In Pursuit of Increased Turkish Industry Contribution – FİGES Advances with Seasoned Staff and Engineering Expertise

In an exclusive Defence Turkey interview Mr. Koray Gökalp – General Manager of FİGES A.Ş discusses the company’s substantial experience within many engineering disciplines coupled with their engineering culture to undertake such a project such as Powerpack. The company looks forward to similar projects in the future, ready to proudly serve the industry and the Republic of Turkey.

Issue 79

Defence Turkey: Mr. Gökalp, first of all thank you very much for your time. With its advanced engineering solutions and depth of field, FİGES A.Ş. is one of the leading engineering companies in Turkey. You have been offering high quality services to companies in various sectors in the field of computer aided engineering and system modeling. In addition, with the strategic decision you made in 2015, we see that you have become a company that invests, develops and produces high-tech products and aims to open up to the world market with these products. In this context, you have recently introduced new and distinctive technological products involving high technology such as MAST systems, 3D Metal Sintering Systems, Bionic Hand and Impedance Tubes. What would you like to say about your vision and roadmap that you have adopted?

FİGES has always been a well-known and trusted engineering company. Since 1990, we have provided computer-aided engineering services to a wide range of different customers operating on many different industries. However, when re-evaluating the company’s mission statement and strategy in 2015, we have realized that to provide constant growth and a sustainable business model we needed to move from an operations-focused company to a customer-focused company. The actual need and pain of the customer is to have high-technology products at an affordable price. You can address that need by providing engineering services and let them figure out the rest, which only solves part of the issue, or you can provide them the end product, which is now a complete solution. Having that goal in mind, we have performed market research on different industries, talked to our customers and identified critical high technology products and technologies they need now or in the future. We have restructured the R&D organization in the company and tackled the products you have mentioned, namely MAST systems, 3D Metal Sintering Systems, Bionic Hand and Impedance Tubes. As of now, there are many other R&D projects and product ideas in FİGES with ongoing research, and the intention in all of these projects is to have a high technology, marketable product, targeting a certain need in the industry.


Defence Turkey: What would you like to say about your human resources structure, as a company having the related depth of field and which is one of the leading companies in Turkey in advanced technology with its strong engineers and academic advisers? What are the advantages of this strong staff in the R&D and Product Development phases?

As we are an engineering company, the total worth of FİGES is the sum of each of the individual staff members. Currently there are 10% Ph.D. degrees and more than 60% M.Sc. degrees in our engineering group, which is considerably above the industry standard. We work closely with the academic advisers both on R&D projects and for the thesis studies of our engineers. Contrary to common tendencies in the industry, we encourage our engineers to pursue higher education, and provide enough time and resources to them to have a balanced work-school life. We tend to hire successful and hardworking people, but also specifically look for creative and innovative thinking skills, as the distinctive feature of an R&D engineer is the ability to “think outside the box”. In 2017, we have established a strong HR department with the strategy to decrease employee turnover, track and evaluate the career path of each individual employee, provide the necessary training and resources to them and inspire innovative thinking within the company. 


Defence Turkey: Mr. Gökalp, you are aiming to create a corporate group where an investment company focusing on R&D is at the center and which is surrounded by separate companies established for each of your high-tech products. Within this context, what would you like to say about the advantages that your ongoing studies and the planned structure will bring to you both in domestic and foreign markets?

As the company grew through the years, many different service areas and engineering disciplines were included in its structure. The services we provide have spread to many clients from different industries. As the nature of the work involved advanced engineering customized for each client’s needs, the type of work we did were all unique in each project. This model showed the clients that we can provide services in a vast breadth of application areas, but failed to highlight the depth of knowledge and experience we had in certain fields. Instead, we decided to focus our energy to develop products and services as separate entities or companies around FİGES’ core, which is now basically an investment company that supports R&D focused initiatives. Each of these companies established around the core, will have their own products or their own specialized area of services. Hence from client’s perspective, we will be able to emphasize that each of these companies are the best in class suppliers for that specific service or product. The purpose of the investment company at the center of this community is to first identify, together with entrepreneurs from within and outside the company, the strategic areas of service and the ideas for advanced technology products that are needed in different industries. This company will then develop and mature these ideas through R&D efforts, and then commercialize them within a sustainable corporate organization, in a manner similar to what was done with FİGES Technology Inc. Under this structure, entrepreneurs will be able to benefit from FİGES’ facilities, infrastructure and funding strength in every way, as they work to mature their ideas. Moreover, they will also own part of the rights pertaining to the product resulting from their ideas. 


Defence Turkey: FİGES A.Ş. and Anova companies are planning to establish a joint venture to perform activities in the field of R&D software. Could you please inform us on the details of this initiative? 

