Taiwan (Formosa) is an island with 36,000 square kilometers and around 23 million people. Its history in mechanical engineering higher education started with the Metalwork Department of the Industrial School of the Japanese Viceroy’s Office (now National Taipei University of Technology) established in 1914 and the Department of Mechanical Engineering of the Tainan Technical College (now National Cheng Kung University) established in 1931, both initiated by the Taiwan Governor’s Office under Japanese rule. Taiwan’s MS and Ph.D. programs in mechanical engineering started in 1957 and 1971, respectively. As of 2011, Taiwan has 164 universities and colleges with around 1.34 million students.
Mechanical engineering products have been a traditional and fundamental industry for over two centuries. In general, a mechanical product has a long life cycle, and most of its functions are improved gradually through the years. This continuous improvement places a high demand for professional engineers in addition to academic studies. Not only senior engineers are required, but also experienced technicians and skilled operators. The birth of most products in industrialized countries is normally based on the steps of research, development, design, manufacture, marketing, and service. However, that of Taiwan was the other way around in its early days. Taking motorcycles for example: garages and dealers for maintenance and importing existed first; then OEM manufacturing companies for mass production were established; and only in the late 1970s did Taiwan’s manufacturers attempt to design motorcycles, along with giving rise to academic research and technology developments.
Faculties with Ph.D. degrees from USA have been a mainstay of academic research in Taiwan’s higher education since the 1970s. Before the late 1980s, design education in Taiwan’s mechanical engineering departments was very traditional. Design research was oriented toward classic topics, especially kinematics and mechanism design. Since 1990, with the policies of Taiwan’s National Science Council and Ministry of Education along with the development and growth of local industry, university–industry cooperation activities have been increasingly recognized and emphasized in curricula through hand-on projects and research grants. In addition, mechanical design education and research in Taiwan has been established globally since the 1990s, and continues a vigorous growth. Within the past decade, junior faculty members are most likely to focus on research that leads to archival publications (necessary for promotion), while senior professors tend to target on academic research with industrial applications, and some even on the history of technology and machines.
Design is problem solving and is a creative decision-making behavioral process aiming at producing new and useful results that adapt to human needs. Mechanical (engineering) design includes synthesis and analysis. It synthesizes the solution first, and then analyzes the correctness of the synthesized solution. Synthesis is a systematic process, without the iteration procedure, of arranging various elements of concepts in a proper way to generate desired solutions that meet design specifications including design requirements and constraints. Engineering problems are synthetic in nature. Analysis is the process for verifying an existing solution. When a problem has a single right answer it is analytical in nature. For most (mechanical) engineering problems, direct solutions based on synthesis are not normally available. In such a case, an existing or a tentative design should be identified or proposed first. Then, an iterative procedure, based on the techniques of numerical analysis and optimization, should be carried out to reach an acceptable solution.
It is interesting to examine how the above concepts of design map into actual publications by Taiwanese researchers in JMD. During the period of January 1978 to December 2011, there were 173 papers (research papers and technical brief) published in ASME Transactions, Journal of Mechanical Design (Journal of Mechanisms, Transmissions and Automation in Design) with authors and co-authors from Taiwan in the areas of mechanical design, machine design (statics and dynamics), mechanism (kinematics) design, and others; including 1 paper in problem definitions, 18 in structural synthesis/conceptual design, 38 in dimensional synthesis, 49 in kinematic analysis, 6 in static analysis, 3 in rigidity and strength design, 15 in dynamic analysis, and 43 other papers; and 24 papers on linkage mechanisms, 18 on cam mechanisms, 48 on gear mechanisms, 5 on compliant mechanisms, 4 on flexible connecting mechanisms, 2 on screw mechanisms, 4 on rotors and compressors, 8 on mechanical elements, 16 on synthesis of mechanisms, 19 on applied mathematics in design, and 25 other papers. Furthermore, 55 papers were analysis, 56 papers were synthesis, and 17 papers involved design optimization.
Machines make all industrial artifacts in the world. Creating a useful and innovative product relies on academic research, prototype development, and mass production. Design and manufacturing studies in mechanical science and technology are vital to sustainable health of the mechanical industry. In this 21st century, people enjoy products that made lives better, created by many inventors and engineers in the past. By reviewing the past, people will learn that ancient science and technology are the treasures of knowledge accumulated from the mistakes of ancestors going back thousands of years. As humans evolve, the mechanical-related science, technology, and techniques continue to get better, and will continue to change human society and to improve people’s lives just as they have done in the past. And, I expect to witness this through JMD’s publications.