Companies that develop multi-technological products are challenged on their ability to obtain high product quality and short development lead times in today’s highly competitive and globalized markets. One of the main reasons for poor product quality is due to unidentified or poorly defined product interfaces during the design phase leading to unintended product behavior. In an effort to reduce the lead time and increase quality, companies may apply a modular product architecture, thus enabling parallel development and maturing of modules. Achieving a successful integration of the modules at the end of a design phase requires, however, an understanding of how the modules disintegrate from an early stage. This implies having a fundamental understanding of what an interface is. Despite the apparent academic consensus on the importance of product interfaces during design, very little research has been done on the definition and perception of a product interface within engineering design research which is the objective of this article. A structured literature review of interface definitions found within engineering design literature has been carried out. The different definitions were tabulated against four key issues concerning the nature of an interface. These were later discussed with use of a case example in order to reason out the implications to design. The literature review revealed an inconsistency in the perceptions of an interface with regard to how it manifests itself, whether it is a design object, and the use of element types. These key issues were justified using a case example of a solenoid valve. In light of the findings from the literature review, it is argued how interfaces between modules as well as interfaces that reside in the tension field between different engineering disciplines may require great attention since they are subject to negotiation and interpretation between disciplines, which could lead to miscommunication and inefficiency.
- Product development
- Engineering design