Interview: Gökser Makina
Full content of the interview of Gökser Makina that’s been published in the 39th issue of MSI TDR is here:
“We have gathered all R&D, design, prototype production, and serial production activities under the same roof.”
Gökser Makina, renowned for its solutions in the fields of electromechanics, air-conditioning and flexible hoses, is aiming to utilise its more than 30-year experience in Turkey’s ambitious projects. In the meantime, the second generation has now started to participate in the company’s management. We spoke with Hilmi Ünal, General Manager; Hilal Ünal, Project Manager; and Serhat Ünal, Assistant General Manager at Gökser Makina, about the company’s past, present and future.
MSI TDR: Mr. Hilmi Ünal, could you tell us how Gökser Makina was established?
Hilmi ÜNAL: I personally witnessed the difficulties experienced during the period of embargo that followed the Cyprus Peace Operation of 1974. For anyone who loves his homeland, those days were deeply offensive. Due to my experiences from that period, the defence industry was always on my mind.
Prior to Gökser Makina, we had another company called Ünal Teknik, where I used to repair radios and televisions, wind coils, and was responsible for distributing and servicing heating devices. While doing this, we were also looking at how we could effectively enter the defence industry, and to what extent our capacity would enable us to do so. In time our thoughts became clearer, and we came to OSTİM in 1987, where we established Gökser Makina.
I have really put my heart and soul into the defence industry. Because if you are not strong in terms of defence, peace will always be a very distant prospect. Peace depends on the strength of the defence industry. This is what will put an end to our tears. Nobody can say, “These are weapons and they hurt people. How can peace have anything to do with them?” No sir. It’s not like that. You have to be strong, especially in the region where Turkey is located… I believe that Turkey must achieve a very robust position in the defence industry. As such, after we established our company, I did some research to see what are the things that could not be made in Turkey; what was being purchased from abroad at high prices; and what were our military’s requirements were. I did my best to find out what these are. And today, thank Goodness, my children are also following in my path. Their outlook is no different from mine. They also have views similar to mine with respect to the defence industry. I am happy for this and now we are located in OSTİM. Ankara and the rest of the country should be well aware of OSTİM’s importance. OSTİM has the potential to carry out very large projects, and has already completed some, for the defence industry.
MSI TDR: By 1987, the year when Gökser Makina was established, 13 years had already passed since the Cyprus Peace Operation, and significant actors such as ASELSAN and TAI had appeared on the stage. Furthermore, it was in those years that the Undersecretariat for Defence Industries (SSM) was established. What were your experiences during that period?
Hilmi ÜNAL: At that time, I was looking for ways to produce military products. A former soldier visited me and said: “We have a hot air blowing device, which comes from the US and is very expensive. In addition, there are flexible tubes attached to the outlet of these devices to direct the airflow. I was told that you are the only company capable of doing this in Ankara. Would you like to be involved if we open a bidding for five or six samples?” This was exactly what I was waiting for. I said yes immediately. We did this, and the outcome was satisfactory. While thinking about what else we could do, we started to take part in exhibitions. A general from a military factory saw our flexible air transfer conduits and said “That’s exactly what I was looking for. During the Gulf War, I saw conduits like these only in the Italians’ tents. The others were using stoves and gas furnaces for heating, which caused fires.” We also did some business in Kayseri during this period. This is how we started – step by step. Then we continued with some flexible hoses used in aircraft. Today, I can develop here indigenously, with my eyes closed, anything that’s purchased from abroad at higher costs.
I would like to give an example about how motivated we are in our work. One day, we received a call from the military unit in Şırnak. They told that they were using one of our products for drying soldiers’ uniforms, which got wet when they were on guard duty. We were told that a malfunction had occurred in our product long after the guarantee period was over, and that they didn’t know what to do because they lacked any budget for such an incident. When they asked for our help, the hair stood up on my neck. I had a working device here with me, while our soldiers’ uniforms were getting wet during their guard duty; so it was impossible for me not to try finding a solution. I asked for their address and sent them a working device. I also asked them to return theirs. We solved the problem free of charge, by preventing the soldiers from experiencing any more discomfort. Later, the commanding officer of that unit paid us a visit. Unfortunately, I couldn’t meet him in person because I was out of Ankara at the time on a business trip; but knowing that he had come to see me was a reward in itself.