As you know, FİGES and Anova are the distributors of ANSYS family of products, which are top of the class engineering simulation software. We are merging the sales operations of each company under a new joint venture established in early 2018. The client will deal with a single company for all their ANSYS related needs and more importantly, they will be able to benefit from the combined technical knowledge and expertise of application engineers from both FİGES and Anova. All other operations including R&D and engineering will be separate as it was before, however we also have the intention to combine our engineering power for certain big projects like the Powerpack Development Project for the Altay MBT.


Defence Turkey: Do you have an inorganic growth strategy for foreign markets in the future, such as the acquisition of a technology-based company or establishment of a partnership with technological companies through joint production and development? Do you have any roadmap in the forthcoming period for the recognition and marketing of your high-tech products in foreign markets?

We do have the intention to acquire high-tech foreign companies in the future, as long as after the acquisition all the R&D operations of the acquired company will be carried over and performed in Turkey. We also plan to form a network of channel partners in the Middle East, Asia, Europe and U.S. for the marketing and sales of our own products.


Defence Turkey: Mr. Gökalp, FİGES A.Ş. is one of the companies that received RFP for the tender issued by SSM within the scope of the Powerpack Development Program. You emphasize that your company is able to develop unique and national powerpack with local resources without obtaining any technical consultancy package from abroad, and you underline that your company is assertive in this regard. What is your solution on this particular topic with your competencies and abilities in this field?

We have been involved in the Powerpack Development Program for the last 10 years. We have contacted and actually worked with many companies from all over the world, including manufacturers, suppliers, design offices, service providers, test centers and many others. The proposal we offered to SSM is the outcome of thousands and thousands of hours of work performed towards a conceptual design of the Powerpack. As you have mentioned, our solution is unique in the sense that all the development activities will be performed in Turkey without the need of a Technical Support Provider. We may work with certain experienced foreign individuals as a consultant during the development phase, but the scope of that consultancy will be much narrower than working with a Technical Support Provider. Therefore, we do not foresee any issue with an export license or government approval, as they will not be necessary. As for the critical sub-systems, separate project teams and suppliers will undertake development and test activities, as the Powerpack Project continues in parallel. We know that all the engineering disciplines and the engineering culture to undertake such a project is currently available in FİGES. However, we are also well aware that the human resources within FİGES will not be necessary to undertake such an important and big project. Hence, we have formed partnership with other R&D companies like Anova and BIAS, to perform design, analysis and test phases of the project. Manufacturing and assembly of the engine and transmission parts will be performed by well-known, highly capable manufacturing companies in Turkey.


Defence Turkey: Mr Gökalp, let’s have a look at your new high-tech products. During the IDEF Fair, you unveiled your Telescopic Elevation Systems (MAST) of two different configurations (3m and 8m). These systems, developed and produced with national facilities, attracted considerable attention during the Fair. These systems, which can be integrated to all kinds of land and naval platforms, fixed platforms, antennas, sensors and radar systems, target detection devices, communication, reconnaissance and surveillance systems and weapons systems, can also be designed for the requirements of commercial communication companies. When you compare the systems provided from abroad as per the requirements of our country in the previous years, what kind of a product are we talking about in terms of capabilities, unique technologies, configurations, logistic support services and costs?

Our telescopic mast family of products and FİGES Technology as a company offer many advantages over its competitors. First, FİGES Technology has the R&D background of FİGES at its core. Therefore, in parallel to all the sales and mass production activities, we constantly improve our products and add models with different capabilities to our portfolio. Our main advantage is to be able to provide customer specific solutions when the requirements of the customer fall between the capabilities of our off-the-shelf mast systems. For example, the 3m MAST system we delivered to the South Korean company LIG Nex1 can be used in the extended position as the vehicle is travelling 80kmh on paved road and 40kmh on unpaved road. This feature adds tactical advantage to the vehicle during operation. In addition, our products tend to be lighter and having smaller footprint compared to other products on the market, due to extensive research we have done on the analysis, testing and optimization of carbon fiber composite lay-up. Especially for our domestic clients, we can provide quick and effective logistics and maintenance support in their facilities or in the field. We use about 90-95% domestic parts and suppliers for the entire system, which helps our domestic defense clients with their offset obligations. The only component where we cannot find a domestic supplier is for electronic connectors that comply with military standards. As we tend to use local suppliers, the cost of our product is currently positioned around 20%-30% below our competitors, without sacrificing from functionality, durability and quality.


Defence Turkey: The MAST systems developed and produced in a short time like 8 months were still in the prototype stage during the IDEF Fair. What are the steps taken so far in order to achieve field and laboratory tests, and make them become a product in international standards? Could you please summarize the recent status?

