Archive for April, 2017

TRLs, MRLs, IRLs, SRLs, PRLs: An Ecosystem of Readiness-Level Indicators

Thursday, April 27th, 2017

The technology boom of the late 1990s, the accumulated annual doubling of computing processing power and storage, and the rapid growth of the internet achieved a critical mass shortly after the Millenium.  All of a sudden, a myriad of new possibilities became available to the designers of products and systems.  These possibilities most challenged the designers of mission-critical and life-or-death systems, products and industries where Murphy’s Law creates catastrophic problems.

 

Ten Years To Become A Process

If things came together in the early 2000s, that means there was a whole bunch of activity in the preceding decade that then gave rise to the boom and next-level capabilities.  Process-ware always lags technology and invention.  Companies don’t know what type of process best optimizes new capabilities until they have achieved a representative sample of experiences, then comes the process.  It is no surprise that a Technology Readiness Level assessment methodology emerged after the boom.

 

Ten Years To Become Widely Adopted

Its usage rapidly spread across the world.  Globalization was accelerating in that same time period and many international companies began doing business together.  Since 2010, hundreds of renditions of the Technology Readiness Levels figure below (a classical version) have existed, some in the public sector and many private copyrighted versions.

Technology-Readiness-Levels

Type “Technology Readiness Levels Images” into a search engine and you are sure to find a public version that has been adapted for your needs.

 

A Fleshed-Out Body of Knowledge

With so many countries and industries using and refining the methodology, it was also no surprise that a family of methodologies arose to assure end-to-end management across the places that readiness applied.  Practitioners effectively voted that “readiness assessment” was a good idea.

• Technology Readiness Levels [TRLs]
• Manufacturing Readiness Levels [MRLs]
• Interface Readiness Levels [IRLs]
• System Readiness Levels [SRLs]
• People Readiness Levels [PRLs]

And the approach enabled government, defense, systems contractors, and complex systems industries to have natural places to approve, withhold, or kill funding.  And off they went.

 

Getting The 80-20 Benefit

Like QFD’s “Four Houses of Quality,” the increasing refinement had decreasing returns.  Most use the First House of Quality and get into the Second House.  TRLs and MRLs are the most-used outside of the mission-critical environments.  The figure below (a classical version) indicates the dovetailing of TRLs and MRLs.

As with TRLs, many analogous MRL images may be found by searching on “Manufacturing Readiness Level Images.”

 

Readiness Levels Are Far From Being A Yesterday Thing

Sandia National Laboratories’ initiative is among the most active places of ongoing refinement in the USA.   Europe’s Horizion 2020 [H2020] initiative is perhaps the most active place of refinement in Europe.  TRLs and MRLs are highly embedded in many companies and industries throughout Europe and in India; and throughout the US Government and the aerospace and defense industries.

 

Technology Readiness Levels Are Widely Adopted [Machine Design – May 2017] illuminates the success of TRLs and the family of frameworks that developed around TRLs, including: Manufacturing Readiness Levels [MRLs], Interface Readiness Levels [IRLs], System Readiness Levels [SRLs], and People Readiness Levels [PRLs].

 

 

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DFI: Design for IIoT & IoT

Wednesday, April 26th, 2017

When major new industry trends come along that affect product design and development, many companies jump quickly to create an impression of being current and with the trend.  Marketing literature, advertising, social media, and other external-facing documents and images quickly incorporate key words and icons in their messaging.  Product developers and packaging engineers are encouraged to rapidly design-in some concrete evidence of capabilities with regard to the new trend.  While these rapid reactions work well for certain trends, those of a more limited scope or another shade of gray – “open innovation” comes to mind, other trends require a more thoughtful and systematic approach.  The latter is the case for the advent of the Industrial Internet [IIoT] and the Internet of Things [IoT] and their manifestation in the physical and soft products of the future.

Industrial Internet

Thinking IIoT, this train has been on the tracks dating back to the start of designing automated factories.  Industry has been making steady progress on automated materials handling, numerical control, robotics, machine vision, M2M communication, HMI, and numerous other technologies and approaches that will some day allow the lights to be turned out and the humans removed from many factory settings.  What has been in common so far is the focus on the use of these approaches to optimize products for manufacture and delivery.  The new frontier is to not just get leverage for the manufacturer, but to get leverage from a product’s inception that will benefit its customers and users through the product’s end of life.

Internet of Things

Thinking IoT, this train is a couple decades younger.  Its domain is nearly infinite – a blue sky if there ever was one.  And, traditional norms of design that have always focused on the relationship between the customer and the producer will be blown apart as customer expectations transform to expect that all their “internet appliances” will work together and share with each other regardless of the company that designed and produced the appliance.  Before too long, both B2B and B2C customers will come to expect that a product’s history and “experiences” from birth will bring additional value to them as owners of the product.