MSI TDR: When did your children start to take part in your business?
Hilmi ÜNAL: In the early days, our working conditions and our resources were very different. Over time; the industry, our country and we have achieved a much better position. Serhat has been working with me since he was in secondary school. Hilal never said, “We already own a company”, and she shouldered many responsibilities, working for many years at the OSTİM Defence and Aviation Cluster (OSSA). She has just left her position there and rejoined Gökser Makina. What happens now? Well, we have experienced exactly what is said by the proverb, “One hand washes the other, and together they wash the face.” Now, the two have put their heads together, and I believe that in the future Gökser Makina will undertake much larger projects.
MSI TDR: How would you describe today’s Gökser Makina?
Hilmi ÜNAL: We have gathered all the R&D, design, prototype production and serial production activities under one roof at Gökser Makina, which is a Small and Medium-sized Enterprise (SME) offering special solutions for the defence and aerospace industry. As long as it has the strength, Gökser Makina can do anything; this is what I firmly believe. We are very satisfied with our specialised team of 20.
Serhat ÜNAL: Gökser Makina’s history started with heaters, and then expanded to climatisation systems and air-conditioning devices. Over time, we saw that we also have the capability to design. Each request we received from the armed forces and prime contractors was always very different from the other. As a result, our customers compelled us to become a company that makes custom-made designs. We started to produce military air-conditioning devices, and later developed numerous variants of these products. When preparing a brochure, we can now fill it with photos of various solutions. The reason for this is of course the different requirements. For instance, a device that operates in Africa will have different specifications than a device requested by Turkey or Azerbaijan. Some of our customers want a generator module, while others don’t. To give you another example: Just when we were about to send a device to the US, they suddenly requested that it operates at 60 Hz.
We later started to work on projects for the European Union (EU) and TÜBİTAK. Nowadays, Gökser Makina is capable of producing, testing and delivering specifically designed products. Think of a prototype workshop: The workshop is here, and so is the design team. We design, produce, and conduct verification tests. Ultimately, we deliver turnkey solutions to our customers. At the beginning of this process, the only expectation we have of our customers is that they provide us the relevant specifications or technical documents. We select the appropriate materials – at the level of raw material, semi-finished products or finished products – in accordance with the design criteria, and then develop the machine.
We believe that we are on the right track, and for the future, we’re willing to produce the subsystems that are required, or may potentially be needed, by our defence industry.
MSI TDR: You are a company with a history dating back some 30 years, and yet you have only 20 staff. How should we interpret this situation?
Serhat ÜNAL: Since we have been operating at OSTİM for three decades, there is no need for us to establish the kind of infrastructure we lack in our own equipment pool, such as the machining equipment. This is because there are many advanced capabilities that is available at OSTİM, particularly with regard to machining. We know very well who can do what for us, and how and when they can do it. In this respect, we utilise very effectively what OSTİM has. So instead of investing in workbenches at our facility, we knock on our neighbours’ doors.
Through the projects we receive from, and successfully deliver to, prime contractor companies such as TAI, ROKETSAN, ASELSAN, HAVELSAN, and FNSS, we see that this approach of ours leads to the right outcomes,
We are also trying out various new working models in Turkey.
MSI TDR: There are numerous companies in Turkey that are operating in the field of air-conditioning systems. What makes you different from the others?
Serhat ÜNAL: Actually, air-conditioning systems don’t require very advanced technology. We stand out thanks to our experience and familiarity with military standards. If we were to say that the number of companies producing air-conditioning systems is, for example 100, this number actually decreases to 80 when it comes to mobile air-conditioner. And when you speak of military standards, this number further decreases to about 10, or even 5. Thus, we can say that we are in Turkey’s top five companies. In addition, we also have 30 years of experience in this field.
Hilal ÜNAL: As I have been involved in many aspects of the industry at the same time, I can see that Gökser Makina offers an important difference: It is a company that has really internalised the culture, requirements, expectations and other aspects of the defence industry, and which considers all of these aspects as normal. This is part of our normal life, and not something we see as unusual.
Serhat ÜNAL: While many others may react negatively to certain requirements, we accept them as normal and move on.
MSI TDR: What’s the biggest project you have been involved in so far?