Currently we have completed and passed almost all laboratory tests required to comply with MIL-STD standards, including vibration, shock, dust, sand, high temperature, low temperature, humidity, rain, icing, EMC. Solar radiation and low-pressure tests are ongoing and will be completed in January 2018. We have also performed rigorous mechanical and electrical functionality tests in our production facility. Currently, we are performing fatigue tests to ensure the product meets the durability requirements of our clients. These tests will also be completed at the end of January 2018. The strength and durability of the 3m MAST system we delivered to South Korea has been tested in the field by the end user in the United Arab Emirates, especially when the mast is in extended position and the vehicle is travelling, accelerating and braking. We are proud that the feedback from the customer was all positive and expressed their satisfaction from the outcome of these field tests.


Defence Turkey: Do you carry out studies on new generation versions that are 15 m and over and can carry more payloads, or which can be carried by a man portable configuration apart from these two configurations (3 m and 8 m) which were unveiled at IDEF Fair and can carry 150kg and 200 kg payloads? With 28 years of engineering experience, and with a staff that were able to introduce two configurations in a short time like 8 months, do you plan to introduce a new MAST family that can respond to the requirements of the world armies again in a short period of time? Do you have any news on this matter for the near future?

We are currently working on many different versions of telescopic masts. We have a 3m version with 300kg payload capacity, which we will deliver to Aselsan in the month of January. We have another 4m model with 300kg payload capacity; a 2.5m version for M60T Tanks, which has an entirely different extension-retraction mechanism; a steel frame version which can be retracted and folded on top of a trailer bed; and a 10m-15m model guided with wire ropes.

Defence Turkey: During the IDEF Fair, we know that you have received significant orders both in our country and abroad. In addition to the orders received from Aselsan’s various sectoral directorates, you also made sales to the United Arab Emirates and South Korea. In this context, could you please inform us on the firm orders you have received so far, the financial volume of these orders, as well as the related offers you have submitted at the domestic and international tenders?

Currently, we have submitted 25 different offers to domestic and international customers. The volume of these proposals is around $30 Million, while the total value of the orders we have received is around $6 Million. We are waiting for another $3 Million purchase order from South Korea when they complete the tests on the prototype. 


Defence Turkey: As a result of the orders received both from our country and abroad, you established a factory at the Başkent Organized Industry Zone. Are the studies for qualification of this factory’s production line completed? What would you like to say about your future plans, with the annual production capacity planned within a short term?

We have made considerably investments to have a controlled and qualified production line. We have adopted an MRP and production planning process where we can track each individual part on the CAD model, from factory acceptance to the assembled system using unique IDs. Currently, in our production line we have 16 different stations for the assembly of one mast system. We measure the time spent on each of these stations to better optimize the production sequence and labor. Our current production capacity is around 30 masts in a month. Our goal is to reach 1000 masts produced and delivered by the end of 2020.


Defence Turkey: FİGES A.Ş. is conducting studies on 4th generation Generation Nuclear Power Plants. Could you please give some details on these studies?

Our Nuclear Energy Technologies Division has expanded considerably during the last year. FİGES is actively involved in a European Union Project called Safety Assessment of the Molten Salt Fast Reactor, which is considered a 4th Generation Nuclear Power Plant. Our team is working on the development of first and second cycle heat exchangers as part of our scope within this project.   


Defence Turkey: Could you please tell us about the studies you have been carrying out for the new generation technological products such as bionic hand and impedance tube?

We are lately working on haptic feedback technologies for our bionic hands. We are developing special sensors, which will improve the sense of touch and eventually bring the bionic hand technology closer to the human hand. Moreover, we are also working on scaling the bionic hand to provide solutions for children. Impedance tube systems are the fundamental tools for obtaining key parameters of acoustic materials. The system developed by acoustic experts within FİGES is efficiently utilized for commercial and internal R&D projects by not only FİGES but also its customers. We are also working on developing propulsion systems for marine applications and amphibious military vehicles, under our new division FİGES Marine.


Defence Turkey: Mr. Gökalp, where do you plan to position yourself within the next 10 years? 

Our goal within the next 5-10 years is to develop and commercialize strategic and critical high-technology products and services for the domestic and international markets through individual subsidiary companies. We want to build the central R&D organization to be a hub where innovative ideas throughout the industry and academic institutions flow in and formed into an R&D project. We want FİGES to be a well-known brand associated with innovative thinking, and high-technology products that are ahead of the market trends. We will also continue to be involved in projects critical for our country. We have contributed to the development of MİLGEM National Ship and many others in the past. We have submitted a proposal to SSM for the development of Powerpack for the Altay Tank. There will also be many other projects, just like these, in the future where we would be proud and honored to undertake to serve the industry and our country.


Defence Turkey: Do you have any messages that you would like to convey to Defence Turkey readers?

I would like to thank all the readers for their interest in our company. I invite them to our R&D Center, if they have innovative ideas but need to brainstorm and collaborate with other engineers, or if they need engineering resources and tools to transform their ideas into market-ready products