New Zealand Defence Force

A defence agency adds a powerful tool to its arsenal: open innovation with the Crowd

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Open innovation allows organizations to tap into the Crowd and gain insights they would never have otherwise found. The Defence Technology Agency in New Zealand partnered with Wazoku to run a Challenge about how to prevent New Zealand Defence Force naval vessels’ hulls becoming covered in biofouling. The force multiplier of Wazoku’s Crowd produced a result in just a few months, providing innovative ideas already being used in other industries that could combat their biofouling problem.


Submissions from 6 continents


environmental impact by implementing non-toxic antifoulings


Awarded Solvers

“Using open innovation helped us close the miles between us and potential solutions. With Solvers from the other side of the world, it’s unlikely we ever would have found them without partnering with Wazoku on this Challenge.”

Janelle Aitken
Acting Director Operations Support, Defence Technology Agency

About the DTA

The Defence Technology Agency of New Zealand is the leading provider of scientific and technical support to the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) and the NZ Ministry of Defence. Its team consists of 68+ scientists, researchers, and business staff all aligned to a single purpose. The DTA collaborates with a network of stakeholders in similar industries, other government agencies, the wider scientific community, and both public and private sector organizations.

With an existing history of external collaboration, the DTA wanted to expand beyond its usual range of specialised partners. Being able to utilise the ‘long tail’ of Solvers (those outside an organisation and its direct partners) is a critical part of open innovation.

The Business Problem

Strict biosecurity regulations have become a greater concern for ocean-going vessels in recent years, both in New Zealand and the rest of the world. Biofouling is defined as the accumulation of aquatic organisms on surfaces underwater, and can cause huge problems for vessels if not addressed. After ten years of development, New Zealand’s ‘Craft Risk Management Standard’ (CRMS) was launched in 2014, with an aim to “minimize the entry into New Zealand of those non-indigenous species that constitute vessel biofouling.”

The first high-profile case of a ship failing to meet these regulations was the DL Marigold:

March 2017: The cargo ship DL Marigold is ordered to leave New Zealand’s territorial waters after divers discover evidence of biofouling (barnacles and tube worms). The vessel was given a day to leave the North Island port of Tauranga and be cleaned, before it could return and unload its cargo. The concerns about its severe contamination centred around the possibility that these biofouling organisms on the ship posed an invasive species risk.

The ship becomes New Zealand’s first international vessel removed for biosecurity reasons.

Marigold ship

Antifouling measures are a necessity if vessels want to meet these rigorous standards. Since ship operators are keen to avoid possible exclusions and fines for biofouling, they usually use the strongest antifouling options available: most of which are toxic in their application, disintegration, or removal. In recent years, use of popular antifouling coatings of the past is no longer as widespread due to their levels of toxicity: TBT (tributyltin) biocide coatings were banned in 2003 by the International Maritime Organization for their damage to marine life.

The DTA and their partners at the NZDF wanted to be able to prevent the growth of biofouling on low-water-flow areas of naval vessel hulls. The benefits would be threefold:

  • increasing availability of the fleet as ships would be out of operations for less time due to cleaning requirements;
  • reducing toxicity and damage to marine life by moving away from the use of toxic antifouling paint;
  • and ensuring New Zealand’s biosecurity by preventing invasive species from latching on and being spread.

Defence Technology Agency’s Ideation Challenge

An Ideation Challenge was selected, relating to a persistent problem, as this would bring the most diverse range of ideas. The IP rights of an Ideation Challenge mean that the DTA and partners at the NZDF would have non-exclusive use rights to any suggested Solutions, not just those Awarded, and could then research their feasibility in their own time.

Fouling Prevention on Ships

  • The NZDF was looking for preventative measures to stop biofouling, rather than removal when it had already occurred.
  • They hoped that the Crowd would provide innovative new approaches, potentially from other industries.
  • The NZDF’s key focus was that solutions would achieve results in low flow areas such as sea chests, bow thruster spaces, and other hard-to-reach zones.
  • Ideal solutions would be able to prevent the growth of biofouling for at least a period of two years in a saltwater environment, be useable while the vessel is in a dry dock environment or while tied alongside a wharf, and perform better than commercially available antifouling paints or coatings.

The Solution and Wazoku’s role

This Challenge had tremendous reach, engaging nearly 300 Solvers from a breadth of backgrounds and generating over 100 Solutions. The winning Solutions looked at the problem from a different angle and a perspective from outside the DTA’s industry, and were Awarded by the Seeker.

The first winning Solution utilized technology designed to eradicate pest organisms that is already in use in a different industry: salmon farming. The Solver alerted the DTA to the existence of the ‘Stingray’ system pioneered for use in salmon farms in Scandinavia. The stingray is a laser-equipped monitoring device that detects the shape of target salmon lice on the fish and eliminates them, preventing disease. Use of a similar system on NZDF vessels could prevent biofouling on hulls and in hard-to-reach areas.

Salmon farm technology

Proteolytic Enzymes

DTA also awarded a second solution, that concerned the use of enzymes in an antifouling coating of paint. This novel paint would be applied during dry dock maintenance and would allow embedding of proteolytic enzymes in the coating matrix. These protein-destroying enzymes would affect the attachment of biofouling organisms in the immediate area, preventing the attachment and transport of invasive species.

Both of the Awarded Solvers met the solution requirements. There is significant potential that the two solutions will lead to improved fouling control in naval vessels. The process has leveraged technologies already in use in other industries for novel application in the naval space and have the potential to reduce ongoing labour and maintenance costs over multiple years.

Future DTA innovation plans

After this experience with running their first OI Challenge with Wazoku, the DTA is facilitating two further Challenges for NZDF, each requiring its own specific crowd-sourced solution.

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