When considering design engineering in Japan, we must refer to its economic position in the world. Japan has been a great economic nation in the past four decades. Japanese GDP was the second largest in the world, until the Chinese GDP surpassed it in 2011. Needless to say, manufacturing supported Japan’s economic growth. Japanese high-quality, low-cost products proliferated in the western markets in the 1980s. The world manufacturing circumstances in the 1980s influenced Japan’s trends in design engineering that appeared in the 1990s, for example, attention to design quality, concurrent engineering, and early-phases of the design process. One may consider quality function deployment (QFD) and the Taguchi method as symbolic of this trend. While developed independently in Japan in the 1960s, they were systematized in the USA in the 1980s and early 1990s, and then reimported from the USA to Japan in the 1990s and later. Following this period, the Japanese manufacturing industries experienced a lengthy severe recession starting in the 1990s, and they are still facing various difficulties with the increased globalization, aging population, and changing society and lifestyles.

Higher education must be considered as part of the background in the above story. Higher education in Japan was initiated in the Meiji Era. The first imperial university, which became the University of Tokyo, was established in 1897, with a Faculty of Engineering within the university. Subsequently, more or less, engineering has been a major part of Japanese higher education. Well-educated talented engineers contributed to the economic growth very much during the 1960s and 1970s by ensuring efficient and flexible manufacturing technologies. Behind the scenes, traditional disciplinary- and analysis-oriented engineering research and education were effectively pursued to support this progress that had depended on transferring and reforming advanced technologies. On the other hand, the new trends in design engineering practices in the 1990s and later can be characterized by a strong focus on transdisciplinary and synthesis-oriented issues of engineering activities. It is obvious that such a gap has led to the recent revolution of design engineering research and education in the western countries.

As the western design engineering research communities perceived the necessity of a new definition of design engineering in the late 1980s or 1990s, the Japanese pioneers, such as Professors Naomasa Nakajima, Shinsuke Akagi, Hiroshi Yamakawa, Shuichi Fukuda, in the field of design engineering had recognized such a necessity by the late 1980s. With their initiative, the Design and Systems (D&S) Division (http://www.jsme.or.jp/dsd/index-e.shtmlhttp://www.jsme.or.jp/dsd/index-e.shtml) was established within the Japanese Society of Mechanical Engineers (JSME) in 1991 to promote academic and industrial progress of design engineering and systems engineering. The fields that the division covers today spread over design methodologies, design theories, digital engineering, product development, optimal design, systems optimization, design knowledge management, design process modeling, life-cycle design, service engineering, human interface, design education, etc. Among 31,223 JSME members, 4364 members registered the D&S division as their division of interest in 2011.

The division organizes the JSME D&S conference annually, offers organized sessions and workshops in the JSME annual meeting, provides professional training seminars and so forth. The JSME D&S conference regularly gathers about 130 papers and about 200 attendees every year. Some selected papers are published in the Transactions of JSME, Series C, and these papers are available online at the J-STAGE webpage (https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/browse/kikaic/https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/browse/kikaic/). The sessions of the 22th JSME D&S conference, which will be held in September 2012 at Hiroshima, are planned as follows.

  • 1

    Modeling, methodologies, and management for product design and development.

  • 2

    Design science and time-axis design.

  • 3

    Digital engineering.

  • 4

    Mechatronics design.

  • 5

    Model-based product and system development.

  • 6

    Design and optimization.

  • 7

    Approximation-based optimization.

  • 8

    Knowledge management and information sharing.

  • 9

    Life-cycle design and service engineering.

  • 10

    Design of emergence and diversity.

  • 11

    Kansei and design.

  • 12

    Emotion and design.

  • 13

    Human interface and usability.

  • 14

    Design education.

  • 15

    Multiscale material design.

The original focus of the D&S division covered CAD/CAM/CAE and design optimization mainly for improving the quality and efficiency of the individual tasks of design activities. Then, its interests expanded into concurrent engineering, design methodologies for connecting and integrating design tasks, and enhancing the early design phases, similar to the trends in western countries. This movement still stayed within the conventional definition of engineering design where the specifications are given a priori and rationalization of problem solving is sought. Beyond such a design definition, the target of design engineering research and education spread from problem solving to problem setting, looking for opportunities to address the changes in society, life, and the global economy. That is, design research expanded further upstream in the design process and assumed a wider perspective of design activities for facilitating and realizing what we call innovation and value creation. This shift has been reflected in the current trends of design engineering in Japan as well as those in the western countries, and has resulted in the above list of organized sessions of the JSME D&S conference.

