Five years after two of Europe’s leading class societies merged, DNV GL has become by a variety of measures the largest in the world. ShipInsight looks at its future direction and driving forces.
Prior to the merger, DNV was probably considered as being the leading society for offshore vessels and with a strong position in tankers and bulk carriers as well whereas Germanischer Lloyd had its strengths in the container and general cargo sectors. The merged society would therefore have expertise across all the main sectors.
As well as their solid records in the various segments, both societies were leaders in innovation and new thinking. GL had demonstrated one of the first hydrogen powered vessels and with its FutureShip programme pioneered the redesign of bulbous bows to suit slow steaming. DNV had worked with owners developing both fuel cell and battery energy storage systems as well as taking a leading position in promoting LNG as a marine fuel.
As it transpired, the merger came at a point when the container sector was beginning to run into fresh difficulties after a brief recovery from the 2008 crash and the offshore sector was heading for a fall itself that few would have prophesied when the merger deal was being completed. This is acknowledged by Knut Ørbeck-Nilssen, CEO of DNV GL – Maritime, who points out that the only sector of shipping showing any sort of resilience over the last few years has been cruise and ferry. Fortunately, perhaps, both societies also had fingers in these pies.
Today DNV GL is claiming a leading role in the new class of expedition cruise ships with several projects in progress including the first cruise vessel being built by Ulstein Verft and a series of ships for Hapag-Lloyd Cruises including Bremen the first existing cruise vessel to be modified for Polar operations and issued with Polar Code certification last year.
Speaking of the ambitions of the early years of the merged society, Ørbeck-Nilssen said that the shared ideals of innovation and dedication to quality have been fundamental. The market restructuring that came about just after the merger was less of a problem than it might have been for the two individual societies because there were already plans for future programmes and adjustments in structures being made. In fact this put DNV GL in a good place to take the society forward.
As well as the tectonic shifts in the market place there are significant changes in regulation and advances in technology such as digitalisation and the growth in the number of alternative fuel types making shipping much more complex, explained Ørbeck-Nilssen. “What we see as the really aspiring future is to make use of a lot of these technologies in order to deliver a much more efficient service. By making use of advances such as machine learning we can respond much more quickly to technical queries from customers by using algorithms to scan through and identify the best experts. As an example, five years ago we spent up to 24 hours responding to a customer query, whereas today we have reduced the response time to five to six hours in average and see a lot of potential to improve this even further.”
This focus on customer service was actually one of the key goals of the merged society’s differentiation strategy and it is manifested in the ambition to be the leading classification society, not so much in terms of size but in matters such as technical innovation, customer service, safety, quality and foresight; what Ørbeck-Nilssen describes as a ‘good recipe’ for the future challenges of shipping. In fact DNV GL has grown in size as well and is now the leading society in terms of gross tonnage for self-propelled commercial vessels over 100gt and excluding fishing and naval ships (282m gt compared to ClassNK’s 246.5m gt and ABS’ 241m gt) and ship numbers (10,694 compared to BV’s 9,450 and ABS’ 9,444 ). In deadweight tonnage it is third behind ClassNK and ABS and as a consequence of the heritage of the two societies, DNV GL still has the largest number of container vessels and one of the largest fleets of offshore vessels on its books.
While staying on top of technological advances is a never-ending task, DNV GL takes stock of advances and what can be practically applied and every five years produces a technology outlook trying to determine what are the most relevant technologies for shipping for the next ten years. In the most recent, two trends were identified, these being digitalisation including autonomous ships and the future fuel mix. Ørbeck-Nilssen makes the point that DNV had rules for LNG as a fuel dating back as long ago as 2001 before the merger and that DNV GL today is a pioneer in batteries. He says that investigating future fuels is a strong point of the organisation and points out that in April this year, DNV GL released a comprehensive white paper on the subject of alternative fuels.
While customer satisfaction is a driving force for DNV GL, exploring new technologies means that working with equipment makers, shipbuilders, regulators and academia without the certainty of them being adopted is essential. Around 5% of revenues are invested each year into R&D and
DNV GL is currently involved in numerous joint industry projects (JIP), joint development projects (JDP) and design studies and has participated in several others since the merger.
Among the most recent is the ‘Green Corridor’ Newcastlemax 210,000dwt bulk carrier JIP in which several organisations involved in the bulk carrier trade between Australia and China explored the possibility of an LNG-fuelled vessel to meet the 2020 sulphur cap. Other partners in the project included ship designer SDARI and shipowners MOL and U-Ming along with a number of charterers and cargo interests. The project was given Approval in Principal in October last year.
Another project is an open hatch general cargo carrier of 65,000dwt with DNV GL working together with Oshima Shipbuilding. The design is wider and shallower than more conventional ships and makes use of composites for the tween decks. Alternative fuels also feature with design being suited to conventional fuels as well as a possible new Super ECO fuel that combines light cycle oil and gas to liquid fuel. The resultant fuel would be sulphur free and although slightly more expensive than HFO, it would be cheaper than many low-sulphur alternatives.
Presented at Marintec last year, was a joint project involving partners ABB, GTT, Caterpillar Solar Turbines and OMT. The project is titled PERFECt (Piston Engine Room Free Efficient Container Ship) and is for a 20,000teu ship with a combined gas turbine and steam turbine integrated electric drive system (COGES). The concept is also applicable to other ships with a power of 30 MW and above. Specially cruise ships with electrical drive can benefit from the PERFECt ship concept which combines high efficient gas turbines with a state of the art steam turbine cycle.
These are by no means all of the projects DNV GL is involved in but serve to illustrate the degree of innovation that the organisation looks to bring into the mainstream. Working with all stakeholders on emerging technologies is important, said Ørbeck-Nilssen, independent from how many of these new ideas become reality. “If a yard or equipment maker comes to us with an idea we try to find an interested owner so that the necessary needs and experience of the end users are taken into account. In the end a project involving a shipyard, designer, class and an owner is a formidable group that can really bring together expertise roles and interest and that makes perfect sense,” Ørbeck-Nilssen pointed out.
There are many owners who would find that approach refreshing given that in recent times, most regulation seems to have preceded the technology needed to comply. Any developments that put technology before regulation must be something that should be encouraged, added the CEO of DNV GL – Maritime.