This month, we hear from Liliana McIntosh, Mechanical Engineering Technologist with the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre.
As a Mechanical Engineering Technologist, I have been fortunate enough to participate in the development and completion of many projects here at the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (WAMIC). In this article, I will guide you through the steps we take moving from a conceptual idea to a final product.
Here at WAMIC, Technology Readiness Levels (TRL) are an essential framework that underpin our approach to product development. TRL is a standardized and widely recognized methodology for assessing the maturity and development stage of a technology or product. It consists of nine defined levels, each representing a specific stage in the development lifecycle. These levels offer a clear and systematic way to gauge a concept or product’s readiness for real-world application, with TRL 1 signifying the early concept stage and TRL 9 marking full maturity, indicating that the technology or product is ready for commercial use.
“At WAMIC, our passion for innovation and precision is evident at every stage. Our commitment to aligning with TRL principles ensures that the products we create are not only imaginative but also practical and reliable. We look forward to the opportunity to bring your ideas to life and contribute to your success in the ever-evolving world of technology and product development.” – Liliana McIntosh, Mechanical Engineering Technologist
At WAMIC we typically support our industry partners to transition their product concept from TRL 3 where we assess the feasibility of the technological components, to TRL 6 or 7, where the prototype is ready for demonstration in an operational environment.
Phase 1 – Initial Discovery: Our journey commences with a thorough consultation with our industry partner. We engage in an extensive dialogue to extract and document their product requirements and aspirations. We also conduct a thorough literature review to look at existing patents on similar technologies and to explore what technologies exist that could inform the project. This stage involves determining whether the idea is theoretically viable.
Phase 2 – Sketching: Similar to my teammates, drawing inspiration from a deep appreciation for industrial design, we translate initial concepts into visual representations on grid paper. These sketches serve as a bridge between abstract ideas and concrete plans, facilitating collaboration within our team. In this stage, we begin to develop and refine concepts, recognizing their potential for future development.
Phase 3 – CAD (Computer-Aided Design): Once a design concept is chosen, we transition it into a digital format using Autodesk Inventor, our preferred computer-aided design software. This phase represents the advancement of the technology or design concept from the theoretical stage to the point where we can demonstrate its feasibility and functionality. At this point, we move beyond the concept stage to produce detailed designs.
Phase 4 – Component Prototyping: Digital designs take tangible form in this phase through advanced technologies. We utilize a mix of custom parts made on our Stratasys FDM printers, Formlabs resin printer, CNC machine, Trotec laser cutter, or Formech vacuum former, and purchasable components to reach TRL 4-5. Here, we can build, test and refine the individual components of the system in the laboratory environment. When the individual components all function correctly, we assemble them into a full working prototype.
Phase 5 – Testing and Revision: Rigorous testing and subsequent refinement are central to this stage. We subject the prototypes to a battery of simulated real-world conditions and use-case scenarios within our laboratory. At TRL 5 to 6, the focus is on iterative testing, risk reduction, and necessary improvements. It signifies the ongoing research and development of the prototype.
Phase 6 – Final Prototype: Following an exhaustive process of evaluation and refinement, the final prototype emerges. Our dedication to excellence aligns with TRL 6, marking the readiness of the prototype for manufacturing and the next stage of development. At this stage, the technology or product is proven to be viable and functional in a simulated environment. We provide clients with comprehensive instructions and designs, empowering them to partner with manufacturers or produce the item in-house.
At WAMIC, our passion for innovation and precision is evident at every stage. Our commitment to aligning with TRL principles ensures that the products we create are not only imaginative but also practical and reliable. We look forward to the opportunity to bring your ideas to life and contribute to your success in the ever-evolving world of technology and product development.
Interested in learning more about WAMIC or participating in solving your innovation challenge?