50 years of FORAN in continuous reinvention - December 2014 - No. 48 /Interview

“FORAN is the technological pioneer in this market”

Interview with Rafael de Góngora, General Manager of the Marine unit at SENER, and Rafael Martínez-Abarca, Marine Operations Manager.

Rafael de Góngora General Manager of the Marine unit at SENER and Rafael Martínez-Abarca Marine Operations Manager.

Rafael de Góngora General Manager of the Marine unit at SENER and Rafael Martínez-Abarca Marine Operations Manager.

FORAN is the longest standing CAD/CAM/CAE software on the market, and also one of the most successful. What do you attribute that to?

Rafael de Góngora: There are other systems that have been used for almost as long as FORAN, but they’ve changed both in name and ownership, gradually merging together, so nobody recognizes them as the systems they knew back in the 70s. FORAN is unique in that it has always kept the same name and the same developer. This is without doubt one of the reasons for its success; it’s made by a company that has never seen it as a financial asset, which it is, but rather as a technological asset, and that inspires trust in our customers.

You assert that FORAN is the market leader when it comes to technology. What do you base this on?

RG: Our track record speaks for itself: we were the first to launch a version with a single database, under Windows NT, through a relational database, the first to have software integrated in all disciplines... Historically, we’ve been pioneers in making technological strides with new functionalities and new characteristics. That’s technological leadership.

What are the greatest advantages of FORAN per se, and what sets it apart from other marine software on the market?

RG: FORAN is the only shipbuilding system to be developed by a company that is also a ship design office, conceived to solve its own problems. This means that we speak the same language as the users and understand our customers’ problem areas.

Rafael Martínez-Abarca: We’re the first users of FORAN and we’re from SENER’s own Ships Section, which performs marine engineering. That’s something the competition doesn’t have.

RG: This has two advantages: first, that we ourselves test the program; and second, that we have first-hand knowledge of what the market requirements are. We don’t have to ask any customers about the latest design trends or the functionalities they need, because we have this information in our own backyard.

SENER was founded in 1956. Would its success have been possible without the creation of the FORAN shipbuilding software in 1965?

RG: Yes, it would have, but the creation of FORAN could be considered fate. SENER first existed as a ship design office and was founded by innovative people who couldn’t find efficient tools on the market to help them with their work. As such, to a certain degree it was only logical that they would develop their own tools that would facilitate the execution of these projects in a reasonable time period while improving the performance in their own operations.

Were similar programs for the design and construction of ships not around back then?

RG: We’re talking about 1965, in a time when machines as we know them today didn’t exist. It was the dawn of the computer age: punched cards were used, printing wasn’t possible... it was all quite archaic. There weren’t any systems on the market similar to the one that we were developing right then.

RMA: The plotters drew using the tip of a pen on a huge table. An articulated robotic arm produced the drawings after a great deal of preparation work: perforating cards, programming the computer, etc. How easy it all seems now that we can get drawings in full color at high speed!

Has FORAN ever feared for its life?

RG: A lot can happen in 50 years, and although I don’t think the expression “fearing for one’s life” is the right way to put it, there were difficult moments when the numbers didn’t add up well, and in those moments the company continued to believe in the product. The level of investment couldn't be as much as we would have liked at that time, but SENER has always kept its heart in the founding spirit of 1956, when it was opened as a ship design office.

RMA: SENER’s Board of Directors is to thank for the trust placed in FORAN. The world of shipbuilding has seen some terrible crises, times in which ships simply weren’t being built, meaning that manufacturers didn’t invest in CAD software. Even in those years, SENER continued its investment in people and methods so that FORAN could continue to be a worldwide reference.

Could it be said that FORAN pioneered SENER’s internationalization?

RMA: Without a doubt. It was the geographic distribution of shipbuilding around the world that made it clear to us that we had to expand our horizons. To stay secluded in Spain would have been suicide.

RG: But we’ve always been proactive. For example, in the 70s, when diplomatic relations between Spain and the Soviet Union were practically non-existent, FORAN was installed there.

Our colleague Fernando Alonso always reminds us of how he spent many months in South Korea in the 70s. And back then South Korea wasn’t one of the big players in shipbuilding. In short, we moved very early on our internationalization. In that respect, I would say that the Marine unit was a pioneer within SENER. More examples include the 15 years we have been installed in both Argentina and Brazil.

RMA: In fact, SENER’s first transfer assignments were marine engineers for FORAN projects. All of our internal expatriation processes started off because our marine systems personnel had to live abroad, specifically in the UK, for the BAE project.

Over the last 50 years, what range of ships have been designed and built using FORAN?

RG: FORAN has been used to design and build all kinds of vessels, from fishing boats to merchant vessels, offshore platforms, warships and even sailboats. There’s no type of ship that hasn’t been made using FORAN.

RMA: To give you an idea of its versatility, the same applications have been used to design and build ships of very different statures and with lengths ranging from 15 m to over 400 m.

What have been the most outstanding innovations in the last five years with FORAN?

RG: The most innovative development is the interface with PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) applications. To link a CAD with a third-party PLM is a very significant breakthrough, and that capacity is only offered by FORAN. Another commendable innovation, although it may not be so apparent, is the revamping of all of the software, from the user interface to the data structure.

RMA: The ability to work concurrently is also an important innovation. FORAN allows centers in different geographical locations to work simultaneously on the same database. Thanks to this, any changes made are immediately visible to everyone, thereby guaranteeing total integration in the design and preventing inconsistencies.

SENER recently opened a new office in Manchester, motivated in large measure by marine contracts. What activities will be carried out from this office?

RG: This office owes its presence to the contract with BAE Systems and the consequent use of FORAN in the design of the Queen Elizabeth Class (QEC) aircraft carriers and the new generation of submarines, our star project right now. Work on this scale requires a local presence. Manchester combines proximity to the customer with easy connections to SENER’s other marine customers in the UK.

RMA: This project will span many years, as military agreements oblige the manufacturing shipyard to keep the same CAD system used in the design phase throughout the ship’s entire operational life. Because of this, with every contract you’re guaranteed the duration of the design, manufacturing and operational life of each one of the units. The first unit of the QEC aircraft carriers was recently launched in the water, but BAE is now getting started with the Successor series of the nuclear submarines project. These will also be designed using FORAN and will remain in operation for several decades. Delivery of the first unit is still years from now, meaning FORAN’s presence in BAE is assured for a considerable length of time.

RG: And now in Glasgow, design is starting on a series of 15 frigates. It’s the third BAE project to be undertaken using FORAN. Delivery of the first of these frigates is forecast for 2021, meaning the system will have to remain active for much longer.

What challenges exist in the Marine sector that FORAN must help surpass?

RG: The main one is to achieve the much sought-after emergence in China, Japan and South Korea, where we’re making significant investments.

RMA: The second challenge is to make a strong entry in the offshore industry, a sector where there is a great load work of engineering all around the world, and where FORAN can make a big difference. We’ve analyzed this market in minute detail, and we’ve come up with a plan that starts off with the inclusion of a good number of functionalities for this sector via FORAN version 80.

How will you commemorate FORAN’s 50th anniversary?

RG: We want to give FORAN the visibility it deserves. This celebration is a milestone for all of SENER.

RMA: If Manu (José Manuel de Sendagorta) could see where FORAN is now –this project that he set in motion with such enthusiasm 50 years ago– he’d be very proud.


Rafael de Góngora Rafael Martínez-Abarca

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