Design Thinking

The massiveness of the possibilities, and the decisions on the avenues to choose that will maximize customer value while maximizing return to the product/appliance designer, are already challenging product planners and designers.  How many sensors should my product have?  How many transmitters?  Will those sensors/transmitters focus on optimizing producibility or serviceability for the manufacturer, or should they focus on optimizing customer experience or value?  After all, each sensor/transmitter increases a product’s cost which affects its price and margin?  What cloud capabilities must be in place?  Should the cloud capabilities be proprietary, open, or a mix?  What protocols should exist to maximize sensing and transmitting?  With whatever approach we choose, how will we assure that customers have uniform experiences regardless of where the products are used around the globe?  Phew.  Not easy.

Systems Approach

It seems logical that a systems engineering approach will be needed.  Designing capabilities into products in an ad hoc manner seems short-sighted when the range of possibilities is so large.  Just like companies have been concerned for years that their portfolio of product offerings will largely enable “one stop shopping” for customers, companies are soon to be equally concerned that their portfolio of product offerings will enable “one ecosphere” for customers.  Ad hoc design approaches cannot result in competitive advantage product portfolios.

 

Industrial-Internet-of-Things

 

 

DFI: Design for IIoT & IoT [Machine Design – April 2017] puts forth an initial business model and framework for design thinking that can help to focus and constrain the nearly unlimited choices that face product planners and designers whose products must integrate with the internet and then leverage it.  This 600-word piece is not a solution by any means, but hopefully conveys a vision for how one might approach the mother of all design challenges.

 

Industrial-Internet-of-Things

 

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The 5 Risks of Product Development

Sunday, April 2nd, 2017

The number of risks associated with setting an R&D and product development strategy and budget are large.  Choosing the projects, and the balancing of the resultant company product portfolio, has even more possible risks.  Then, too many to count, come all the risks associated with developing, testing, and launching each project investment. Lastly, there are the commercialization risks before one gets to close the loop; and actually validate if the initial investment decision was correct.  Oh, don’t forget the risks incurred with numerous “corrective actions and changes of the original decision” that are incurred as the project investments make their way from concept to the customer.  Where does one start?

If one looks at the research on Corporate Risk, aka Enterprise Risk Management or ERM, since the era of globalization, a number of studies put “strong practices”  at around 30-40% of industry.  That may be an accurate number for “best process practices,” but when one looks at the confidence in the possible monetary values of risk – or the ability to identify an imminent risk – one gets more sober.  In reality, only a few companies really have a clue about their individual risks or their collective risk.  Now, let’s go back to “R&D and Product Development Risks.”

R&D and Product Development Risk is tough subject to tackle in 600 words.  Rather than parsing the subject too finely and develop a list of ten or twelve and writing a sentence about each, you will hopefully think this is a more cerebral approach to select five “key risk types” and argue that they cover the bulk of the key business risks of product development.

1. Strategic Risk
2. Product Portfolio Risk
3. Technical Risk
4. Supply Chain Risk
5. Talent Risk

“Supply Chain” and “Talent” are new to what one might have described as the historical list.  The list one would have constructed up until the era of globalization and the advent of the software-connected world.

Historically, one would have called out Manufacturing Risk as a top five in the days of vertically integrated industries.  This risk is now subsumed into Technical Risk and Supply Chain Risk (which is also more consistent with industry’s “DevOps” direction).  The other risk that would likely have made the historical top five is Market Risk.  In a global world with product and sometimes technology life-cycles of a few years, Market Risk approaches being synonymous with Technical Risk plus the planned duration of the product in the Product Portfolio Risk.

Meanwhile, the company Supply Chain now accounts for near 80% of product costs; and the influence of that percentage on product and business success or failure. A good deal of a company’s innovation process is now at risk to the outside, including invention, execution, commodity, and currency risk.

As for Talent’s rise to a top five, the importance of Talent has been on a steady rise since the advent of the industrial revolution – and just keeps rising.  It is especially important for R&D and Product Development as it is (still) people that invent products and those people typically account for near 80% of company R&D budgets.  People used to stay with companies for years.  Now, the near stable asset that was reflected in 80% of all costs is one that must constantly be maintained or the consequences are great.

The 5 Risks of Product Development [Machine Design – March 2017] outlines some of the primary parameters of each risk area and the author’s reasons for selecting these five specific topics from among the myriads of risks.

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