Do you know the concept of CBM in shipping?
Do you know that understanding this concept can help you save your shipping costs?
Well, when you ship your products globally either by air or ocean, you need to contact a freight forwarder.
A freight forwarder is an agent who works as an intermediary between the importer and exporter and is responsible to deliver the products to their final destination.
While the shipping process takes place, it is essential to measure the cargo that is being shipped across borders. Here comes the concept of CBM, as it is the unit in which the entire cargo is measured to determine the cost of shipping.
Now, if you are thinking about how to accurately calculate CBM for different shipment types? No worries anymore! In this article, we are going to answer all your queries regarding the term “CBM” and its calculations.
Table of Content
Chapter 1: What CBM Term Means & How it is Calculated
Chapter 2: How to Calculate CBM Chargeable Weight for Shipping?
Chapter 3: Practical Examples on How to Calculate CBM for Shipments by Air, Sea, and Express.
Chapter 4: Types of Containers and their CBMs
Chapter 5: Which Factors can Influence CBM Rates?
Chapter 6: Frequently Asked Questions about CBM Meaning
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: What CBM Term Means & How it is Calculated
Global trade enables merchants to transfer and transport their goods on an international scale. Big volumes of commodities are transported by large air or ocean freight vessels between sellers and buyers all over the world.
The right container size for your products can help you to better manage and control your shipping costs.
In order to do that, it’s essential to understand CBM’s meaning, and how we can calculate CBM using different methods. So, let’s get started!
1. CBM Meaning in Shipping Terms
CBM is an abbreviation for Cubic Meters, and it is the most generally used measurement unit for the volume of shipments all over the globe.
CMB or Cubic Meter is that unit through which we can measure the volume of the entire cargo. In simple words, we can define CBM as the metric volume unit, which clarifies how much space the package will take.
2. Why do we need to Calculate CBM in Shipping?
You have understood what does CBM means in shipping terms, now let’s understand the importance of calculating CBM. As mentioned earlier, CBM helps us calculate the shipment volume being sent by ocean freight or air freight, which ultimately determines the shipment’s freight cost.
While you’re exporting products anywhere in the world, you will need to go through the CBM measurement process, because it greatly influences the overall cost of transport.
3. The formula for Calculating CBM in Shipping
After understanding CBM’s meaning, and its importance; if you’re curious to know how freight forwarders determine the CBM of the goods being transported, we’ve broken it down for you.
It’s quite simple to calculate the CBM of any product. You just need to pack your product in a cubic / cuboidal box, then correctly map the dimensions. Start measuring the length, height, and width of the box in meters.
Please note that the measurements should only take place in meters. It is recommended to convert it first in meters when taken into any other unit. After that, simply multiply them to get the CBM value of the package.
CBM Calculation Formula:
 CBM: (length x width x height) = CBM
By using this formula, you can measure the volume of your cargo in CBM (m³).
For Instance:
If the length of your carton is 2 meters, width is 2.5 meters, and height is 2.5 meters. Then CBM would be:
2×2.5×2.5 = 12.5 m³
When a freight forwarder knows the CBM of a single carton, they will simply determine the total volume of the entire shipment using the following formula:
CMB x quantity = total volume
Now let’s suppose, you have 10 such identical cartons in a single shipment, then the total volume would be:
12.5 x 10 = 125 m³
While calculating CBM using this formula, we solely consider the dimensions or volume of the package, not its weight.
However, many shipping firms employ the concept of CBM Chargeable Weight, which also takes the weight of the shipment into account when calculating the freight cost. We will discuss this concept in depth below.
