When working offshore, you will discover that many different certifications will be required. These certifications range from personal certifications necessary to show the knowledge of safety needed to perform work offshore, as well as equipment certifications to ensure the ability to withstand the harsh marine environment. When adding portable accommodation modules to United States flagged vessels and installations, the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) certification is one you quickly become familiar with. However, while many people may be familiar with the name of the certification, most will not know precisely what is required of a portable accommodation module to receive its ABS certification.

Armoda is a leading manufacturer of offshore portable accommodations, offices, and workshop modules and has constructed modules to meet certifications for regulatory agencies around the world. In this article, we will break down the process of obtaining an ABS certification for a portable accommodation module.

ABS Background:

The American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) is a leading US regulator of the maritime industry. Their ABS Guide for Portable Accommodation Modules is one of the top certifications required for equipment used on offshore vessels and installations. It provides material and construction requirements and inspections to ensure the modules are structurally sound and the occupants and contents are safe. Therefore, you will most likely need ABS certification if you work in or around the United States. Also, because of ABS' stringent certification and annual surveys, other regulatory bodies, like the United States Coast Guard (USCG), will use ABS design review, manufacturing inspections, and certification as enough documentation to check off some, if not most, of their requirements. Consequently, proper communication and design approval from ABS is critical for various other certifications.

The ABS provides guidelines for manufacturers when designing and manufacturing equipment to meet their certification requirements. These guidelines give manufacturers of portable accommodation modules a better understanding of what is required for certification. The guidelines are periodically revised to ensure the certifications are up to date with the latest developments in the marine industry and improve the clarity of rules for easier understanding. For manufacturing portable accommodation modules, the ABS provides the Guide for Portable Accommodation Modules which was revised in February of this year.

The certification process for manufacturing a portable accommodation module is broken into four steps: Design Review of Module, Survey During Fabrication, Review for Installation Approval, and Survey Onboard Host Vessel. These sections follow the module's life cycle from initial design and engineering to final installation and approval on a vessel or installation.

ABS Certification Step 1 – Design Review of Module

Within the design review of the module section of the guide, the ABS categorizes the requirements for portable accommodation modules into twelve areas.

  1. Structural Fire Protection
  2. Ventilation
  3. Piping Requirements
  4. Structural Requirements
  5. Materials of Construction
  6. Special Requirements
  7. Fire Fighting Requirements
  8. Protection of Steel
  9. Fire Integrity
  10. Electrical Requirements
  11. Machinery Requirements
  12. ILO Convention.

From these requirements, an engineering team works to create detailed plans, drawings, and data that will need to be submitted to the ABS to move forward from this initial step of the process. The required information is also detailed within the section. Once a manufacturer has completed their design plans and data package, they submit it to the ABS technical office for review. Upon completion of the review, the drawings are returned to the manufacturer and forwarded to the attending ABS surveyor. A product design assessment (PDA) certificate is issued, and the product status becomes "Design Assessed." Once the attending ABS surveyor has received the drawings, the manufacturer can move to the next step of the process.

ABS Certification Step 2 – Survey During Fabrication

The manufacturer begins fabrication of the module following the drawings and designs approved by the ABS technical office. Within the drawings that the technical office sent over to the surveyor are:

  • the approved plans for all aspects of the module
  • the required welding procedures with welder qualification tests and material certification/traceability
  • a list of the non-destructive testing (NDT) methods that will be used
  • necessary qualifications and certificates for items and equipment as required.

As the name states, the ABS surveyor will make periodic inspections of the module as it moves through the fabrication process. The inspections will include visual inspections, insulation, NDT, and testing of systems such as general alarms, fire detection, etc. In addition, the surveyor confirms the module is fabricated to the requirements in the drawing package. When the module has finished fabrication, it is marked for identification purposes. This identification includes information like the manufacturer's name and address, the manufacturer's serial number, the number of persons to be accommodated, the ABS approval letter, etc. This marking identifies the module so that ABS surveyors reviewing the installation of the modules can find all the necessary data on a module to ensure it meets the requirements of the vessel or installation it is being installed on.

The manufacturer then submits a manufacturer assessment (MA) request. The assessment will ensure that the ABS surveyor confirmed that the manufacturer followed the PDA. It will also include an audit of the quality control system and manufacturing process. If the module passes the audit, it is issued an MA certificate, and its product status is changed to "Type Approved."

ABS Certification Step 3 – Design Review for Installation Approval

Now that the module's product status has changed, it is ready for deployment to a vessel or installation for use. When installing a portable accommodation module to a host vessel, there are technical requirements that must be met:

  • Submission of Plans
  • Stability Requirements
  • Structures (Vessels, MODU, etc)
  • Securing to the Deck
  • Stacking Arrangements
  • Electrical Requirements
  • Piping Requirements
  • Fire Fighting Requirements
  • Tonnage
  • ILO (International Labor Organization)
  • Lifesaving Appliances
  • Structural Fire Protection
  • Means of Escape and Safe Passage

This information is packaged together and sent to the ABS technical office, where ABS engineers will determine if the proposed location on the vessel is suitable for the module. When the package is approved, stamped drawings are returned to the submitter and to the ABS survey office.

ABS Certification Step 4 – Host Survey Onboard

The final step in the ABS certification process is the Host Survey Onboard. An ABS surveyor attends the module installation on the vessel and verifies that the module is installed following the ABS-approved drawings sent to the submitter and the ABS survey office in the previous step. When the installation is complete, and the surveyor approves, the module's status is "ABS Certified" and it is ready to be utilized.

Modules can be deployed on vessels for multiple years at a time. Therefore, the ABS also requires annual surveys for modules in service. This ensures that the module can still meet the requirements necessary to keep its ABS certification.

This explanation of how modules become ABS Certified is meant to be a quick run down. If you are interested in learning more about offshore modules themselves, read more in our previous article, which breaks down the offshore modules classifications you need to know.