How to build a Gripen fighter

As a mechanical engineer, I have taken countless courses about materials, production processes, logistics, industrial economics – and the list goes on. Pretty much everything I have read about at university can be related to the design and production of an aircraft. However, spending three weeks in the Saab Aeronautics production unit in Linköping was truly an eye-opening experience to how all of that theory actually works in practice – and how all the pieces come together when building a Gripen fighter.

Together with my two graduate colleagues Cajsa and Lukas, I got to see the detail manufacturing, the component workshop, and the final assembly of the Gripen fighter. What really struck me is how we are taking major steps for the future within production right now. One is how we have successfully implemented full Model-Based Definition (MBD), which is essentially design and production without drawings. From speaking with people working in production I understand that this change has required a lot of work, but is now yielding some well-deserved benefits. Even those who have been working in production for decades, being used to conventional drawings, were happy to show us how they work with their new 3D tools.

Another major step is the generational shift between the very experienced production workers and the newly recruited workforce. I was happy to see how workers with forty years of experience were working closely together with the new ‘Saabers’, teaching them valuable lessons for true craftsmanship. Because that is indeed what building a Gripen fighter is – a detailed and complex process that requires craftsmanship to a much greater extent than I imagined before our weeks within production. I was also happy to see that everyone takes pride in what they do to make the Gripen fly, and I am very grateful we have such skilled workforce building our planes.

During our rotation, we also had the chance to build our own small Gripen planes, paint some very pretty waste paper baskets for ourselves, and make really cool nameplates in milled aluminum. Spending three weeks in the Aeronautics production was truly a very fun and insightful rotation during our time as graduates, and I do hope that next year’s graduates take the chance to do the same.


Greetings from a sunny Linköping,
Johanna Friis