4. Methods for CBM Calculations:
A shipment doesn’t always arrive in standard shapes like a cube or a cuboid. Depending on the type of goods, they might come in a variety of sizes and shapes.
For such packages, there are several ways of determining CBM. Let’s start understanding them in detail.
 CubeShaped Package.
The formula for calculating the CBM of a cubeshaped package remains the same, which is to multiply the package’s width, height, and length (w x l X h) in meters.
 Irregular Shaped Package.
An irregularly shaped package’s CBM is determined by multiplying the package’s longest width, length, and height.
Then simply use this formula:
 CBM= length (max) x width (max) x height (max)
The freight charges for irregularly shaped containers are calculated by comparing the freight cost with CBM & the freight cost calculated with volumetric weight. Whichever is higher, will be charged from the shipper.
We have discussed in detail later on about how to calculate the volumetric weight of different shipments.
 Cylindrical Package
For calculating the CBM of a cylindrical package, such as pipe or a rolled carpet; place it upright with one of its curved faces and start measuring its height. Then determine its radius. Make sure to take all measurements in meters.
To calculate the shipment’s CBM, use the following formula:
CBM = π x r ² x h
 π symbol for pi, and its value commonly assumed to be 3.14.
 r represents radius.
 h represents height.
Chapter 2: How to Calculate CBM Chargeable Weight for Shipping?
When shipping products, it is common that packages relatively light in weight take up significantly so much space than a heavier but smaller package.
As a result, if the shipping firm applies charges for both packages as per their actual weight, the larger but lighter package will be unprofitable to ship because it takes up more space but weighs less.
Let’s understand it this way: it will cost more when shipping a plane filled with feather pillows than a plane full of smartphones. The pillows will take more space but will cost less, and to make a significant profit you will need more shipments.
Therefore, Companies use the concept of CBM Chargeable Weight to resolve this issue. For fully understanding chargeable weight, you should know the difference between actual weight and volume weight.
1. What is the difference between “Volume Weight” and “Actual Weight” in Shipping?
Actual Weight: The gross weight of a package that is being shipped is referred to as the actual weight.
Volume Weight: Volume weight also referred to as dimensional weight—is calculated to make sure that the shipping company wouldn’t lose money on large, but lightweight cargo.
Volumetric weight is determined by using the package’s length, height, and width. Simply multiply the results for obtaining the cubic size of the package.
Once you have known the cubic size of your package, now divide total cubic inches by dimensional weight factor; which depends on the mode of transportation.
DIM (Dimensional Weight) Factors for Different Modes of Transportation:
 Sea/Ocean Freight:1:1000
 Air Freight:1:6000
 Express Freight: 1:5000
 Amazon FBA: 1:5000
2. How CBM Chargeable Weight is calculated?
As we have mentioned earlier, CBM Chargeable Weight is calculated to solve the problem of determining how should companies charge when they have two types of shipments.
One with actual weight greater than volume weight, while other with actual weight less than volume weight.
Well, to determine the Chargeable Weight, actual weight and volume weight are compared and the greater one is used as the freight cost.
Chapter 3: Practical Examples on How to Calculate CBM for Shipments by Air, Sea, and Express.
Now you have known that your freight forwarder will first compare gross weight & dimensional weight, and will charge you based on which one of the two is greater.
If the gross weight exceeds dimensional weight, you would be charged based on the former. However, if the dimensional weight is higher, that would be the chargeable weight.
We have also mentioned DIM factors for calculating CBM for shipments sent by Air, Sea freight, and Express. So, let’s start understanding each calculation with practical examples.
