Automated Gripen production calls for new approaches and methods. Introducing new technology into the 'old' way of building aircraft. And now, everyone is involved.
A gigantic new tool has seen the light of day. The Wing Centre Fuselage jig is used to build the single largest assembled unit to have been produced for Saab's military aircraft production. This is where Gripen's wings are attached to the mid-section.
"With the new jig, which is a large two-storey jig, we have a completely new way of working that is based around ergonomic aspects. All of the work can be performed from a standing position. Operators no longer need, for example, to lie in awkward positions beneath the wings," says a satisfied Miguel Äse, Project Manager for the development and assembly of the Gripen E fuselage with the mid and rear sections.
Why the new methodology?
It's partly to do with saving weight in the finished aircraft, performance! But it is also to do with optimising the ergonomics for the operators doing the work.
"By building a wing joint instead of bolting the wing to the fuselage, we integrate the wing with the mid-section. This lowers the weight of the unit compared to the technology being employed at present. On the other hand, the unit becomes very large and bulky," says Leif Almé, one of the designers of the jig and its ancillary equipment. "We have therefore tried to design the jig so that it is as ergonomic as possible. As everyone knows, a large number of units have to be produced so it is important to make sure that each step goes as smoothly as possible for the operators who are working at the station."
"We have been extremely innovative in this development process. For instance, we have introduced a new automated drilling method where we can drill, countersink and ream in a single operation. By doing so we save time, while it is also obviously good from an ergonomic and financial perspective. Furthermore, the operator can have a number of automatic drills operating at once.
"Imagine having to drill 4,000 holes and in each case having to repeat the process 5 times with different types of drills to get the hole just right. Now imagine being able to do it in a single step taking just 8 seconds compared with the minutes it takes to drill a hole using the traditional method," says a contented Leif Almé with a smile.
Facts about the Wing Centre Fuselage (WCF) jig
Dimensions: 3.3 m wide x 9.9 m long x 5.5 m high
Weight: 10 tonnes
Consists of two work platforms, on wheels, totalling 50 m2. 4x7 m/level
Manned by 6 operators