An Introduction to Manufacturing Readiness Levels

Posted by Casey Cephas | 3/29/21 7:00 AM

If you were embarking on a long road trip, would you rely on GPS or just “wing it” when planning your route? Of course, it’s always better to have a plan. The same can be said in manufacturing. In our industry, the trusty map is called the Manufacturing Readiness Levels assessment.

What are Manufacturing Readiness Levels?

Manufacturing Readiness Levels (MRLs) is a systemic approach for developing and executing a manufacturing plan. Basically, it’s a series of steps and tasks to take your production from 0 to 10 (quite literally, as we’ll get to in a bit). MRLs were first developed by the United States Department of Defense and have since become an industry-recognized tool.

MRLs also have a close relationship with Technology Readiness Levels (TRL), which focus on technology development. While MRL and TRL can run on parallel tracks, the steps share similar objectives (from different perspectives), and projects typically progress at similar paces on both sides.

Utilizing MRLs is an effective way to

  • Confirm manufacturing feasibility
  • Build a predictable schedule
  • Manage and potentially reduce costs
  • Identify and mitigate risks
  • Improve product quality
  • Enhance manufacturing processes, supply chain, etc.

The Levels of Manufacturing Readiness

MRL uses a 10-step scale that indicates the maturity of the manufacturing program. Each step has set criteria that need to be met before moving on to the next step.

Artboard 2  MRL 1: Basic Manufacturing Implications Identified

The first level of manufacturing readiness includes basic research, identifying manufacturing concepts, and assessing manufacturing feasibility.

Artboard 3  MRL 2: Manufacturing Concepts Identified

Based on the research of MRL 1, manufacturing concepts are defined, including feasibility, materials analysis, and risk assessment.

Artboard 4  MRL 3: Manufacturing Proof of Concept Developed

Through analytical or laboratory environments, validation of manufacturing concept begins, including determining manufacturing feasibility, identifying manufacturing and key processes, and initiating producibility assessments.

Level exit criteria (for MRL levels 1-3):

  • Concepts identified
  • Research carried out and refined
  • Technology development
  • Identify material concerns

Artboard 5  MRL 4: Capability to Produce the Technology in a Laboratory Environment

Small-scale prototyping begins while conducting on-going producibility assessments as well as identifying manufacturing cost-drivers and design performance parameters.

Level exit criteria:

  • Early indications of material identified
  • Manufacturing feasibility determined
  • Manufacturing process identified

Artboard 6  MRL 5: Capability to Produce Prototype Components in a Production-Relevant Environment

Based on initial prototyping, the manufacturing strategy is refined, including demonstrating processes, analyzing cost-drivers, and other areas.

Level exit criteria:

  • Characteristics identified
  • Early supply chain assessment

Artboard 7  MRL 6: Capability to Produce a Prototype System or Subsystem in a Production-Relevant Environment

With the preliminary design completed and the majority of manufacturing processes defined, prototype development can begin. Prototype data is analyzed and producibility improvement is explored.

Level exit criteria:

  • Initial trade studies
  • Quality threshold established

Artboard 8  MRL 7: Capability to Produce systems, Subsystems, or Components in a Production Representative Environment

Manufacturing design is finalized, including material specifications, updating cost models, developing manufacturing plans and quality targets, and developing production tooling and test equipment.

Level exit criteria:

  • Assessed supply chain
  • BOM in development
  • Materials being tested
  • Demonstrate supply chain
  • BOM draft

Artboard 9  MRL 8: Pilot Line Capability Demonstrated; Ready to Begin Low-Rate Initial Production

A pilot line demonstration is conducted with the intended facility, materials, equipment, and skilled labor. Results are evaluated on target quality, cost, and performance.

Level exit criteria:

  • Establish multiple sources
  • Pilot line builds validated
  • Materials proven
  • Quality characteristic validated
  • BOM finalized

Artboard 10  MRL 9: Low-Rate Production Demonstrated; Capability in Place to Begin; Full-Rate Production

Manufacturing production commences with lean/Six Sigma practices in place. Production is continuously evaluated against cost, schedule, and performance goals.

Level exit criteria:

  • Continuous process improvement
  • Materials in control
  • Quality validated with LRIP articles
  • Make/buy supports

Artboard 11  MRL 10: Full-rate Production Demonstrated and Lean Production Practices

All manufacturing areas are monitored and managed at Six Sigma level. Minimal engineering or design changes are made for quality or cost improvements.

Where does a manufacturing partner come in?

As a general rule of thumb, the earlier you get your manufacturer involved in the process, the more expertise and value they’ll be able to provide. At Tapecon, even though we may not have an active role until MRL 3 or 4, we can provide consulting services during the early development phases that can be beneficial later down the road.

If you’re interested in learning more about MRLs, tune in to our recent podcast with Dave Shoemaker, Senior Manufacturing Engineering Manager at Tapecon.

Let’s make something great

With over 100 years of manufacturing experience, Tapecon works with product teams to solve challenges, create products, and enhance lives. Learn more about our contract manufacturing services.

Topics: Manufacturing

Written by Casey Cephas

Casey is the Marketing Coordinator at Tapecon Inc.

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