What are TRL? Short for Technology Readiness Levels, the TRLs are a measurement system developed by NASA in the 1970s:

“used to assess the maturity level of a particular technology. Each technology project is evaluated against the parameters for each technology level and is then assigned a TRL rating based on the project’s progress. There are nine technology readiness levels. TRL 1 is the lowest and TRL 9 is the highest.”

NASA also created a chart that provides a handy visual representation of the different TRLs:

NASA TRL chart

You can see that it includes jargon specific to the development of equipment used for space exploration, but if you consider the Technology Readiness Levels as a framework for everyday product development they’re also valid for any number of today’s products and are easily related to the NPI process.

 

How can today’s importers utilize the TRL framework to guide product development and manufacturing?

Importers of, say, consumer products, can consider the different TRLs as ‘technology milestones’ that help demonstrate how far a new product is through the development process.

The difference between NASA’s TRLs and using TRLs for consumer or medical devices is, NASA didn’t mass-produce its components. They had an approach much closer to one-at-a-time crafting of their modules. As a consequence, the manufacturing process validation work was overlooked in their model.

Based on NASA’s original framework, a more general-purpose TRL framework we use at Sofeast includes the following 6 phases and incorporates the TRLs:

1. Specification

2. Feasibility study

3. Prototyping

4. Tooling (and other process validation work)

5. Pre-production preparation

6. Mass production and ongoing improvement efforts

This video explains how Sofeast’s TRLs work and correspond with NASA’s original framework:

 

Conclusion

As discussed in this podcast episode: The NPI Process: Trouble Awaits You If You Skip Its Steps!, it’s important to follow a logical process when launching a new product in order to get products that reach your expectations.

NASA, who wanted visibility on the progress and readiness of their new systems, developed the TRLs for just this reason, and today’s companies who’re manufacturing new products, requiring good quality, safe, and compliant products to hit the market, can also implement the TRLs to act as milestones that reduce risks caused by missing certain key actions, such as not creating and ‘freezing’ clear and thorough product specifications.

P.S.

Read about what the TRL are in more detail in this blog post: Technology Readiness Levels: A Better Product Development Framework?

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