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Jeff Rowe
Jeff Rowe
Jeffrey Rowe has more than 40 years of experience in all aspects of industrial design, mechanical engineering, and manufacturing. On the publishing side, he has written well over 1,000 articles for CAD, CAM, CAE, and other technical publications, as well as consulting in many capacities in the … More »

COFES 2014: Focuses on the Year 2020 and 20/20 Vision

May 7th, 2014 by Jeff Rowe

I just returned from the Arizona desert and COFES 2014. The annual event (in its fifteenth year), also known as the Congress on the Future of Engineering Software (COFES), is more than just an event featuring technology as its central theme for technology’s sake. It’s actually more of an immersive educational experience that brings together many of the best minds in the technical realms of engineering software, hardware, education, and architecture, among many others.

COFES is recognized as a think-tank event that gathers vendors, users, press, and analysts together to discuss the many important issues facing both customers and providers of diverse technologies. The three-day event provides a relaxed and informal atmosphere designed to foster genuine conversation.

According to Cyon Research, the organization behind it, COFES is:

  • A think tank where great minds come together to discuss best practices and to share ideas for managing change
  • A technology summit that promotes discussion and problem-solving among industry thought-leaders, analysts and customers
  • A business event that delivers practical strategies for achieving financial success in the engineering and design technology sector
  • An informal environment where business leaders and technology providers can meet to identify and address key industry issues and challenges

Having been to a few COFES events myself, it is certainly those things, but also a lot more.

The theme for COFES 2014 was “Correcting 2020 Vision,” that forces our attention to look further down the road to a six-year horizon. Many of the discussions centered on the non-linear nature of the future beyond a two-year horizon. The stated goal at COFES 2014 was to help attendees achieve this clearer vision – one that better reflects the business realities we will all face by 2020.

Until the second day of the conference, I couldn’t discern if the 2020 reference was just the year and/or a reference to visual acuity. As it turns out, it was some of both. Although no one can predict the future with absolute certainty, the year 2020 provides a good vision and timeline for what might be on the horizon. The trick is now that the horizon has been set, how do we build the vision?

The format of the Congress encourages active (and sometimes very spirited) exchanges and interactions on everything ranging from PLM to 3D printing to STEM to coding to engineering search engines. The keys are the discussions, dialogs between individuals and not just corporate entities. Discussions take place at all meals, around the pool, outdoors between formal sessions, and around moderated roundtables. Companies, some you’ve heard of and some you haven’t, sponsor briefings in dedicated technology suites. These provide a good opportunity to learn what new and established companies are planning. In any case, all of the discussions point to the value of disagreement, diversity, and respect, as well as rethinking rejected ideas.

Key to the success of COFES are these briefings and discussions, where participants explore trends and technologies of engineering software that might drive future innovation.

One of my favorite aspects of COFES 2014 was Maieutic Parataxis, a series of intense five-minute vignettes drawn from topics and ideas that, while perhaps not yet fully formed, are likely to impact thinking about how we design, build, and interact with software in the future. The idea is to get across an idea – a single point. Cyon Research searches the globe for ideas that they think qualify as cool, thought provoking, and potentially relevant to the COFES community for these vignettes.

Check out this year’s Maieutic Parataxis video presentations here.

It’s not just about sitting and being an idle information consumer; it’s all about being a contributor to the many discussions that take place over the course of three days. In my mind, COFES is analogous to a Maker Faire for minds, and not necessarily for machines.

The morning of the last day of the conference really provided something special, a chat session with Ping Fu, co-founder and previous CEO of Geomagic (now a part of 3D Systems) and author of the excellent memoir, Bend, Not Break: A Life in Two Worlds. In this informal session, she answered many questions regarding her professional and personal life with a candor that was insightful and refreshing.

For me personally, among the most interesting COFES sessions were the ones directly related to education and STEM, an acronym referring to the academic disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The term is typically used in the USA when addressing education policy and curriculum choices in schools from k-12 through college to improve competitiveness in technology development.

The concept of STEAM was also addressed – it’s STEM plus Art. In some circles STEAM is gaining momentum as some have discussed the need for art and design in marketing new technologies, and point to the successes of Apple, which combines technology and functionality with usability and style

As I said, I really enjoyed the emphasis on education, especially STEM and beyond. It was a call to action for me to get more actively involved with teaching and mentoring.

I’ve always looked forward to attending COFES, because as an educational experience, I always come away having learned things I didn’t know, or seeing things that I do know from a completely different perspective.

My biggest COFES 2014 take-away was, “No system is too big to fail; and no problem is too big to solve.” This really hit home for me in a positive way with the people I spent time with, the experience I had, and my aspirations for the future.

COFES 2015 will be held April 16-19 in Scottsdale, AZ. It’s an invitation-only event, but an experience I would highly recommend.

For more information: COFES

Editor’s Note: In the near future, we will present a couple of the sessions we found particularly engaging.

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