ClassNK recently unveiled its Digital Grand Design to express the pivotal role it expects digital technology to play not only in making the industry more efficient but also in meeting United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for a ‘better and more sustainable future for all’ by 2030. Last month, the Society followed through with the first significant step on this 10-year journey, after launching ‘Innovation Endorsement’ as a new certification service for pioneering digital solutions.
Digital Grand Design outlines ClassNK’s vision for the blue economy of the future, establishing a roadmap for achieving that vision based on three fundamental policies: improving safety and efficiency by providing advanced classification services, diversifying classification services and expanding their scope, and supporting the realisation of social innovation.
Aligning with these principles, Innovation Endorsement has been devised to facilitate and encourage promising innovations that utilise data from ships to enhance safety at sea, help preserve the marine environment and promote sustainable development.
During its 120-year history, ClassNK’s commitment to ensuring maritime safety and protecting the marine environment has focused on working with traditional key stakeholders such as shipbuilders, equipment manufacturers and vessel operators.
However, the digital revolution sees the arrival of new players leveraging the data collected on board vessels, as well as fresh collaborations with existing stakeholders to create new value for shipping companies and others in the maritime supply chain. By enabling rapid and accurate performance monitoring and benchmarking, data sharing will dovetail with the emergence of new business models resulting from a shift to more sustainable practices as set out in the UN’s SDGs.
Some outcomes are already clear. Firstly, data sharing has implications not only for shipyards and shipping lines but for the cargo owners and forwarders relishing the opportunity for greater transparency and accountability. It will also offer a platform for new stakeholders such as digital forwarders and system integrators.
For ClassNK, the aim is to adjust, in order to serve the needs of a greater variety of players. The resulting response to emerging digitalisation involves a variety of areas like data assurance; technology assurance; anticipating regulatory hurdles; and evaluation.
Using data to make better decisions is the fundamental premise of digitalisation. Data collection is already standard practice, with an increasing number of operators investing in upgraded connectivity to send information ashore, either to technical departments, to equipment manufacturers, or to applications providers.
To succeed, data-collecting systems must be reliable and the data itself needs to meet certain standards – and this relies on an impartial arbiter of data quality. As an independent third party with extensive engineering expertise, ClassNK is ideally positioned to fulfill this role.
The maritime industry’s conservatism when faced with new technologies is especially apparent when it comes to digital innovations, which tend to develop at a fast pace. With new functionalities becoming available in quick succession and a shortage of early adopters, there is little scope for vessel operators to learn from the experience of others – the sector’s preferred approach to technology adoption.
Here, too, ClassNK can exploit its impartial status by collaborating with providers of innovative technologies to assess and vouch for the quality and function of their solutions. This would increase confidence among shipping companies who may otherwise be wary of introducing digital innovations and help the sector more generally to overcome any misgivings.
Anticipating regulatory hurdles
Whenever new technology or approaches are proposed it is imperative that they are verified as fit-for-purpose – especially when safety is at stake. Difficulties arise when a novel solution falls outside existing regulatory frameworks or requires an altogether new testing regime, as this may significantly extend the approval process.
To accelerate the implementation of new technology, ClassNK is leveraging in-house expertise and links with standards organisations and maritime authorities to establish evaluation methods and contribute to the development of regulations ahead of time.
Lastly, there is a need for accurate evaluation founded on engineering principles. To date, ClassNK has inspected and issued approvals for vessels based on its rules for steel ships and related instruments. However, a wider focus is necessary to cope with the assessment needs of new business models and unorthodox collaborations between a broader array of stakeholders.
ClassNK sees considerable potential in applying the substantial technical knowhow it has accumulated for quantitatively assessing ships and their systems to meet these emerging needs.
Charting a new course
To exploit the opportunities described above and respond to the demands that the digital revolution imposes on the maritime industry, ClassNK plans to work closely with the maritime players developing and pioneering the use of new solutions. Establishing a framework for utilising the knowledge gained from this collaboration will accelerate the wider deployment of these technologies across the industry.
Digital Grand Design therefore marks the beginning of the next phase in ClassNK’s continual evolution, as it steers the industry into uncharted territory shaped by digitalisation and mounting pressure to minimise environmental impact.
In the digital era, ClassNK is also committed to ensuring that the rules that govern shipping do not obstruct innovation unnecessarily and, where benefits are clear, that they are adjusted to support it.