Bureau Veritas’ Laurent Hentges says classification societies are faced with a digitalisation conundrum after the global coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the fourth industrial revolution
They need to either be passive agents of the transformation or stand out as the dynamic agents of change in a complex ecosystem.
The latter is of course the only way forward, and class must embrace digital technology to meet new market demands and deepen their value to customers.
In taking the classification survey as a case in point, this will evolve from a point-in-time sample of quality to a model underpinned by the effective analysis and interpretation of real-time data to drive better decision making.
Like so many of the challenges of the transition from analogue to digital, the real challenge is not the vast sets of data to handle, but having the capability to interpret the right data. Like a cave full of hieroglyphics, with no one to read it.
Digital classification has the potential to add significant value beyond the traditional parameters of class. It can offer shipowners an indepth insight into the ship lifecycle – from design, construction and integration of equipment and systems, to in-service integrity and modification management.
As the pandemic disrupted the traditional classification model, there has been increased adoption of remote surveys – enabling continuity by using live streaming to avoid the need for travelling and human-to-human transmission between the crew and the surveyor.
The pandemic will likely now lead to an acceleration of remote surveys as both their value and effectiveness is being recognised with a faster response and cost reductions for clients, as well as reducing the risks to which surveyors are exposed and lowering the carbon footprint of our survey activities amid a growing familiarity with remote technology and its effectiveness.
While ships can be equipped with intranet networks, fixed routers, or mobile hotspot routers to boost connectivity, most vessels are not yet equipped for sustained live streaming in all the areas that are subject to inspection; an area of digitalisation that is still progressing.
Nevertheless, the pandemic has shown how our future will look beyond the current best uses for remote digital access. It offers a glimmer at what can be achieved through a confluence of analysis of real-time data, alongside the skills and experience of a surveyor.
The pandemic has further illustrated that the skills and experience of a surveyor can be complemented by remote inspection techniques (RITs).
Even before the pandemic, RITs were increasingly being used successfully with the use of aerial drones and in-water remotely operated vehicles to avoid complex and risky areas on a vessel, therefore improving safety for the crew and for the surveyor.
Digitalisation will enable shipping to unlock new technological innovations which can have an immediate positive impact. For example, digital twin technology will strongly support shipowners to solve operational challenges, predict faults and reduce downtime.
Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are also clear examples of where digital technologies can support class and the industry to deliver greater value, but only when human capital is put first.
For instance, AI applications are being explored to enable the automatic detection and qualification of defects on ship structures.
Those applications can save time and reduce costs while enhancing the surveyors’ personal safety by avoiding risky areas, as AI and machine learning can detect potential defects and failures, thus reducing the risk of costly and potentially dangerous repairs.
However, AI and machine learning can only be a success as a result of the local surveyors’ expertise. It will take their skills and experience to interpret the various datasets to analyse and qualify numerous and various pictures that will feed and dictate the outcomes of machine learning.
We must find the right line between embracing digitalisation and appreciating the indispensable skills and experience of shipping’s people.
There is no doubt that the unique local or specific knowledge of a ship’s pilot, ship agent or classification surveyor will remain vital. The digital revolution must go hand-in-hand with human capital or it will not reach its potential.
Laurent Hentges is vice-president for operational excellence and information systems at Bureau Veritas Marine & Offshore
Digitalisation, classification solutions, remote operations and inspection and ship management are subjects discussed during Riviera Maritime Media’s Webinar Weeks and Virtual Conferences; use this link for more details of upcoming webinars and virtual conferences