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Anthony Demarco Bruce Fad Arlene Minkiewicz Zach Jasnoff John Swaren Gurney Thompson Joe Bauer Melissa Winter Price Systems Chris Price Bill Williamson

TRL: Maturing New Technology Takes Time and Money… But How Much?

Choosing the right technology mix as part of a new system development requires a methodology to look at those technologies in terms of their capability maturity, integration compatibility, and manufacturing readiness. However, having the ability to quantify cost and schedule impacts on those choices is the key to success.

Technology Readiness Level (TRL) is a measure of how ready a certain technology is in a given environment, with an expected level of capability.  In this context, technology could mean an aircraft as a whole or any subsystem within the aircraft.  To determine whether a certain technology is ready, it needs to be measured against a set of requirements and operating specifications.  Some examples include an engine that can sustain high thrust (capability) at supersonic speed (operating environment), a battery pack that supplies power without thermal runaway, or a composite structure that can sustain a level of stress without failure.  A similar analogy can also be made for its closely related cousins namely SRL, IRL, and MRL — System, Integration, and Manufacturing Readiness Level respectively.

The task of choosing the right technology mix is one that should not be taken lightly. On one extreme, companies may want to spend all their available resources to develop a superior product to capture market share. On the other, they may want to be the first to market by integrating readily available technologies in an appealing way.  Success stories can be drawn from both extremes and anywhere in between. 

Upcoming: Cost Analytics for eVTOL

My next article we will dive in to how TRL is quantified, how it effects the costs of a project and program, and how companies like Uber are enhancing the discussion about technology improvements needed in the Electric Vertical Take-off and Landing (eVTOL) market.