Looking back over the period since the class society added the new approach to its certification service portfolio, Dr. Toshiro Arima, corporate officer, general manager of Digital Transformation Center, reports that uptake has been extraordinary. “I may admit that we should have started even earlier,” he says.

ClassNK announced the launch of its “Innovation Endorsement” for cutting-edge technologies at the end of July 2020. Under the framework, ClassNK certified 68 ships equipped with advanced digital technology and two smart services to optimise operations in just over six months after launch.

“I’m confident that Innovation Endorsement has met the industry’s expectations of the third-party certification body,” says Dr. Arima.

In striving to fulfil ClassNK’s mission to ensure safety at sea, protect the marine environment and contribute to Sustainable Development Goals, Innovation Endorsement has been launched to encourage and promote advances in enabling technologies. The industry is undoubtedly aware of the benefits of digitalisation but clear standards for evaluation have yet to be established for cutting-edge developments, which can hinder progress.

ClassNK has worked alongside shipping companies and manufacturers on the challenges faced when developing and pioneering new solutions. Innovation Endorsement draws on this closer collaboration to establish a framework that accelerates the broader deployment of new technologies across the industry. On top of the role of the traditional class society in line with mandatory requirements, Innovation Endorsement is an additional certification service that is beyond existing standards which is "speed-focused", whose aim is "establishing evaluation criteria in cooperation with front runners”.

Under the concept of Innovation Endorsement, ClassNK released the “Guidelines for Digital Smart Ship (DSS)” in August 2020, which stipulate the procedures for class notations for ships with advanced digital technology such as hull/machinery monitoring, energy efficiency, ship to shore connection, sloshing, and voyage optimisation. Less than two months after the publication of the guidelines, the first DSS notation was granted to NYK’s LNG fueled PCTC in October 2020. Including applications for the notation on newbuildings and ships in operation, the number of ships with DSS will exceed 100 in the first quarter of 2021.

Significant progress has also been made in projects involving Innovation Endorsement for products and solutions covering digital equipment and software technology installed on ships, in partnership with solution developers like Alpha Ori, “K” Line, and Kawasaki Heavy Industries, which are seeking an appropriate and adequate standard to convince stakeholders of feasibility and value. Around 20 applications for a variety of solutions have already been taken under review by ClassNK’s dedicated taskforce.

“Feedback on the service has been positive, and we are on the right path to provide the third-party verification for emerging technologies,” says Dr. Arima. “While certifying more ships and solutions, we will soon publish the updated edition of Guidelines for Digital Smart Ship (DSS) to reflect the voice of the industry as well as the knowledge and experience we have acquired through interactions with front runners.

“I have also found that the scope where this kind of endorsement would be necessary is wider than initially conceived, extending to the environment, safety, or decent working conditions. While strengthening more reliable and transparent verification methodologies for digital solutions, ClassNK will also work on the horizontal expansion of this certification service.”