Engineering readiness: Technology Readiness Levels as a calculative device

Speaker: Charles Anthony Bates # TBC; Speaker: Christian Clausen # TBC

14th Sep 2018

09:30 -

Informatics Forum 1.16

In many industrial organisations, technology readiness levels (TRL) are considered as recipes for assessing technological progress, yet the coordinative role of TRL in configuring technology development and design processes has remained unclear and deserves scrutiny.

Our empirical, auto-ethnographic study takes place in the Work Function division of Danfoss Power Solutions ApS, a major player in the off-road mobile industry. We examine the application of TRL in the development of a hydraulic steering unit, and also how this includes negotiations across a heterogeneous network of fields tests, IT-based simulation, and software for design and verification.  Following the TRL device from meeting to meeting, we draw upon Callon and Muniesa’s three moments of a calculative device, to better understand how TRL serves to coordinate and configure encounters and activity in a technology development project (managed by one of the authors).


For purpose of analysis, we consider the technology development process as a collection of temporary spaces (Clausen & Gunn), where the functionality and reliability of an invention  are negotiated and improved across specialized networks, that the invention might be incorporated into new applications. Of particular interest, is the mutual shaping between the centralised calculating device in the hand of a technology manager, and distributed development and design activities spanning roles between commissioning and mediating intermediary objects (Vinck). Finally, and in contrast to the general understanding of relevant literature, we illustrate the inherent strength of TRL as a provoking, dialogic instrument and how its mobilized objects engender new problematizations.

Though the WF case includes IT (e.g. simulations and software for design and verification), our paper focuses on how patented hydraulic-diagrams for high-speed steering-units are (re)developed into functional and reliable prototypes, that can be directly implemented into the division’s product development projects. It highlights the role of devices in the staging and management of technological development: