DNV GL: The Path To Digital Classification


“We started looking into machine learning as a tool for modernizing classification in 2016,” says Morten Østby, Senior Principal Consultant at DNV GL. “When we realized how important this could be, we implemented it in April 2017. Now it is in production.” Such a fast-track realization is fairly typical of the digital transformation sweeping DNV GL’s classification business. “We want to move the customers over to a digital interface,” says Østby, “where clients and vessels can stay up to date, get warnings, and take advantage of digital storage capabilities – and that’s just the beginning.” Østby’s ally in the push to modernize class, Principal Engineer Arun Sethumadhavan, emphasizes the main focus of the digital initiative: “We are striving for ease of access and comprehension for customers. Today that means mobile access and expanded functionality.” The jumping-off point for the journey through DNV GL’s modern class universe is a personalized online portal that provides customized and secure access to all digital services and support resources. As of November they are embedded in DNV GL’s new Veracity platform.

Simply efficient

“Smart survey booking is a major move in streamlining a previously tedious and often inefficient manual task,” says Østby. The smart survey booking solution automatically finds the best window for a ship’s annual survey, allowing for as many requirements and requests as possible to be covered in one survey to avoid multiple inspections. “Based on this time window and a list of possible ports entered by the operator, the system also looks for the closest geographical location, accounting for the scope and duration of the survey, port capabilities and surveyor availability, and issues a recommendation. This minimizes both the time involved in booking the survey and the inconvenience for the vessel while keeping the costs down by helping reduce surveyor travel times,” Østby says.

An automated version of the application is expected to be available before 2019. “The software will enable us to track ship itineraries and notify them in advance so they can order earlier, which leaves them with a larger time window for planning and owner preparation,” Østby points out. A link to all DNV GL-approved service suppliers in the respective port will soon be added, along with a host of additional features designed to improve efficiency and keep the survey costs down.

Learning application

Many improvements are made possible by introducing machine learning, or ML, into the survey booking process. “ML is used to calculate the time required for each survey,” says Østby. “When the scope and other parameters are set, the system outputs a time estimate based on historical data.” DNV GL has also incorporated ML into its DATE (Direct Access to Technical Experts) service where a customer’s problem description transmitted by e-mail can make it challenging to assign the case to the correct category and expert or section for fast processing. “A discrepancy between the description and interpretation may cause the inquiry to be routed to the wrong expert,” says Sethumadhavan. “Now DATE uses ML to vet cases based on historical data and quickly directs them to the proper expert.

This cuts down on manual vetting and reduces time wasted on re-routing and finding another expert. We are already seeing that MLassisted vetting is more than 80 per cent accurate, and it gets better every day.” Each ML-vetted routing receives a confidence rating before being enacted. Any inquiry that has not received a very high confidence rating is returned for manual vetting.

“ML is chosen for category assignment only when the confidence level is very high,” explains Sethumadhavan. “But by using continuous learning logic, the ML system is constantly refining its selection criteria and improving its hit rates quickly.” But there are other human factors that complicate the advisory process. “While we all use English only, there are different language patterns and rules in different parts of the world,” Østby says. “We have had to teach the machines to accept compound words and different spellings. We can even teach them to vet incorrect language.”

Remote Inspection: Eyes Anywhere

Ship inspection often poses a conundrum: The object may be a fairly straightforward structure or piece of equipment on board, but human eyes are still required to verify its state. Traditionally that means the human doing the looking has to be on board. But that is not necessarily true anymore. Remote technology is enabling eyes to see the object of inspection from virtually anywhere in the world. Equipped with something as simple as a smartphone app, personnel on board can connect to the surveyor on land, and the survey is underway. “The expert steers the input and evaluates the quality of the data,” says DNV GL‘s Senior Principal Consultant Morten Østby. In other words, the “cameraman” on board takes instructions from the surveyor on land who acts as the “director”.

One key prerequisite: the surveyor must have actual on-board experience. “You have to have been there to be able to know what you are seeing,” Østby confirms. “But the customer must be willing to cooperate,” he adds. “Proof of repair or remediation must be provided.” For the time being the technology will be used on occasional surveys, not for certification, and possibly for selected follow-up items when the surveyor has left the ship. Remote inspection could also be used for certification of materials and components. “The first steps have been taken. Many more will follow,” Østby assures.

E-certificates wanted by many owners

DNV GL has been running pilots on electronic certificates for several years, achieving IMO compliance and winning the endorsement of many flag states. After rolling out e-certificates in mid-October 2017, the first ship with full electronic certification was the LNG carrier Macoma (see next page). “This took some preparation, but it shows just how fast the technology can be taken into use once it has proved viable,” says Østby. “Just six weeks after the rollout, 25,000 electronic certificates were issued for more than 3,000 vessels in operation, including many class entries and newbuilds, and the number is growing rapidly every day.”

Customers benefit significantly, says Østby, by being able to share certificates globally immediately upon issue. “Ports, vetting organizations, flag states, charterers, buyers, insurers – everyone wants to see the certificates,” he says. “Before, owners and captains had to keep track of the original while sending multiple copies to land. Manual updates were an overwhelming task, and the system was by no means secure. Now the signed original is secure but easily accessible in the Cloud.” Using an e-mail subscription function, each modification of an e-certificate triggers a warning to all involved parties, with the verified document attached. Documents are accessible through the DNV GL interface but access can also be granted via any secure public website using a unique tracking number, UTN (see box on next page). “All transactions are in keeping with IMO guidelines,” says Østby.

While some flag states have been hesitant to accept the change, the overall response has been positive. “So far more than 80 per cent of statutory certificates have been approved for issue.” Embracing the new digital reality can also be a personal challenge, he notes, and DNV GL is willing to help those unfamiliar or uncomfortable with digital transactions to familiarize themselves with new methods and learn to trust the system. On the other hand, many owners want e-certification for all their ships as soon as possible. “Owners see the benefit. Endorsements are verified and completed automatically, complex processes such as the frequent certificate updates are automated, and there is no human handling of documents,” Østby sums up. “That reduces the quality assurance work to verify certificates.” He notes that the system can also be used offline: “A surveyor can complete the job without online access and issue the certificate when connectivity is available again, either when the ship is within range or when they return to land.” DNV GL is proud to be leading the fast march toward modernizing classification, bringing efficiency, accuracy, and security to certification and survey booking processes that had remained virtually unchanged for decades, if not centuries.