The D&S division is actively collaborating with other JSME divisions and other Japanese academic societies under the concept of design as the core of engineering and with an inter- or transdisciplinary nature. For example, the division has held the JSME “Optimization Symposium (OPTIS)” jointly with the Computational Mechanics Division, Bioengineering Division, Dynamics, Measurement & Control Division, biennially since 1994. This series of symposia has synchronized the movement of Multidisciplinary Design Optimization (MDO), and the conference themes cover computational algorithms for geometry optimization, topology optimization, combinatorial problems, multi-objective optimization, etc., evolutionary methods for optimization, and applications of optimization techniques to practical engineering systems. As design issues have becomes more inter-, rather than transdisciplinary in recent years, the division held a “Design Symposium” jointly with the Japan Society for Precision Engineering (JSPE), the Japan Society for Design Engineering (JSDE), which was formerly the Japan Society for Research of Design and Drafting, the Japanese Society for the Science of Design (JSSD), the major focus of which was originally industrial design, the Architectural Institute of Japan (AIJ), and the Japanese Society for Artificial Intelligence (JSAI) biennially since 2004. While the former two societies relate to some parts of mechanical engineering, the latter three do not relate to mechanical engineering. This series of symposia has become a unique opportunity for stimulating mutual exchange of academic developments among mechanical engineers, industrial designers, architects, etc., in Japan.

As for the international collaboration, the China–Japan–Korea Joint Symposium on Optimization of Structural and Mechanical Systems (CJK-OSM) has a 13 yr history, since the first symposium was held in Xi’an, China in 1999. This series of biennial symposia has stimulated and promoted research and interests in all aspects of optimization of structures and mechanical systems. JSME D&S Division has hosted those in Japan, i.e., the 3rd in Kanazawa in 2004 and the 6th in Kyoto in 2010 through co-sponsorship with various academic societies through mechanical engineering, civil engineering, computational mechanics, etc. In this field, the division also hosted the 9th World Congress on Structural and Multidisciplinary Optimization (WCSMO-9), the biannual event of the International Society for Structural and Multidisciplinary Optimization (ISSMO), in June 2011, in Shizuoka, Japan. The Design Engineering Workshop (DEWS) has also a 12 yr history, since the first workshop was held in Tsukuba, Japan, 2000. It is a series of annual workshops, which have stimulated cutting-edge research and interests in design engineering with intensive discussion of small groups mainly from Japan and Korea. The latest one was held in June 2012 in Daejeon, Korea, hosted by the Production and Design Division, Korean Society of Mechanical Engineers (KSME) and the JSME D&S division. The Asian Conference on Design and Digital Engineering (ACDDE) is the newest collaboration within East Asian countries since 2010, and it is co-sponsored by the JSME D&S Division, the Society of CAD/CAM Engineers (SCCE) in Korea, and the China Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (CSIAM) Geometric Design and Computing Technical Committee in China. It is an annual international conference which covers state-of-the-art developments in design and digital engineering technologies as well as scientific, industrial, and business applications. JSME D&S Division will host its third conference in December 2012, at Niseko, Hokkaido. Some papers selected from those international conferences are published in the Journal of Advanced Mechanical Design, Systems, and Manufacturing (JAMDSM), available online freely at the J-STAGE webpage (https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/browse/jamdsmhttps://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/browse/jamdsm).

As shown in the above, the division has been active in exploring the cutting edge of design engineering and expanding its international collaborations with various areas in recent years, while its own themes are also expanding. As for the relationship with the USA, for example, the Japanese attendees to ASME International Design Engineering Technical Conferences (IDETC), who are frequent contributors to the Journal of Mechanical Design (JMD), have increased to several dozen today from a very small number around 1990. As past, current and future directions of design engineering research and education are shared at both sides of the Pacific, it is expected that various collaborations will continue to expand implicitly or explicitly in the future.

Kikuo Fujitais currently Professor of Design Engineering at the Graduate School of Engineering, Osaka University, and Program Coordinator of the Cross-Boundary Innovation Program, which is a 5-yr integrated degree program, open to all Osaka University’s doctoral students, crossing the boundaries of all subjects. His teaching and research interests are in optimal systems design and product design methodologies. He was the Chairperson of the JSME Design and Systems (D&S) Division in 2006 and has been a member of its Advisory Board after his chairperson’s appointment. He is a Fellow of JSME and Member of ASME.