The Technology Readiness Level (TRL) scale was developed during the 1970-80’s. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) introduced the scale as a discipline-independent, program figure of merit (FOM) to allow more effective assessment of, and communication regarding the maturity of new technologies. Later it generalizes to apply to any project and not necessarily to the aeronautical or space projects, from its original idea until its deployment. Yet, there is increased use of the Technology Readiness Levels (TRL) scale as a planning tool for innovation management. As every tool, the TRL scale has its strengths as well as its clear limitations. Although it is a standardized scale, depending on technology to be assessed different definition may be found.
In this article, we are trying to get to know about TRL basics scale applied to a systematic definition to Hardware & Systems technologies. In next posts we will do the same with Software, Pharmaceutical Developments and Medical Devices compared to applied technology (NASA TRL scale)
Research activities belongs to the first scale TRL 1-4.
As every invention, the bottom scale corresponds to scientific research that is translated into applied R&D activity, having paper studies of basic properties (TRL-1). The resulted applications are mainly speculative, with no proof of concepts to support assumptions. At this level, technology is limited to analytical studies (TRL-2). The next step is related to active R&D activities, including analytical and laboratory studies to physically validate the previous analytical predictions and assumptions. Although there are some components that are not yet integrated, it is considered the first proof of concept (TRL-3). The resulting system integrates basic technological components that work together in a low fidelity compared with the eventual system. This “ugly prototype” or “pre-prototype” includes integration of ad-hoc hardware in the laboratory environment (TRL-4). All these actions and events are considered as research activities.
Prototyping is considered development activities TRL 5-7.
Development activities start with the integration of components with reasonable and realistic supporting elements for testing in a simulated environment. High fidelity integration is achieved at laboratory level (TRL-5). At this stage, the technology is tested in a relevant environment. Technology starts to be considered as a representative prototype to be tested in a high-fidelity laboratory environment or in a simulated operational environment (TRL-6). Now, testing is moved to operational environments such as a vehicle or machines. This is the first fully approved prototype (TRL-7)
Innovation is limited to the last two TRL scale (TRL 8-9).
The last two scales are related to innovation activities, where technology is proven to work in its final form and under expected operational conditions. Tests and evaluation of the system are made in its intended or pre-production configuration. Design specifications, including quality and safety conditions along with operational suitability, are evaluated. At this stage, pre-serial manufacturing is intended to overcome any future mass production issues (TRL-8). Finally, the technology is shaped in its actual application, meeting production configuration, and under real conditions such as those identified during operational tests and evaluation (TRL-9)
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