CBM Meaning: Shipping Definition

Bryan Van Suchtelen

September 18, 2023


A quick search engine query for CBM meaning will yield Curriculum-Based Measurement, Comic Book Movie, and Certified Broadcast Meteorologist (no luck on Candied Bacon Morsels, unfortunately). 

But if you’re talking shipping, the meaning of CBM is “cubic meter". It’s a critical measurement used by carriers to effectively price, plan, and execute the movement of goods and materials. In the realm of business management, understanding CBM is crucial, especially if you're working with a freight forwarder.

Introduction to CBM in Shipping

What is CBM when it comes to transport? First, it’s one of the most common units of measurement worldwide. CBM measures the volume of cargo—how much total space it will take up inside a container or vehicle. It’s used for: 

  • Ocean/Sea freight
  • Air freight
  • Truck or rail freight

Along with the actual weight of the cargo, CBM is the calculation that also determines: 

  • The freight cost to transport or store your cargo
  • The container size used to deliver your goods
  • How to combine your packages with others inside a container for chargeable weight

Why CBM Matters: The Practical Implications

For the sole use of a shipping container, you’re charged a full container load (FCL) rate primarily based on gross weight. Even still, you’ll want to calculate the CBM value of your packages to make the most of the space within the container. 

More frequently, however, you’ll use CBM as a guide in planning and pricing out shipping for less than container load (LCL) shipment or groupage cargo, where your packages are combined with others. With LCLs, carriers need to fit multiple orders together like a puzzle to fill the space wisely and avoid wasting time and fuel moving inefficiently loaded containers. 

Transform Shipping Data Into Savings

Measuring CBM: A Step-by-Step Guide

The basic calculation of CBM is pretty straightforward—you’ll simply multiply the length, height, and width (L x H x W) of an object. For accurate CBM calculation, let’s look at a sample package:

  • Length: 2.8 meters
  • Height: 1.7 meters
  • Width: 2 meters

Because 2.8 x 1.7 x 2 equals 9.52, the CBM rate of this package is 9.52 (rounded up to 10). 

What if your package isn’t a cube or rectangle? 

  • Irregular – If your package is irregularly shaped, you’ll still follow the L x H x W formula. Simply use the maximum versions of each component: the longest length, longest height, and longest width of any portion of your oddball package.
  • Cylinder – For a cylindrical package, stand it on one of its flat surfaces and measure the height and the radius. Instead of width and length, you’ll multiply the height with pi (3.14) and the radius squared. Use this formula: 3.14 x H x R x R.
  • Unstackable – If your goods require delicate handling, such as being placed in a single layer without stacking other packages on top of them, your freight class and CBM may increase. Depending on carrier type and policy, you might need to include that empty space in your CBM calculation.

Also, remember that CBM is metric. You’ll need to convert from feet and inches using an online CBM calculator or another method if you use the U.S. customary (or Imperial or British) system.

CBM vs. Other Shipping Metrics

A shipping container’s load is limited by how much weight the container and transport method can support, as well as by how much you can fit into the available space. Imagine pouring landscaping rock through every door and window of a compact car. You might be able to fit the right amount for your garden renovation, but the car tires will flatten out under all that weight, and the engine may struggle to haul it along the highway. 

When it comes to shipping freight, there are two key measurements of weight to understand: 

  1. Actual weight 
  2. Volumetric or Dimensional weight (DIM Weight)

Volumetric weight takes the method of shipping into account since there are different freight charges, fuel costs, and weight limits for shipping by air, land, and sea. You can calculate them by dividing the actual weight of a package by a DIM factor based on the transport method:

  • 6000 for air freight
  • 5000 for express freight by courier
  • 3000 for truck freight
  • 1000 for ocean freight

A couple of things to note: 

  1. Each carrier sets its own pricing methods, so some will differ from the DIM factors above.
  2. Weight measurements will also be in the metric system; use a conversion calculator to translate pounds and ounces (the avoirdupois system) into kilograms and metric tons.

CBM and Its Impact on Shipping Costs

Shipping costs are usually based on the greater of either CBM or DIM weight, multiplied by the carrier’s freight rate. If all packages contained the same type of goods, then it would be simple for carriers to calculate a freight cost using a standard method. However, this isn’t the case. 

Instead, carriers have to use CBM and DIM weight to balance: 

  • Larger, lightweight packages
  • Smaller, heavier packages
  • Packages that cannot be combined or stacked in typical fashion

Lojistic’s Role in Optimizing CBM for Clients

By partnering with Lojistic, you gain access to an all-in-one dashboard designed to help you optimize your shipping costs, including calculating CBM. We can also help you secure lower carrier rates, identify and pursue refunds and remedies for carrier errors, and provide actionable shipping analytics to improve your efficiency and increase your profits. 

Get started by setting up a free account with Lojistic today!


Shetty, J. What is CBM and How it is Calculated? Trademo. 06 April 2021. https://www.trademo.com/blog/cbm-calculation-shipping. Accessed 04 September 2023.

Menon, H. What Is CBM Rate In Shipping? Marine Insight. 07 April 2021. https://www.marineinsight.com/maritime-law/what-is-cbm-rate-in-shipping/. Accessed 04 September 2023.


Bryan Van Suchtelen

Bryan Van Suchtelen

Corporate Director of Parcel Rate Services

With more than 34 years of parcel experience, Bryan Van Suchtelen is the Corporate Director of Parcel Rate Services at Lojistic, one of the nation’s top logistics and transportation cost management companies.

Prior to joining Lojistic in 2015, Bryan enjoyed a 26-year career with UPS where his roles included Pricing, Field Sales and Director-level Sales Management of some of UPS’s largest customers.

At Lojistic, Bryan leverages his wealth of experience/expertise to identify and execute supply chain cost management solutions for parcel shippers of all sizes. Bryan has helped his customers reduce their shipping spend by tens of millions of dollars.
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