1. How to Calculate CBM for Air Freight with Practical Example.
The CBM calculation stays the same in an air shipment, however, the freight will be charged based on gross weight or volume weight, whichever is greater.
The DIM factor used in air freight is generally 1:6000, or you can divide 1 CBM (in case your package dimensions are in meters) by 0.006 to get volume weight in Kgs. Let’s look at an example to better understand this.
Example:
 Freight rate: $15 per CBM or ton.
 DIM factor: 1:6000
 Package dimensions: 2m length x 2m height x 2m width
 Gross weight: 500 kg (0.5 ton)
 Dimensional Weight: 2 x 2 x 2 / 0.006 = 1333.33 kgs (1.33 ton)
Here, we have known that volume weight is greater than the gross weight. Therefore, the former will be used to calculate the air freight cost.
 Freight Cost: 15 x 1.33 = $19.95
2. How to Calculate CBM for Sea Freight with Practical Example.
LCL shipping is a method to transport small amounts of cargo in a shared container.
When you send an LCL (less than container load) shipment by sea, the DIM factor for calculating volumetric weight would be 1:1000. It implies that one cubic meter is equal to approximately 1000 kgs.
To calculate LCL shipment costs, two factors will be considered – the CBM and the weight. Let us illustrate this with examples.
Note: We would like to mention one thing that different forwarders using different formulas to calculate CBM Chargeable Weight by sea.
Some uses the DIM factor as 1000, some uses 6000 etc. Some even use 500. In our example we have used 1000 but we will advise you to always confirm this with your freight forwarder to get the accurate volume weight which is chargeable for your shipment.
 When CBM is greater than Weight.
Example:
 Freight rate: $15 per CBM or ton.
 DIM factor: 1:1000
 Package dimensions: 5m length x 5m height x 5m width
 Gross weight: 500 kgs (0.5 ton)
 CBM: 5 x 5 x 5 = 125 m³
Here, the CBM is larger than the shipment’s weight, and the weight is less than one ton. As a result, the freight cost will be calculated as follows:
Freight Cost: 125 x 15 = $1875
 When Weight is greater than CBM.
Example:
 Freight rate: $15 per CBM or ton.
 DIM factor: 1:1000
 Package dimensions: 2m length x 1m height x 3m width
 Gross weight: 7000 kgs (7 ton)
 CBM: 2 x 1 x 3 = 6 m³
Here, the CBM is smaller than the shipment’s weight, and the weight is larger than one ton. As a result, the freight cost will be calculated as per weight:
Freight Cost: 7 x 15 = $105
3. How to Calculate CBM for Express Shipping with Practical Example.
The CBM calculation stays the same in an express or road shipment, however, the freight will be charged based on gross weight or volume weight, whichever is greater.
The DIM factor used in express freight is generally 1:3000, or you can divide 1 CBM (in case your package dimensions are in meters) by 0.003 to get volume weight in Kgs. Let’s look at an example to better understand this.
Example:
 Freight rate: $60 per CBM or ton.
 DIM factor: 1:5000
 Package dimensions: 1.5m length x 0.8m height x 0.6m width
 Gross weight: 175 kgs (0.175 ton).
 Dimensional weight: 1.5 x 0.8 x 0.6 / 0.005 = 144 kgs (0.144 ton)
Here, we have known that dimensional weight (144kgs) is lower than the gross weight (175kgs). Therefore, actual weight will be used to calculate the express freight cost.
 Freight Cost: 60 x 0.144 = $8.64
Chapter 4: Types of Containers and their CBMs
In general, while calculating the CBM of the consignment, one should also know the CBM of the container as well.
Standard containers normally come in three sizes: 20ft, 40ft, 40ft HQ and 45ft, with different dimensions. Let’s understand the main container types along with their dimensions, and CBM.
1. Dry Freight Container & CBM Measurements
Dry Cargo containers are available in lengths of 20ft and 40ft. The standard size is a 20ft, General Purpose container, known as 20ft GP.
Such containers could also be manufactured as a High Cube container that possesses an increased height enough to hold more cargo.
Let’s have a look at the table below to understand the different sizes, dimensions, and CBM of Dry Freight Containers.
 Dry Freight Container
20 ft  40 ft  40 ft High Cube  

