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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 2015: Seeing The Bigger Picture

April 23rd, 2015 by Jeff Rowe

We just left Scottsdale, Arizona after a great weekend at the annual Congress on the Future of Engineering Software (COFES) event.

Over the years I’ve attended probably 8-10 of these unique events, and they have all been a bit different, but I have always come away with new insights and perspectives on engineering software.

The keynotes are always thought provoking and the roundtable discussions and general conversations are stimulating, because they often provide food for thought and  questions for further investigation rather than  just simple answers.


This year’s theme was “Taking a Step Back To See the Big Picture.” As engineers and software professionals we are good at focusing on the thing at hand – the design challenge; the need for a new tool; our competitive situation. However, rarely do we consider the bigger world in which these issues reside.This year, COFES took a giant step backwards for broadening our view. In other words, to think about thinking about the bigger picture. The nature of our work requires that we spend the majority of our time getting things done, tightly focused on executing our tasks and plans. And while we do that, we are continuously faced with choices, big and small, along the way. Too often, we make decisions in the narrow context of what we have in front of us, unless some outside force pushes a broader context into our consciousness.

Several companies, both new and established, sponsored suites where their technologies were showcased, but the star of the show was Onshape, where its demonstrations and invitations for new partners were standing room only sessions. Discussed and presented by founder Jon Hirschtick and company were Onshape’s general functionality,  API, and  opportunities for partners developing complementary Onshape apps. Admittedly, Onshape has a long way to go, but it’s fairly robust for still being a “Beta” offering.

Main COFES Takeaways (some are attributed, some are not, and some are random thoughts):

  • With the growing complexity and relationships of design and engineering problems today and in the future, unfortunately, there are no simple answers.
  • Where and when optimization is the goal (and when isn’t it?),  requirements-based simulation will ultimately trump geometry-based simulation.
  • Malcolm Panthaki, CTO and Founder of Comet Solutions, estimates the number of potential simulations users worldwide at >20,000,000 (a potential $30 billion market).
  • Science is the most competitive endeavor on earth.
  • STEM-based education is, of course, important for turning out future engineers, but also the output of future technicians for operations, service, and support.
  • The Internet of Things (IoT) and my digital life in general has evolved from what I didn’t care about, I’m now very concerned about, and how do I deal with it?
  • Digital biology is emerging as a real force in the biological sciences.
  • Software continues to become more ubiquitous/pervasive, but its quality (or lack thereof) is a very serious concern with potentially catastrophic consequences.
  • There is a definite movement away from CAD-centric toward CAD-metric design.
  • During COFES I realized how many contexts and possible solutions have biological analogs with regard to connectivity, resilience, and adaptability.
  • As far as adaptability is concerned, it’s not a technology problem, but a biological one. In other words, technology is more adaptable than people.
  • Appreciate your enemies, both internal and external, because they can make you better by giving you criticism for free.
  • Collaboration seems to be the most compelling reason for adopting cloud-based applications; security concerns seem to be the most compelling reason against adoption.
  • For cloud-based work, independence of where software runs and where data resides is becoming increasingly important to more current and prospective users.
  • Economics is the most dismal science.
  • Unlike office applications and documents, CAx models can be much more sensitive to software updates. Knowing this, CAx upgrades and bug fixes are much quicker, and all users are assured of having the same version of software. However, software regressions may be more prevalent in cloud-based systems, which obviously can be a major problem.
  • As manufacturing evolves, a hybrid approach with both additive and subtractive processes will probably be what produces higher value parts. This hybrid approach (additive/subtractive) will probably mimic what already happens in the semiconductor industry.
  • The “cloud” as it exists today is not what it needs to be.
  • Disruption is important, but so is continuity.

One of the aspects I especially appreciate about COFES is that the company behind the conference, Cyon Research, strictly forbids blatant “selling” by attendees. For the most this request is honored, noted a few exceptions, but I ignored them. This event is meant to be more a meeting of the minds than an opportunity to capitalize on a captive audience.

A highlight of COFES for me this year was sitting next to and conversing with Dick Morley, widely considered to be the “father” of the programmable logic controller (PLC). We spoke about a few topics, including his work on PLCs and his new book on measurement that he co-authored, entitled, The Tao of Measurement: A Philosophical View of Flow and Sensors.

The same night I had dinner with Dick Morley, I presented the following awards for the CAD Society:

  • Lifetime Achievement Award – Jon Peddie, President, Jon Peddie Research

The CAD Society’s Lifetime Achievement Award recognizes a lifetime of outstanding technical and business contributions to the CAD industry. Jon received the 2015 Lifetime Achievement Award for in recognition of his outstanding life-long pioneering, consulting, and analysis service dedicated to advancing the under-appreciated pixel.

  • Leadership Award – Jim Heppelmann, President and CEO of PTC

The Leadership Award is presented for outstanding technical and business leadership in the CAD industry, and focus and dedication to the needs of CAD users.

Jim received the 2015 Leadership Award in recognition of his leadership in moving PTC from a CAD company to a product and service company, and for leading the charge on IoT.

  • Joe Greco Community Award – Bob Deragisch, Director, Engineering Services, Parker Hannifin and President, COE; and Jon Jarrett, Director, Orbital ATK and Technical Director, PLM World

The CAD Society’s Joe Greco Community Award is presented for outstanding work in improving communication and developing community within the CAD industry.

Bob received the 2015 Community Award for his decade of tireless efforts to interact with other user groups at COFES, driving real benefits to their constituencies, and for his effective leadership of COE.

Jon received the 2015 Community Award for his work with and efforts to interact with other user groups at COFES, learning and sharing his experiences with his constituency as a leader of PLM World.

COFES 2016 will be held in Scottsdale, AZ April 7-10, 2016. It’s an invitation-only event, but if you get invited and have never been, I’d highly recommend you take advantage of it and come on down and join the many engaging conversations. If you get invited and have attended before, you already know the value of this unique event.

Editor’s Note: In last week’s blog, entitled Book Review: Geometric Modeling by Nikolay Golovanov, I said that I enjoyed the book very much, but wished it was also available as an e-book in addition to it being available as a paperback. Well, as it turns out, I met with the author at COFES 2015 and discovered it is, in fact, available as an e-book at

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