What Is CBM? How To Calculate It?

If you’re involved in the shipping and freight business, you must be hearing the term ‘CBM’ almost daily. CBM is short for Cubic Meters. While other metrics exist, like gallons and liters, cubic meters are the industry-wide standard for measuring cargo.
What Is CBM? How To Calculate It,What does cbm mean in shipping

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What Is CBM?

CBM, or Cubic meters, is a measurement unit for the volume of cargo being shipped. You’ll need to know the total CBM when loading the cargo into containers, storage, or vessels.

This way, you can get the right-sized container and ship the cargo the best way possible so it does not get damaged.

Now, let’s take a look at how we can calculate CBM. 

How To Calculate CBM?

Calculating CBM is practically quite easy. Let us divide the process into three easy steps for a better understanding:

what is cbm

Step 1: Calculate the Dimensions

First, look at the three main dimensions of your cargo: i.e., the length, width, and height. 

Make sure all the measurements are done in meters and accurately.

Step 2: Find the Total Volume

Next, you will multiply the three numbers and get the total volume of the shipment.

Here’s the basic formula for it: 

CBM = Length (m) × Width (m) × Height (m)


Take, for example, a shipment of potato chips. Suppose each carton measures 2 meters long, 1.5 meters wide, and 0.8 meters high.

So, your resulting volume will be:

2 * 1.5 * 0.8 = 2.4 Cubic Meters

Step 3: Calculate the Total CBM

Now, we come to the final step: Consider the total number of cartons included in the shipment. For example, let’s say the shipment has 30 cartons in all. 

Your total CBM volume will be:

2.4 * 30 = 72 Cubic Meters

Note: If the cartons are of different sizes, calculate the CBM for each carton first. Then, add all the CBMs together to calculate the total volume.

How To Calculate the Weight from CBM

Sometimes, you need to know the total weight of the cargo. Once you have calculated the CBM, you can easily use it for this calculation.

Use the formula:

CBM × Density (kg/m³) = Weight (kg)

For Instance

Suppose you have a shipment of storage racks. The density of each rack is 600 kg/m³, and the CBM is calculated to be 2 cubic meters. The total weight in kilograms will be:

2m³ × 600 kg/m³ = 1200 kilograms

Other Considerations

CBM gives you a fair idea of the number of units or boxes that fit inside a container. It helps you plan out the space based on the size of your cargo. 

You need this calculation when you’re shipping goods from one country to another, whether by air, road, or sea. 

Knowing your CBM also helps you determine the exact freight costs. Keep in mind that CBM is different for all three modes of transportation. 

  • Transportation by air: 167 Kg = 1 CBM
  • Transportation by sea: 363 Kg = 1 CBM
  • By road: 333 kg = 1 CBM

Volumetric Weight Versus Chargeable Weight

You can calculate the freight charges by finding out the volume or weight of the cargo. Conventionally, it’s the weight that tells you how much the transportation is going to cost you.

However, consider a shipment of wool or styrofoam. It’ll be very light in weight but occupies a lot of space. In fact, the shipment could take up more space than a heavier shipment of wooden planks. 

So, if you calculate the freight based on weight, you’d only be charging a very minimal amount for a huge space. 

So what would you do here? 

Ever heard about dimensional or volumetric weight? Let’s talk about it.

Volumetric Weight Versus Chargeable Weight,Gross Weight,Dimensional or Volumetric Weight

Gross Weight

Gross weight is the total weight of the cargo, including all cushioning support, packaging, and pallets.

Dimensional or Volumetric Weight

To calculate the dimensional or volumetric weight, you need to convert the cargo volume, i.e., CBM, into kilograms.

You can do that easily using the formula:

CBM * Dimensional Weight Factor = Dimensional Weight


Length (in centimeters) * Width (centimeters) * Height (centimeters) * Quantity or Dimensional Weight Factor = Dimensional Weight

Here, quantity means the number of cartons or packages included in the cargo consignment.

The dimensional Weight Factor depends on the mode of transportation you have. As per convention, it is as follows:

  • Sea freight – 1:1,000 (1 m³ = 1,000 kg or 1 ton)
  • Air freight – 1:6,000 (1 m³ = 6,000 kg or 6 tons).     
  • Courier/Express freight – 1:5,000 (1 m³ = 5,000 kg or 5 tons)
  • Road freight (less than truckload or LTL) – 1:3,000 (1 m³ = 3,000 kg or 3 tons.)

However, these DIM factors may be different for different freight service providers. Check with them first to see what’s applicable in your case.

The final chargeable weight is the amount your service provider will charge for the freight, depending on the gross or dimensional weight of the shipment. 

Usually, the greater number of the two is considered when determining the cost.

Common Mistakes When Calculating CBM

Although calculating CBM is simple, a small mistake can sometimes result in unnecessary overheads and mental hassle.

Here are some of the common mistakes people make that you can avoid when calculating CBM:

  • Take into account the space taken up by the packaging material, i.e., pallets, boxes, etc.
  • Always use the right conversion factor, i.e., convert inches to meters and pounds to kilograms only.
  • Always double-check your calculations.

How Many Products Fit in a Container?‍

We use containers to ship cargo from one place to another. Let’s see how many CBMs can fit inside a container.

We have three types of containers based on their sizes: 20-foot, 40-foot, and 45-foot.

Container Type Length Width Height Capacity Maximum
20′ 589 cm 234 cm 238 cm 26-28 CBM 33 CBM
40′ 1200 cm 234 cm 238 cm 56-58 CBM 66 CBM
40′ HC (High Cube) 1200 cm 234 cm 269 cm 60-68 CBM 72 CBM
45′ HC (High Cube) 1251 cm 245 cm 269 cm 72-78 CBM 86 CBM

Look at the chart above. It details the type of container, how much the CBM is, and the maximum cargo limit or payload for each.

Remember, it won’t be possible to utilize all the space in a container at the time of loading. There’ll always be bits of space left.

However, the carriers ensure they utilize the maximum capacity possible by fitting in as much stuff as possible.

A lot depends on the size or shape of the packages and how the items are stowed. So, the actual capacity always comes down to slightly over 80% of the container’s total capacity.

Wrap Up

Whether you’re in the freight business or not, knowing what CBM is and calculating it is important as it helps determine the total shipping costs. By knowing it, you can be sure you are getting the right shipping quotes and costs.

Precise calculation of CBM also ensures that your cargo is properly packed so it can be transported and delivered (safely and timely.)

However, always check your freight forwarding company. Ideally, go for the best option available to you. Look for top company names like Gorto Freight, which is China’s best freight forwarder. They offer a wide range of logistics services and customized solutions for all business needs.

Check out Gorto freight and get your free quote today.

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