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Emerging technologies: fundamental to our future

Our successful history is built on being an innovative and competitive company. If we are to maintain our position in the years ahead we must understand and benefit from the emerging technologies that are fundamental to our future.

Why we’re embracing emerging technologies

Industry has always been subject to change, but the transformation it is undergoing now is especially profound and especially quick. Digitalisation, autonomous systems and artificial intelligence are among the emerging technologies that are disrupting and displacing old ways of doing things and forcing companies of every stripe to adapt in order to survive.

Throughout our long and successful history, Saab has earned a reputation for being innovative, competitive and agile, but we cannot rest on our laurels. We must always be alive to the possibility that our existing competitors or new players entering the market can move ahead of us if we fail to understand and fully grasp the opportunities which emerging technologies can offer, in terms of new products and new business models.

Our response to these challenges and possibilities has been to identify several key technologies that we believe are fundamental to our future and where we have a special focus. This means that we are investing time, money and resources on developing our expertise in these specific areas to ensure that we can master them. But Saab is also maintaining an open mindset, monitoring other emerging trends, with a view to taking advantage of them in a way that benefits our customers and our company.

Our key focus areas

  • Additive Manufacturing
  • Autonomy
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Digitalisation
  • Cyber

Additive Manufacturing:

Also known as 3D printing, Additive Manufacturing is a technology that provides completely new ways of manufacturing, using processes that can replicate the performance of parts that are built in a traditional way. Complex sub-assemblies that are composed of hundreds of details can now be manufactured as one complete set, and with minimal waste. This also allows for completely new ways to design various details and optimise functions. Saab has already successfully used the technology to manufacture a hatch that was fitted as a replacement part in a Gripen fighter jet’s test flight. We are also a founder member of AMEXCI, a consortium of Swedish companies that is dedicated to the research and development of additive manufacturing capabilities.

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Autonomy:

Autonomy is about supporting humans in various situations where our capabilities are insufficient. Autonomous systems can support us when we have to make extremely fast decisions or when huge amounts of data need to be considered. Autonomy also provides capabilities for unmanned platforms such as Saab’s aircraft, ships and submarines.

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Artificial Intelligence:

AI is an important contribution to Autonomy but it can also be used in other applications, such as signal and image processing, the analysis of massive amounts of data, natural language processing and various optimisation problems. One example of Saab’s use of AI is in a massive data fusion solution, a product created by Saab to fuse satellite data with sensor data from almost any platform.

AI
“Our latest solution for massive data fusion is a cloud-based data lake where we take data and put it into the context of time and space.”
Joakim Ekblad, Head of Emerging Technologies.

Saab’s growing embrace of AI technology includes the capability to obtain real-time predictions about the physical behaviours of people, ships or planes.

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Digitalisation:

Digitalisation, the integration of digital technologies into business models and manufacturing processes and social interactions, is hugely significant to Saab’s products and systems, but also for how we develop, produce and sell those systems. Digitalisation is an enabler for most of the other technologies we are looking at.

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Saab and System of Systems: Taking the holistic approach

Digitalisation is making the needs of Saab’s customers’ more and more complex. One of our responses to this challenge is a ‘System of Systems’ approach, where Saab works more closely with a customer as its ongoing provider of complete solutions.

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Angelica Persson, Technical Project Manager Tyresta and System of Systems Lab, showing an overview of merged data from active and passive sensors during a Tyresta demonstration.

Cyber:

Cyber and its associated issue of computer security is both an opportunity and a threat to Saab that we really need to understand in order to fully exploit the possibilities within digitalisation.

While Saab focuses our efforts on these particular areas, we are also closely monitoring developments and products in other important disciplines such as Quantum, Space and Hypersonic technologies, so that we can either work in smart partnerships with leaders in these fields or know what capabilities that general industry can develop for us.

How do we identify technologies and stay informed?

The governance of Saab’s cross-company innovation and technology initiatives is carried out by the company’s Innovation and Technology Council (ITC), chaired by the Chief Technology Officer and made up of the heads of technology from each of the company’s business areas.

Meeting on a regular basis, the ITC makes long-term decisions on either investing or following particular areas of research. The criteria for choosing areas vary, but one of the ways in which they come into focus is through individuals working at Saab who are especially engaged with a subject and drive its development. This culture of trust and exploration is vital to Saab’s embrace of emerging technologies.

But there are also practical considerations such as cost, resources and expertise, and Saab duly tailors its ambitions, accepting that it’s not practical for the company to do everything. Saab’s history of working various engine suppliers is a case in point, as is its close working relationship with ‘smart partners’ such as the AMEXCI consortium for Additive Manufacturing.

What effects will emerging technologies have on Saab’s future?

Saab is historically a company with very long product life-cycles – as much as 25 years for certain large defence-related products and systems. But in order to stay competitive we will need to speed up our product renewal. Emerging technologies are the enablers for that process, along with an evolution in how we work and think.

One of the key impacts of the digitalisation revolution on Saab’s future direction is the ever-increasing prominence of software in our products and processes. We will still develop and produce complete systems such as aircraft, ships, submarines, radars and weapon systems, but much more of the functionality will come from software, and much more of the hardware from commercial off-the-shelf solutions. Soon it will be possible for software to provide upgraded functionality to our systems as easily as we experience on mobile phones today.