Technology talk: Risk assessment is the big issue today

Risk assessment is a key challenge now facing the shipping industry, mainly due to the impact of emerging technology, say the technical trio at Lloyd’s Register Marine

Lloyd’s Register staff oversee the lifting of an Azipod into dock

In an industry that has been conditioned to “picking up a rule book or applying a standard,” this requires a “slightly different approach,” they add.

According to Tim Kent, “While there is no doubt that some new technologies, such as those associated with diesel electric propulsion, improve a vessel’s capability, we have had to adopt a far more risk-based approach to deal with the hazards associated with new technology and to explore how those risks can be managed. In the past, classification societies were seen as policemen within the industry, but now we’re more like enablers of innovation, keeping people on the side of compliance and environmental expectations, but helping them do it in a way that enables them to be successful with their soultions.”

“What were seeing,” he adds, “is that because so much is possible with new technology, the technologies are advancing more rapidly than we’re able to keep up with as an industry in terms of rules and regulations. 

Requires top-notch engineers

“Of course, this is a risk in terms of the technology being cleanly and safely deployed. So we’ve had to adopt this risk-based approach to understand the hazards associated with new technology and how they can be managed, “Everyone knows where they stand with the prescriptive rules. People can cost against them. But the challenge is to be more competitive within the industry and push the boundaries on performance without compromising on safety and environmental impact. This requires innovation, but ill-conceived innovation can be dangerous,” says Kent.

Kent adds that a risk-based approach requires top-notch engineers and people who are able to think more broadly about risk assessment. “Sometimes those are not actually the same people, so it means assembling a team,” he says.

 “Properly verifying that innovation is safe and meets appropriate standards comes at a cost,” Kent adds. “It’s more expensive than picking up a rule book. No-one should be surprised about that because there are probably thousands of man-years worth of knowledge in the rules, so it’s not unreasonable to put a lot of time into ensuring innovation offers equivalent levels of dependability.”

According to Bernard Twomey, the level of technology integration now needed on board modern vessels also means the industry has to be more collaborative when assessing risk.

Catch people out

“The field of electrical engineering is where we see more of the technological advances – but also more of the problems, in terms of system integration,” he says. “We do a lot of work with various companies and organizations and major universities around the world to help us understand the risks associated with some of the technologies we now find on board marine platforms.

“In the past, we’ve bought a number of components and have probably gotten away with the fact that these things will work and meet the business and technical needs. The problem is that the level of integration taking place now on a shared, modern platform can actually catch people out. 

“People may think they understand how the interactions work, but we find that in certain cases one individual is not able to fully understand the interactions between all the technologies involved on a ship. “So there has to be collaboration. Lloyd’s Register is very much a part of that, working with manufacturers, designers, shipyards. We also have to work with owners, because they have an expectation and we need to understand that and link it back to the operational side. Do we understand how the system is going to function under normal, abnormal and emergency conditions? These are the sort of things that are challenging the industry right now,” says Twomey.

A model system

How exactly does Lloyd’s Register go about assessing risk for emerging technologies? The answer is through a systematic procedure based on the well-known life-cycle V model (see illustration on the right). John Bradshaw, who developed this procedure, explains the thinking behind it.

What we want to achieve is that the eventual operation of the vessel meets the original concept. So we want technology integration to take place on the left-hand side of the diagram, at the design phase, instead of at the build and commissioning phase on the right, as is traditionally the case.

The contract stage on the left – where the contract is placed with the shipyard – is where we already start getting into grey areas. The shipyard may start to fragment the contract because they’re not able to build all the equipment themselves.

They will be able to build the hull, but not the technologies that go into the hull, so a number of manufacturers around the world will be involved. In other words, the design happens at a sub-system level, whether it’s a propulsion system or an exhaust gas abatement system.

When the integration takes place on the top right hand side of the V model, this is where we tend to have problems. Changes that occur on the right side are going to have a significant financial impact, and you may end up with a ship that doesn’t meet the concept of operations for the ship owner – the worst situation you can get to.

Robust approach

Everybody in the industry knows this model but the interesting part is what’s between the clouds. That’s where we try to identify the risks. It’s about the development of an assurance case, reducing the risk to a tolerable level. 

With this process, we’re challenging the traditional way of building a vessel and procuring equipment. But we’re already seeing a significant benefit from working with clients on the left-hand side of the model and throughout the life cycle process. At each stage there’s continuous validation, verification and reassessment. 

So, the business manager will have some concept of operation other than ‘give me a ship that does whatever’. This kind of robust approach is a means of convincing the financial community that they’re going to get what they wanted to operate a business profitably. With this approach, there’s an advantage for early adopters of innovations because someone has invested sufficient time and effort in them.”

Photo and model: Lloyd's register

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