The European Community’s Marine Equipment Directive (MED) covers a wide range of telecommunication equipment relating to Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), from lifejackets to pyrotechnics and radio beacons.
The European Union Radio and Telecommunications Terminal Equipment (R&TTE) Directive covers telecommunication equipment which is not relating to the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS). Automatic identification systems vary in their complexity and application, with some of the applications falling under the remit of the Marine Equipment Directive and others falling under the Radio and telecommunications terminal equipment (R&TTE).
Under the Marine Equipment Directive legislation, manufacturers of such equipment cannot self declare that their products are compliant. This means that automated identification systems (AIS) manufacturers, whose equipment comes under the Marine Equipment Directive, must gain independent certification from an EU Notified body, such as TÜV SÜD BABT, before their products can display the mark of conformity (the Wheel Mark).
AIS is a tracking system used on ships, and by vessel traffic services, to identify and locate vessels by electronically exchanging data with other nearby ships and AIS Base stations. AIS information supplements marine radar, which continues to be the primary method of collision avoidance for water transport. Such data also helps to facilitate maritime security and control.
AIS systems were first developed approximately twenty years ago. Specified by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), they harnessed telecommunication techniques developed as part of the GSM mobile technology. AIS technology integrates a standardised VHF transceiver with a global positioning system, while allowing other electronic navigation sensors, such as a gyrocompass or a rate of turn indicator, to be connected to the AIS. Information from these instruments, along with other data, can be displayed as a simple list on a screen or, more usefully, a full Electronic Chart Display and Information System.
A question of class
Since 2006, the IMO’s International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) has required Class A AIS to be fitted aboard international voyaging ships with a gross tonnage of 300 or more tons and on all passenger ships, regardless of size. Since 2010, most commercial vessels operating on the EU inland waterways have been mandated to fit an inland-waterway-modified and approved AIS Class A device. The entire EU fishing fleet of vessels over 15 metres has also been given until 31st May 2014 to do the same. It is estimated that more than 40,000 ships currently carry AIS class A equipment.
In 2007, a new, non-legislated Class B AIS standard was introduced, which enabled the development of a new generation of low-cost AIS transceivers. These typically cost around US$1,000, rather than the US$6,000 or more for Class A AIS equipment. Simple AIS receivers, designed for the leisure market, are also appearing in the market at the US$300 – US$500 range.
While use of AIS Class B is not mandated under international law, its availability has triggered multiple national mandates from Singapore, China, India, Turkey, and North America, which affect hundreds of thousands of additional vessels.
Despite its expansion, the potential for AIS still remains huge, particularly in the US leisure market where it has not yet been fully adopted, despite the US having been the first to state their intention to mandate AIS. The US Coastguard is pushing for AIS and the government will likely subsidise the installation of new AIS equipment.
Coping with international standards against national requirements
AIS was defined by the IMO’s technical committees, which have developed and published a series of AIS product specifications. Each defines a specific AIS function in a precise way to ensure system interoperability worldwide.
The catch for manufacturers trying to tap the global market potential of AIS is the variation in requirements around the world. This is not a problem for Class A equipment, which is tightly bound to the IMO’s SOLAS specifications and covered by the European Union’s Marine Equipment Directive (MED), which is also mutually accepted by the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and others. However, Class B devices are only covered by the EU’s Radio and Telecommunications Terminal Equipment Directive (R&TTED) and countries outside Europe tend to have different requirements.
Most countries require that AIS products are independently tested and certified to comply with a specific published specification. The most widely recognised and accepted AIS certifications are the EU’s MED and R&TTED, the USA’s Coast Guard/Federal Communications Commission (FCC) certification, and those issued by Transport Canada/Industry Canada. Each of these requires independent verification by a qualified and independent testing agency.
In addition to supporting the IMO’s core standards, manufacturers of AIS equipment must also meet standards laid down by the International Electrotechnical Commission (including EMC, Environmental, Safety, RF and Protocol Testing). Many markets also have their own variations and additional working test specifications based on the IMO core specification.
Test & certification best practice
Since manufacturers of AIS equipment are typically specialists in marine equipment, they are able to add value to their customers by integrating AIS with other marine systems, ensuring its compatibility with these multiple devices. However, this increases the complexity of system testing.
For equipment manufacturers hoping to succeed in the burgeoning AIS market, testing, verification and certification are therefore absolutely critical. Working with a testing and certification (T&C) service provider that has established AIS experience can streamline the process, representing a real commercial advantage in terms of getting new AIS products to market faster. This is because best-of-breed service providers should be able to add value by leveraging insight, intelligence and expertise on a local, regional and global scale.
Before committing to a new product verification program, AIS manufacturers are therefore well advised to check out the depth of expertise that a T&C service provider has. Experts at top-tier providers can be authorities in their field, participating in the international committees that formulate such standards, as well as agreeing the practices that should be applied to them. These insights enable experts to provide their manufacturing customers with practical advice based on both best practices and foresight knowledge to help manufacturers anticipate how future changes to standards will impact their product.
By pinpointing areas for optimisation, a good T&C service provider can enable AIS manufacturers to maximise production efficiency, as well as product quality and safety. As certification marks from top-tier T&C organisation are synonymous with quality and safety, they act as excellent marketing tools for clients.
Why choose TÜV SÜD
TÜV SÜD Product Service is the only organisation in the world to be able to provide a comprehensive one-stop testing and certification service for AIS from its Fareham laboratory in the United Kingdom. Manufacturers can also take advantage of our worldwide network of auditors and local partnership laboratories. Testing can be carried out at a manufacturer’s own premises, or at TÜV SÜD’s comprehensive facilities in the UK.
In addition, TÜV SÜD BABT (TÜV SÜD’s certification body for Radio and Marine equipment) is a Notified Body under the European Union’s MED and R&TTED. Certificates issued by TÜV SÜD BABT under MED for AIS Class A equipment are accepted by the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and others.
Working with both TÜV SÜD Product Service for testing and TÜV SÜD BABT for certification delivers the advantage of a one-stop service. Testing and approval of AIS products can be completed in a single cycle of as little as eight weeks, so that manufacturers gain rapid market entry for new products, enjoying an extended time to build market share ahead of the competition.
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