Making waves – and sales – through solid research

Case study

Marine supplier Oceanmax knew it had a world-class product that could also save customers money. It called in Callaghan Innovation to prove it.

Cropped Shiny prop

The background

The developers of a marine foul-release coating knew their product not only kept vessels clean but also improved performance on the water. The problem was they needed scientific evidence to back up that claim. That’s where the Callaghan Innovations R&D team came in.

The customer

Oceanmax International Ltd is a New Zealand company dedicated to developing marine products that are kind to the environment while increasing efficiency and reducing costs for vessel operators. The company has been in business for 20 years and exports to more than 30 countries.

Oceanmax’s flagship product is Propspeed, a foul-release coating agent for ship propellers and running gear. It is specially formulated to prevent marine growth from bonding to metal surfaces below the water line.

The challenge

Propspeed is considered the “gold standard” in foul-release technology and corrosion protection for running gear. Proven long-lasting and effective for keeping propellers clean, Propspeed is environmentally friendly in that it does not leach toxins into the water.

Oceanmax also had anecdotal evidence that Propspeed’s unique silicone-based hydrophobic coating also improves vessel performance. The company’s plans to take Propspeed into the commercial sector required it to conduct an intensive and detailed study to gather data supporting these claims of fuel savings, reduced engine wear and increased speed.

Oceanmax engaged Callaghan Innovation to quantify performance improvements resulting from the hydrophobic coating (as opposed to an untreated metal surface) so it could sell performance as a feature to large ship owners.

The solution

Oceanmax’s technical manager, Dr Michael Jones, says rigorous research was needed to prove the performance benefits of Propspeed because even a small-percentage decrease in shaft power for the same thrust on a large ship can equate to hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual fuel savings, making the product an attractive proposition for fleet operators.

The power differences being measured were expected to be small (but significant when accumulated over time), meaning they were difficult to measure in the presence of large variables such as water and atmospheric conditions and motor-efficiency variations.

Callaghan Innovation’s team of scientific experts worked with the Oceanmax team to design and supply sound technical methodology, which included sea trials, numerical modelling and lab testing.

Sea trials are notoriously difficult to get definitive results from due to the huge number of variables, i.e., sea state, salinity, currents, wind, etc. The Advanced Manufacturing team managed to do this by designing and fabricating a device capable of accurately monitoring motor power, torque, boat speed and wind speed. This was carried out on two vessels and adhered to ISO standards for ship performance testing.

Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) modelling of the propellers of the two vessels matched the sea trial results. CFD modelling was then carried out for a large, 5 meter diameter cruise-ship propeller, showing the potential for hundreds of thousands of dollars in fuel savings through the application of Propspeed. Lab tests with a closed-circuit hydrodynamics rig validated the CFD model and quantified the product’s performance benefits.

Oceanmax Propspeed

The results

Dr Jones says he was impressed with the commitment shown by Callaghan Innovation and the Advanced Manufacturing team.

“They have really gone the extra distance for us from day one by helping to establish a springboard for high-quality innovation through expertise and funding, meeting with and learning about our potential customers, and assisting with building a secure IP platform,” he says.

“The case managers and staff have been engaging, knowledgeable, invested in what we were aiming to achieve, proactive and friendly. They are people who really do want things to happen. They wanted success for us and I think that’s great; I’ve been really impressed.”

Most importantly, the high-calibre research findings produced by the team have led to tangible business outcomes for Oceanmax.

As a direct result of the research and modelling, Oceanmax is in the final stages of negotiation with an international cruise operator looking to use Propspeed on one of its 30 liners. If the operator extends the product’s use to its entire fleet, it could generate annual sales worth six figures for Oceanmax.

“And that’s just one company,” says Dr Jones. “If we can take Propspeed to other fleets – off the back of the research – it’s big business.”

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