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Tradition,  Pedigree &  Innovation

By Ed Gorman

Tradition, Pedigree & Innovation

By Ed Gorman

A leader in marine electronics, with a global reputation for excellence and innovation in the highly competitive commercial and recreational marine markets, Simrad® has a remarkable but little-known history.

History

 

Simrad® began life just after the Second World War and was the brainchild of a brilliant Norwegian scientist named Willy Simonsen. He had worked with the Norwegian resistance movement during the occupation of his country when he developed equipment to eavesdrop on German telecommunications traffic.

 

In 1941 Simonsen managed to escape to England where he worked in the Radio Production Unit of the British War Office. In that role Simonsen developed a tiny shortwave radio receiver that became known as the “Sweetheart,” and was distributed to resistance forces around the world. It is regarded as having played an important role in the Allied victory by 1945.

 

After the war Simonsen put his pioneering ingenuity, combined with an ability to produce equipment that could stand up to the rigours of the outdoor environment, to great affect by designing and manufacturing high quality radio telephones for the Norwegian fishing fleet.

Alongside business partner John Mustad, and working under the aegis of the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment, he then diversified in the late 1940s into the design and production of echo sounders with the first Simrad® echo sounder for fishery fleets sold in 1950. This was followed by fish-finders, sonars, radars and navigation equipment, as Simrad® established a worldwide reputation for quality in a broad range of marine electronic applications.

 

Talk to Simrad® executives today and they still reference not only the much-decorated Simonsen, who died in 2003 aged 90, but also the ethos of quality, durability and innovation that he established in the early days of the company in Oslo in the 1950s and ‘60s.

“I think he would be super-proud about the way we have stayed true to our Norwegian roots and reputation for quality while at the same time pushing forward with what’s next, so the brand remains a pioneer in every respect,

 

Comments Mike Fargo, Executive Vice President at Navico® in charge of Simrad® recreational and commercial business arms.

 

 

Today

 

Fargo believes the history and heritage of the Simrad® brand is something that is both precious and remarkable and which inspires its activities to this day. “There are not many brands in consumer electronics in the marine business that have a 70-year history and it is a big, big honour to represent it today,” he said. “When you think about people trusting the brand - whether for the safety of their family or in the way they make their living – that is a massive motivator for us.”

 

An American with a BS in Engineering and an MBA in Operations from Northeastern University who has been with Simrad® since 2003, Fargo believes the brand has the stamp of quality in its DNA that goes all the way back to its Norwegian roots when its early products were tested in some of the most hostile sea conditions on the planet.

 

“We know that we are working with the most discriminating users, whether it’s the guy who can afford anything for his superyacht or the commercial user who has got to get the job done, and we are enabling him to earn a living on the water,” he said. “Meeting their needs today and in the future is what keeps me interested every day and, I think, is what drives the team forward. We are definitely an innovation company but we are grounded in the fact that our customers use our equipment in really, really rough environments and they trust it.”

 

Since its early beginnings in Norway, Simrad® has become the brand of choice for a broad range of demanding customers – from explorers and adventurers to premium yacht builders, superyacht owners, charter captains and more. At the same time, it serves the powerboat and sportfishing enthusiast with its deep knowledge of navigation and fishfinding equipment.

Product & Users

 

Understanding what type of products the user needs is a core value of the business. Not providing a ‘one-size’ fits all solution – the products are customized for the different user experience. From the premium multifunctional display glass bridge helm NSOevo3S™ launched in 2019, to the GO™ Series for smaller sportsboats, dayboats and centre-consoles, and the Simrad® Cruise™ for the simplest and straightforward GPS navigation. The latest technology provides a superior, faster performance and an intuitive, touch-screen, icon-led experience.

 

Investment in great minds – electronics specialists working on sonar or radar for example – is a key hallmark of the Simrad® brand. This has evolved through acquisition and expansion but also through innovation and bringing new products to market that have led their field. In this category Simrad® can point way back to its early radio technology, its early autopilots – like the famous Simrad® Robertson model – and more recently to its revolutionary breakthrough in radar technology.

Radar

 

The company launched its successful solid state Broadband Radar™ range in 2009. This was to be the most significant radar breakthrough since 1940 as this new radar used a continuous transmission wave with linear increasing frequency (hence the term Broadband) improving the ability to navigate safely ten-fold. 2011 saw the introduction of 3G broadband radar, quickly followed by 4G, that significantly increased the range, and 4G added a dual-range viewing capacity and improved target definition. The introduction of the Halo® pulse compression range in 2015 was another game-changer for the recreational user. This was the world’s first high performance solid state open array radar system made available and affordable for the recreational market – prior to which only the military and commercial users could afford. “For me the Halo really pushed the industry further than ever before,” says Fargo, “in the way it started to bring together technology that wasn’t well used by recreational boaters. Halo makes radar super-accurate, super-easy to understand and super-useable for the boater.”

Integration & the Future

 

The challenge going forward, says Fargo, is to stay ahead in a rapidly changing marine and boating world where technology is enabling new capabilities that someone like Simonsen could only have dreamt about. Among the main trends is the move to integrated control solutions that are easy to use, attractive to look at and streamlined into simple-to-use system. The automotive industry is already way ahead in this space but the marine electronics world is catching up.

 

“Navigation electronics on boats has been going through a slow integration phase – you used to have a chart plotter, an echo-sounder and speedo and so on that were all separate,” he says. “That is now coalescing into a single screen. But that screen controls much more today than just charting, radar or fish-finding – it governs most of the systems on our boats. That evolution is well underway and Simrad® is leading it.”

 

Fargo also recognises that there are much wider roles for electronics in the marine environment in a digitised world. “Keeping track of your boat maintenance, how you think about your boat and plan for it when you are not using it are concepts that are, and will be changing going forward and that’s where we are positioning Simrad® right now,” he said.

 

Partnerships and acquisition have always been an important part of Simrad® as the brand looks to stay ahead of its competitors in a fast changing sector. Historically the company has always grown and developed core competencies in electronic engineering through partnering with some of the best engineers around the world and this continues to this day.

Naviop®, the Italian leader in control and monitoring solutions for the superyacht market, was acquired in 2016. This has opened up new horizons at the top end of the premier boat building industry as Fargo explains. “The Naviop acquisition was another evolution in our integration of control systems and vessel monitoring solutions. We introduced Simrad® Command early in 2020 utilising the Naviop technology making all that information readily available at your fingertips and looking super-sexy,” he says, “and we’re right in the middle of that now providing custom solutions to some leading manufacturers.”

Looking back to its unique starting point in Norway and forward to an exciting future for Simrad® inspired by its pioneering spirit and innovation embedded in its DNA, Fargo concludes: “I think our clients recognize the strength we have in being an electronics company that has more than 70 years of heritage in the marine space. Simrad® has the staying power that has made it into an iconic brand and that has given us a really powerful story to share with our customers.”

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Ed Gorman

Former Deputy Head of News, Motoring Correspondent and Sailing Correspondent for The Times

Ed is a keen sailor and in 2019 completed his first solo oceanic voyage from the UK to Madeira and the Azores. He is the author of a number of non-fiction books including Death of a Translator (2017), Survive, Drive, Win (2019) and The Battle of Britain, The pilots and planes that made history (2020).