Interior Dimensions




Door Opening




Tare Weight




Cubic Capacity




Payload




2. Reefer Container & CBM Measurements
Refrigerated containers, also known as reefers, are manufactured with the same sizes such as dry cargo containers.
The refrigerated containers are intended to transport temperaturesensitive cargo.
They enable every item from meat to fruits, vegetables to dairy products, chemicals to pharmaceuticals for traveling around the world.
 Reefer Container
20 ft  40 ft  40 ft High Cube  

Interior Dimensions




Door Opening




Tare Weight




Cubic Capacity




Payload




3. Flat Rack Container & CBM Measurements
Flat Rack containers are uniquely designed as shipping containers only having a flatbed and fixed or collapsible ends, other than no ends at all.
They are intended for the shipment of products that will not fit into an opentop or a generalpurpose container.
Such flat rack containers are designed to transport oversized, oddshaped, and out of gauge cargos.
 Flat Rack Container
20 ft  40 ft  40 ft High Cube  

Interior Dimensions




Door Opening




Tare Weight




Cubic Capacity




Payload




4. Open Top Container & CBM Measurements
Open Top containers are also available in lengths of 20ft and 40ft. They lack a roof, allowing them to transport bulky or heavy cargo that would either not fit through standard container doors or would require the use of a crane for efficient loading.
 Open Top Container
20 ft  40 ft  40 ft High Cube  

Interior Dimensions




Door Opening




Tare Weight




Cubic Capacity




Payload


32,500 kg
63,491 Ibs 
Chapter 5: Which Factors can Influence CBM Rates?
We believe now you have a better understanding of what CBM means in shipping and the various methods for determining CBM for various packages. Now, let’s look at how freight companies calculate the CBM rate that will be charged to shippers/customers.
Following are some important considerations taken into account when determining the CBM rate for a container to be exported.
1. Port and other Handling Charges
One big factor that can directly influence CBM rates is the port handling service charges, which may fluctuate from one port to the other.
This is the fee that must be paid to port authorities to use their different facilities, services, and equipment for cargo loading and offloading.
2. Type of Cargo
As mentioned earlier, cargo can be categorized as either dry or frozen. Well, transporting frozen cargo demands the use of a refrigerated container.
As a result, consolidating frozen freight is far more expensive than shipping LCL (Less than Container Load) in a normal dry container.
3. Bunker Adjustment Factor or BAF
The Bunker Adjustment Factor, or BAF, is a surcharge added to the customer’s bill to compensate the sea carrier for variations in fuel prices. It’s also called the Bunker Surcharge in some markets.
4. Currency Adjustment Factor or CAF
Likewise, the CAF is an additional fee that is added to the customer’s bill to address currency fluctuations between the various markets. It’s a technique for the sea carrier to protect themselves from currency volatility.
While FCL (Full Container Load) shipping is thought to be simple, LCL (Less than Container Load) shipping requires more processes. This is the reason why the cost of the CBM will include the costs of these additional processes.
Chapter 6: Frequently Asked Questions about CBM Meaning
1. Is CBM the same as Volumetric Weight?
CBM or cubic meter refers to the amount of freight volume occupied by a shipment in a sea or air freight container.
The volume occupied by the goods in a railway car or truck can also be known as CBM. This metric is used to determine the cargo’s price.
2. How can we Convert KG to CBM?
It is quite simple to convert KG (of mass) into CBM (of volume). You only need to divide the KG value by 1000 (by sea shipment) to get the CBM value.
For instance:
 We can convert 1 KG into Cubic Meter as 1/1000= 0.001 cubic meter
 Similarly, 50 KG to Cubic Meter: 50/1000= 0.05 cubic meter
 Similarly, 100 KG to Cubic Meter: 100/1000= 0.1 cubic meter
3. How can we Calculate CBM in Inches?
One inch is about 0.0254 m. Therefore, if your package measurement is in inches, make sure each of them is multiplied to 0.0254, and then the CBM is calculated.
However, if your package has already been measured as cubic inches, you don’t have to go back and convert the individual dimensions. Use the following formula to convert cubic inches into cubic meters.
4. How do you convert CBM to KG?
It is the reverse of converting KG into CBM. For this, simply multiply the CBM value to 1000 (by sea shipment) to get the KG value.
For instance:
 we can convert 1 Cubic Meter into KG as 1×1000= 1000 KG
 Similarly, 50 KG to Cubic Meter: 5×1000= 5000 KG
Conclusion
We believe now you have a better understanding of CBM meaning, its calculations, and why we need to compare actual weight and volume weight while calculating freight costs.
If you are doing or plan to do global trade, it is important to know what does CBM mean in shipping, and other related concepts we have discussed.
If you want to know more about international trade and business, most welcome to contact us and our sourcing specialists will take care of all your needs.