Surveys undertaken remotely are still viewed with caution by some, but experts at Lloyd’s Register (LR) believe that reticence over new survey methods, which make the most of digital technology, is misplaced. In this article, James Forsdyke, LR’s Head of Product Management, and Sean van der Post, LR’s Global Offshore Business Manager, explain some of the reasons why the interaction between hardware, software and human expertise offer an unbeatable formula.
Restrictions on travel amid the COVID‑19 pandemic is forcing unprecedented change on some of shipping’s age‑old procedures as access to ships in ports, and oil and gas assets in offshore waters, is barred. Yet ships continue to fulfil a vital role in the global supply chain and energy facilities can’t easily be switched off. Both must continue to operate efficiently and safely whether surveys are due or not.
LR has had a wide range of remote survey options available to clients for years, particularly in the offshore space where floating assets stay in place or are fixed to the seabed for long periods. But COVID‑19 has forced a new reality on many who have traditionally relied on the physical presence of a surveyor at the rig or ship.
Nick Brown, LR’s Marine & Offshore Director, believes that the dramatic uptake of remote services and support is a trend that will inevitably continue, and likely gather pace, long after the virus.
Remote Survey Champions
Both experts agree wholeheartedly with Brown’s thinking. They highlight LR’s recent focus on remote services, notably its team of Remote Survey Champions located in no fewer than 16 of the world’s key shipping and offshore hubs. These experts can be linked digitally to their clients whenever necessary, and LR’s systems are ‘technologically agnostic’, meaning that connectivity can be based on Microsoft Teams, Skype or WhatsApp. If a client has no systems in place, the classification society has its own system – LR Remote.
The team, despite the worldwide coverage, are interconnected by digital communications, real‑time data transfer, live streaming and all of the other technologies that have been developed recently, but which the virus has now made essential. The remote survey champions are a hub of excellence who support and guide LR’s frontline colleagues and clients alike with remote surveys, ensuring consistent practices and safety at all times. Furthermore, Forsdyke believes that LR’s remote inspection techniques, combined with digital data transfer and the expertise of top specialists, can provide an equivalent service to physical attendance.
He goes further, stressing that this is not a short‑term reaction to the crisis. LR, he says, has been working with customers remotely where appropriate for many years. What COVID‑19 has done is significantly broaden the range of use cases where remote support is considered appropriate, providing the industry impetus needed to embrace what technology has been able to offer for a number of years.
In times past, a traditional survey would involve a surveyor travelling to a location, going onboard a ship, meeting key personnel and then heading to the master’s office to check on the validity of certificates and other documents. It’s a process that could take a significant proportion of the available time. Then the surveyor would undertake the actual survey.
Forsdyke compares this to modern banking applications, where you still need a whole range of valid documents before you can proceed, but now you upload all your documents in advance, for pre-validation, making the process infinitely more efficient. And he asks, ‘why can’t classification be the same?’
Thankfully, shipping is moving on from these old procedures. Now, says Forsdyke, the interaction between hardware, software and human experts, wherever they may be in the world, offers a really exciting combination that complements and enhances the traditional offering based on physical attendance only.
Far from reducing the role of the human being, Forsdyke says that latest techniques enhance it. LR’s experts in a particular field are instantly available to pass opinion on a specific issue, live‑streamed and on the scene. The client is receiving dramatically more added value from this service, he says, which is faster, more accurate, more incisive and no longer the result of one person’s physical attendance, often limited to a few hours.
Van der Post’s brief covers the assurance of a wide range of oil and gas assets, including subsea pipelines, floating storage terminals, fixed offshore structures and LNG terminals. Remotely operated vehicles (ROV) have been an essential part of his business for years – ROVs and pigging tools are a routine component of maintenance management programmes which Van der Post and his team must audit.
Despite all this, however, Van der Post is enthusiastic about the opportunities for the future. “You don’t make progress any time as quickly as at a time of upset and agreed purpose,” he declares, referring to the virus. “This is an opportunity to extend our remote capabilities in the offshore field.” With about 70% of the UK’s offshore assets under LR’s assurance regime, there is plenty of scope.
However, the UK is only a small part of Van der Post’s portfolio. LR has offshore assets all over the world, from security hotspots in North and West Africa to assets operating in the Timor Sea.
Van der Post points to one recent development, forced on organisations like LR by COVID‑19, which amounts to a sea change. Previously, he says, no new procedure could be undertaken without detailed preparations, risk assessments and meticulous rules, written in advance. Safe working practices are, of course, essential, he says, but now the approach is “why can’t we do this remotely?” rather than “we must send someone as soon as possible”.
Both recognise the continued hesitance in the industry; as industry stakeholders collectively gain more experience of using remote techniques and demonstrate the capability, Forsdyke and Van der Post believe there will be continued acceleration of adoption and LR is poised to lead that sea change.