The TRL (acronym for Technology Readiness Level) is a method for understanding the maturity of technologies during the acquisition phase of a program.
It enables consistent and uniform discussions across different types of technologies, allowing precise development follow up: the TRL spans from level 1 up to level 9, which is the most mature stage.
The European Commission advised EU-funded research and innovation projects to adopt it in 2010 and thus, in 2014 in the EU Horizon 2020 program extended to the Horizon Europe.
Background: a little history
The concept was originally developed by NASA in the 1970s for space exploration technologies.
Technology Readiness Level (TRL) NASA
When a technology is at TRL 1, scientific research is beginning and those results are being translated into future research and development. TRL 2 occurs once the basic principles have been studied and practical applications can be applied to those initial findings. TRL 2 technology is very speculative, as there is little to no experimental proof of concept for the technology.
When active research and design begin, a technology is elevated to TRL 3. Generally both analytical and laboratory studies are required at this level to see if a technology is viable and ready to proceed further through the development process. Often during TRL 3, a proof-of-concept model is constructed.
Once the proof-of-concept technology is ready, the technology advances to TRL 4. During TRL 4, multiple component pieces are tested with one another. TRL 5 is a continuation of TRL 4, however, a technology that is at 5 is identified as a breadboard technology and must undergo more rigorous testing than technology that is only at TRL 4. Simulations should be run in environments that are as close to realistic as possible. Once the testing of TRL 5 is complete, a technology may advance to TRL 6. A TRL 6 technology has a fully functional prototype or representational model.
TRL 7 technology requires that the working model or prototype be demonstrated in a space environment. TRL 8 technology has been tested and “flight qualified” and it’s ready for implementation into an already existing technology or technology system. Once a technology has been “flight proven” during a successful mission, it can be called TRL 9.
Since then, many organizations have implemented TRLs for their own purposes, such as the European Union (EU), further normalizing the NASA readiness-level definitions and allowing easier translation to multiple industry sectors and not limited to just space exploration.
The 9 Levels explained
The different 9 Levels can be broken down into 3 main categories:
- Research: from Level 1 to Level 3
- Development: from Level 4 to Level 6
- Deployment: from Level 7 to Level 9
|1||Basic principles observed||Reports of scientific observations, paper-based studies of a technology’s basic properties|
|2||Technology concept formulated||Analytics studies, applications are speculative|
|3||Experimental proof of concept||Studies and laboratory measurements to validate the analytical predictions|
|4||Technology validated in lab||Analysis of the technology parameter operating range|
|5||Technology validated in relevant environment||Validation of a semi-integrated system or model of technological and supporting elements in a simulated environment|
|6||Technology demonstrated in relevant environment||Prototype system or model being produced and demonstrated in a simulated environment|
|7||System model or prototype demonstration in operational environment||Prototype mode or system verified in an operational environment|
|8||System complete and qualified||The knowledge generated from L7 is used to manufacture an actual system or model.
In most cases, this TRL represents the end of development
|9||Actual system proven in operational environment||The actual system or model is successfully deployed for multiple missions by end-users|
Many products go through the various stages of the TRL scale during their life cycle. Interactions might be needed between the various Levels, especially during the development phase – but not limited to that.
The TRL is an effective method to indicate the stage of development of a product thus determining its readiness to be presented to customers and launch on the market.
The “Valley of Death”: what is it?
In order to allow a technology to move from the research stage to the development stage and, finally, to the deployment stage, addressing the TRL scale is required.
The term ‘Valley of Death’ represents the TRL span from 4 through to 7, where neither academia nor the private sector prioritize investment. Consequently, many technologies, albeit promising, do not reach the needed maturity for deployment.
In order to overcome this issue, collaboration is advised. It is recommended to ask consulting to valid companies that have experience in the sector and that deal especially with assisting companies in the development of their projects.
Andriotto Financial Service prides itself on various successes throughout the years, where the company has assisted many projects to obtain the funding needed in order to launch the final product or innovative idea on the market through European Grants. Currently, AFS is selecting companies, projects, startups and innovative ideas to access the fundings put at disposal by the EIC Accelerator through the Horizon Europe programme.
Is the TRL scale important for Horizon Europe?
The short answer is yes.
Horizon Europe uses the TRL scale as an indicator to rank the requested projects in the program (as expressed in the Horizon Europe annual work programs), that means that a higher TRL Level would indicate that is required a more applicative solution, while a lower TRL Level would indicate for a more basic research one.
The TRL, as a unified scale, enables applicants and reviewers to align with the expectations of the European Commission.
The “entry point”: It refers to the maturity Level given at the beginning stage of the project serving a lower boundary. It helps meet the expectations of the European Commission in a specific call.
Companies must be aware of the correct stage of their project as they write the proposal: if the call specifically states an entry point, it is vital that the requirements are met. On the contrary, when it’s not specifically stated, the TRL can be used to the company’s advantage.
It can be used when describing the project, planning milestones, and setting evaluation measurements for the project itself. It must be kept in mind that the reviewers are asked to assess all of these issues, therefore it’s in the company’s interest to be prepared on that subject as well.
Considering that the TRL scale is self-declared, it is important to understand each Level and perfectly determine which one the project is currently in. This evaluation can be tricky because the definition can be general sometimes and transitions between Levels are often elusive. Comparison between disciplines is also impossible to carry out.
Nonetheless, it is a vital process that all applicants must go through and in order to avoid issues in this process, again, we strongly advise to seek consultancy and make your proposal unique and well-structured.
TRL assessment and declaration
The assessment process begins with a meticulous check of the 9 Levels – titles and definitions, in order to perfectly meet the TRL scale for Horizon Europe, which is defined in the General Annex of the Grant Agreement.
Other helping tools can be found online:
- The TRL Calculator developed by the US Air Force Research Laboratory
- The TRL Calculator developed by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA)
In conclusion, the TRL scale it’s vital in the context of Horizon Europe, but it is far more important to use it correctly. To do so, one must fully understand the varying stages in order to address the specific Level to reference in the proposal.
A solid construct that meets the requirements has of course more chance to satisfy the European Commission’s interviews and thus allow the company to access the required fundings.
- Andriotto Financial Services team is an official advisors of the European Commission for Horizon 2020
- AFS has a Centre of Excellence in Switzerland with some of the most skilled EU grant specialists, writing a successful proposal and supporting clients during the different implementation phases
- AFS evaluate and select the best projects and enterprises around Europe to receive public funding
- Our client portfolio includes some of the most important public institutions in Italy and in Europe
- Participating in Horizon 2020 is an ambitious challenge; however, we have one of the highest success rates between our European competitors.