After taking the Product Stage Assessment and receiving a general Product Roadmap, you will be prepared to create your own roadmap to plan and document projects to advance your hardware product and Manufacturing Readiness Level (MRL). The results from the Product Stage Assessment will provide a good starting point for determining your overall MRL, but it will not go into enough detail to determine your progress on the individual subthreads. It’s important to go through the complete MRL documentation to understand what subthreads are ahead of others and to manage progress consistently across each. The MRL methodology was created to gate manufacturing development across different subthreads to minimize risk moving forward. Part of creating an effective roadmap will be identifying which subthreads can be moved together as part of a single project, as well as determining which subthreads are priorities to move based on your current progress. We’re going to walk through a case study to follow the process from start to finish.
Case Study Overview
Let’s say we’re developing a high-end, energy efficient refrigerator that takes advantage of a new battery technology to provide some load balancing to reduce energy costs and backup power in case of outages. All of our parts are commercial off-the-shelf (COTS), so we have no new manufacturing processes to worry about. We have been continuously engaging with our customers as we’ve iterated through works-like and looks-like prototypes and merged the two into a single prototype. We’re satisfied with the results of this process and are starting work on our first engineering prototypes and the design for manufacture (DFM) process. Our goal is to work closely with a contract manufacturer (CM) and utilize some of their engineering design services to move us forward on this, and to subsequently outsource manufacturing to the CM as well. In the future we may bring manufacturing in-house, but we have no immediate plans to do so. Our MRL subthreads are generally around a 3, with some subthreads at 4 since we’re using COTS parts and plan to work with a CM to manufacture our product. However, we’ve neglected the Cost Analysis (C.2) subthread because we aren’t planning on doing the manufacturing ourselves and, as a result, this subthread is at a 2.
Based on where we are, our future goals, and our neglected areas revealed by the MRL methodology, we’ll come up with some roadmap projects to make tangible progress on the road to mass manufacturing.
Case Study Roadmap Projects
Our first concern should be addressing the Cost Analysis (C.2) subthread, since it presents the highest risk to scaling according to our MRL. It’s also easy to see how falling behind in understanding our costs could set us back significantly. We also need to advance our engineering prototypes and test manufacturability, which will be an iterative process much like our earlier prototypes.
Internally, we can begin identifying and researching key cost drivers and developing a production development strategy for moving from the lab to pilot testing and ultimately to a full-scale manufacturing facility. We can validate this strategy with our CM to get a better understanding of our costs at each stage and ensure that our funding will be adequate and our product will be profitable. This will satisfy MRL 3 for C.2. While we’re working on this we can document important decisions made between comparable alternatives in parts and systems to satisfy MRL 4 for C.2. Once we’ve reached this point we’ll need to produce actual engineering prototypes to advance this subthread, which will be contingent on other subthreads as well.
Externally, we can use the engineering services provided by our CM to kick off our gauntlet of design for X (DFX) iterations with DFM. For our particular product this could include working on our PCB layouts for our electronics components or design assistance on the injection molding for the body of the refrigerator. Depending on our internal skills and the availability of skilled design contractors, this can potentially be many modular projects conducted in tandem. Once we’ve finished a complete DFM round across all subsystems we can validate our work with engineering prototype actuals, which will take some subthreads up to MRL 5.
Based on this analysis, our Project Roadmap would look something like this.
Project Roadmap Summary
When creating your Project Roadmap it’s generally a good idea to start by creating projects to address your lowest MRL subthreads first. This will minimize risk and save you from redoing work if the results of these projects lead to some significant changes to your product. The next step is to continue advancing the Prototype Stage of your product. Many subthreads will require you to produce physical prototypes to advance them, and many will require analysis of the results of this production. Moving to the next prototype stage will be the biggest step forward in terms of MRL advancement, and will generally leave you with a number of subthreads to catch up afterwards. By creating an effective Project Roadmap using your current MRL progress, you can leanly address key risk areas while moving the needle forward on your road to mass production.
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