the cartons' dimensions.

3. 40-ft high cube container:

The 40-ft and 40-ft high cubes are identical except for the slight increase in height, which can allow traders to fit another row of merchandise. The height gain is only 27cm, but it results in an additional 9 CBM of volume and a maximum capacity of 72 cubic meters of cargo.

CBM conversion to KG

The calculated CBM for different shipping methods are:

By sea:

1 CBM = 1000 Kg

By air:

1 CBM = 167 Kg

By road:

1 CBM = 333 Kg11

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Shipping internationally can be a complex process, especially for exporters starting new operations. Safe and timely deliveries impact profitability, brand authority and customer loyalty. With its e-commerce exports program, Amazon enables Indian sellers and exporters with the entire export process including international logistics. With Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA), sellers can send their shipments to Amazon fulfillment centers. Amazon then handles storage, packaging and delivery on your behalf.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the full form of CBM?
The full form of CBM is Cubic based Meters.
How many CBM is a 40-foot container?
A 40-foot container (40 feet in length) can typically hold 55 to 58 CBM worth of goods. However, the exact CBM is determined by the type of goods and size of the boxes.
Published on December 30, 2022.


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