Serhat ÜNAL: There was once a requirement of the Turkish Air Force (TurAF) that had to be met through direct procurement. Numerous tenders were opened, and we won them several times in a row. We delivered over 600 military air-conditioning systems. They are still in use in the inventory of the Turkish Armed Forces.
Long-established R&D Culture
MSI TDR: Could you tell us about Gökser Makina’s R&D works?
Hilal ÜNAL: Each project comes with different requirements, and there are various solutions we have developed to meet them. So we can say that Gökser Makina has a well-established R&D culture.
We are an SME, which means that we need support to carry out R&D projects. There was a meeting held at OSTİM in 2007, where TÜBİTAK described their support mechanism. Hearing them we said: “Yes! Finally we’ll be able to get back some of the money our company has spent on R&D!” We are actually the first company to have submitted an R&D project proposal for the TÜBİTAK SME R&D Start-up Support Programme with code number 1507. We are also the first SME in Turkey to become a coordinator for EU R&D projects, and we may still be the only SME in Turkey to have ever assumed such a role.
So far, we have undertaken and successfully completed:
- Four EU 7th Framework Projects,
- Four TÜBİTAK Projects, and
- Two KOSGEB Projects.
We also received two special prizes from TÜBİTAK for our role as coordinator.
I would like to add something about the 7th Framework Projects as well. With these projects, the EU defines a problem, publishes a specific call addressing this problem, and stipulates the following in the call: No company shall apply to this call individually, and the applications shall be submitted jointly with SMEs, universities, and research institutes. Our company is capable of writing the project proposal, establishing the consortium, and carrying out all those reporting procedures – which in the case of the EU are quite strict. We are the coordinator of two such EU projects. In another project, we had 16 partners, and very recently, we delivered a project in Brussels, which involved eight partners from five European countries. Therefore, we, as Gökser Makina, are a company that is capable of working together with companies, universities and research institutions, both here in Turkey and abroad. When the problem is clearly defined and we are given the requirements, we can do business anywhere in the world. This is another feature that distinguishes us from the rest.
In addition, we are fast and flexible. In the domestic market, we are sometimes able to develop solutions, even in the course of a day, and without charging.
MSI TDR: Do you hold any intellectual properties, such as patents, utility models or brands?
Hilal ÜNAL: We hold two patents, two industrial design registrations, two utility models, and three brands. With our Gökser Makina brand, we generally design and produce electromechanical systems. While we use the ThermaCool brand for the design and production of air-conditioning systems, TECHNIFLEX is the brand we use for the production of flexible industrial hoses, which are used in aircraft cabins, helicopters, airports, tunnels, and mines. In fact, we created our own brands by subdividing the lines of work in the same company. Our brands even have their own separate web sites.
MSI TDR: Can you tell us about your export initiatives? Do you have any representative offices overseas?
Hilal ÜNAL: We export to Europe, the Middle East, and more rarely to Russia. The share of exports in our turnover is currently 7.5 percent, and our aim is to increase this figure to more than 40 percent. So far we don’t have any representative offices abroad.
MSI TDR: Turkey has various potential projects such as the Turkish National Fighter (TF-X), Indigenous Helicopter, and İ-Class Frigate. Looking at the horizon and future, in which projects would Gökser Makina like to take part?
Serhat ÜNAL: As a producer company with design capabilities, our goal is to design our products in line with the existing requirements, and to become a solution partner for prime contractors. For us, a solution partner is a company that is capable of designing products in accordance with the design criteria requested, and that is able to prove this with the required documentation. At this point, we can either become a single contractor or a consortium member. Principally, we would like to work in the field of land and air platforms. For this reason, we would like to have a role in the subsystems of projects like the Indigenous Helicopter and the TF-X. In line with Turkey’s goal to have an indigenous subsystem, we can make such a design in accordance with the required criteria.
We also undertake naval projects. Previously, we carried out an indigenisation project relating to seven or eight items regarding the air-conditioning systems for Gölcük Shipyard. Now, we are the producer of those items and we deliver them directly to the shipyard. With regard to naval projects we are ready to assume responsibility for any role assigned to us.
Hilal ÜNAL: We have also started preparations for civil aviation. We are about to receive an AS 9100 certificate. In line with the latest revision in the AS 9100, we expect to complete this process in 2018. In fact, some of our systems and solutions are already being used in the cabins of commercial aircraft. However, once we complete the AS 9100 certification process, it will be easier for us to progress with the civil aviation companies abroad with which we have been having talks for certain components. When we, as a country, have our own indigenous passenger aircraft, we will also be able to produce these systems very easily.
MSI TDR: Ms. Hilal Ünal, the industry knows you very well owing to your long-held position as OSSA Coordinator, although most people are not aware of your connection with Gökser Makina. Indeed, when the names of Gökser Makina and Hilal Ünal are mentioned together, people tend to see it as a new position; some even think “Hilal Ünal has established a new company!” How did you become OSSA Coordinator, and how did you return to Gökser Makina? Can you briefly tell us about this too?
Hilal ÜNAL: Actually, I can say that I took a break from my work at Gökser Makina. The OSSA gave a position at the time, and I worked there for a while before returning home. This is how my position as OSSA Coordinator began: It was the July of 2011. Orhan Aydın, Chairman of the Board at OSTİM, and Ahmet Mithat Ertuğ, Chairman of the Board at OSSA, offered me a position as OSSA Coordinator, and convinced me to accept it. At first, we agreed that I would work at OSSA for a few days each week, while continuing my work at Gökser Makina for the rest of the time. I would be responsible for coordination and make OSSA an effective platform. When I began working there, I saw that as long as OSSA was managed correctly, it would, as a non-governmental organisation, make great contributions to Turkey and to the SMEs. In the end, I am from an SME that has been in the business for 30 years. I tried to help OSSA gain the ability to offer all the services, which we, as an SME, couldn’t receive from state institutions, universities, and other players in the industry in the past. Through the OSSA, I tried to offer to SMEs all kinds of services about which I used to say, “If only there was an organisation like this that helps us.” This was really important for Turkey, because SMEs are actually the building blocks of a country. It is impossible for Turkey, as well as any other country, to develop and grow without SMEs. Orhan Aydın had handed me the baton in 2011, and when the time came I gave it back to him. The progress we achieved in the meantime was quite good. A well-functioning system was established, and thanks to this system, the URGE (Development of International Competitiveness) projects of the Ministry of Economy were implemented for the first time, at OSSA. When OSSA started to implement these projects, many people began to think, “This URGE communiqué is really aimed at promoting the development of SMEs. So let’s also apply for URGE.”
When I took the baton, we had 62 members; and by the time I gave it back, this number has increased to 174. When I first started working there, no one had heard of the OSSA overseas; but today, all parties doing business with SMEs in Turkey in the field of defence and aerospace are aware that the country has a strong SME infrastructure. The exports made by OSSA members have increased by 107 percent. Currently, the total value of the contracts made in the field of civil aviation is around $90 million. All of these are the outcomes of OSSA’s efforts. We have established a very effective business network. Nowadays, everybody is aware of the OSSA and SMEs. We also changed opinions in Turkey concerning SMEs and clusters. Prime contractors also have a different perspective now. As a result I was able to give back the baton at a very good time. I am sure that every future board of directors will also do their best to maintain this system, which is one that took a great deal of effort to establish.
I also believe that, since OSSA is a non-governmental organisation, no specific person, community or company should assume a leading role there. As a result, I never drew attention to the fact that I was a partner of Gökser Makina, and that I owned a company. I did this on purpose, and tended to highlight the other OSSA member companies in all the requests the OSSA received. During this process, I only helped Gökser Makina in writing their R&D projects. I believe this was the right thing to do. However, I noticed that some people considered this approach to be unusual. This is also one of the reasons why people think I left OSSA and established a company. But in fact, Gökser Makina is an enterprise that has long been in the business. Rather than highlighting it, I put effort into not highlighting this company during my years at OSSA. But since my role as OSSA Coordinator is over, I can now emphasise this company again. So, when someone asks, I reply: “Yes, I did establish a new company – some 30 years ago.”
On behalf of our readers, we would like to thank Hilmi Ünal, General Manager; Hilal Ünal, Project Manager; and Serhat Ünal, Assistant General Manager at Gökser Makina, for taking the time to answer our questions and for providing us with such valuable information.
To reach the original interview as it was published in our magazine:
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