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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 2017 Tackles Complexity, Looks Ahead To Future

 
April 13th, 2017 by Jeff Rowe

I just returned from Scottsdale, Arizona after a great week 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.

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.

This year’s theme was on the many facets of transformative complexity and how to understand it and take advantage of the benefits it can present.

At COFES, Everyone Is Encouraged (and Expected) To Participate 

The growth of complexity in everything we do is presenting us with new and difficult challenges, from our constantly changing business environment, to conflicting requirements of more simplicity (to the customer) in products that require more complexity to deliver. New phenomena result from complexity, often requiring consideration of things that were not previously an issue. The demands of IoT, the emergence of additive manufacturing. And it’s not just products: emergent properties of complexity occur in processes, in IT, in business models, in politics, and in economies.

Rather than focus on how to design complex systems from scratch, during this year’s COFES our attention was turned to interventions that can transform existing systems to mitigate the effects of complexity.

One definition of a functional complex system is as a network adaptive agents. Prior to IoT, our physical products didn’t have much in the way of a complete roundtrip of data, much less the ability to adapt. Now, as IoT becomes pervasive, we are adding the ability for products to be modified remotely. In other words, we are moving from a product’s value decreasing over time, to the domain of products that adapt to their environment, becoming more valuable over time. (This is particularly true with embedded AI and machine learning systems that accommodate learning and adaptation).

Complexity Keynote

In keeping with the theme of this year’s COFES, one of the most interesting keynotes was presented by Melanie Mitchell, Professor of Computer Science at Portland State University, and External Professor and Member of the Science Board at the Santa Fe Institute. She is the author or editor of five books and over 80 scholarly papers in the fields of artificial intelligence, cognitive science, and complex systems. Her most recent book, Complexity: A Guided Tour, was given to all COFES 2017 attendees. Melanie originated the Santa Fe Institute’s Complexity Explorer project, which offers online courses and other educational resources related to the field of complex systems.

In her keynote, Mitchell looked at the nature of complexity and its implications, while surveying the field of complexity and exploring how complexity emerges from simple interactions in a variety of systems.

Complexity a Guided Tour – Melanie Mitchell

What enables individually simple insects like ants to act with such precision and purpose as a group? How do trillions of neurons produce something as extraordinarily complex as consciousness? Mitchell provided a tour of the sciences of complexity, a broad set of efforts that seek to explain how large-scale complex, organized, and adaptive behavior can emerge from simple interactions among myriad individuals. Based on her work at the Santa Fe Institute and drawing on its interdisciplinary strategies, Mitchell brought clarity to the workings of complexity across a broad range of biological, technological, and social phenomena, discussing the general principles that apply to all of them. Her keynote was a wide-ranging overview of the ideas underlying complex systems science, the current research at the forefront of this field, and the prospects for its contribution to solving important scientific questions.

The sciences of complexity as a recognized discipline are barely 30 years old (even though individual work on some of its aspects go back to the 1930s). Unlike classical mechanics and evolutionary biology, where the subject itself and its teaching at an introductory level have been refined in hundreds of books and undergraduate courses, no such refinement of presentation exists for complexity.

Mitchell took a look back into the roots of the sciences of complexity, including the strengths and limitations of cybernetics; as well as some criticisms of complexity science. If there is to be a grand unified science of complex adaptive systems, she said that we need a more precisely defined set of concepts such as complexity to understand what its true implications are.

CAD Society Awards

My only “official” duty at COFES was to present the annual CAD Society awards as acting president. The CAD Society Awards annually acknowledge the contributions made by individuals who have significantly affected, influenced, and developed the engineering, manufacturing, and architectural CAD software industries.

Joe Greco Community Award – Steve Robbins, Desktop Engineering (and other engineering publications)

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

Steve received the 2017 Community Award for his longstanding efforts to foster relationships among the user community, and through his publications and actions, furthering the interests of the engineering CAD user and community.

His 30+ years of publishing management for business-to-business publications and trade shows included successful launches and acquisitions of some of the biggest names in CAD trade publications, including Desktop Engineering.

Previous winners of the Community Award include David Cohn, Bob Deragisch, Al Dean, Lynn Allen, and Ralph Grabowski.

Leadership Award – Chuck Grindstaff, Siemens PLM Software

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

This year’s Leadership Award recipient, Chuck Grindstaff, is executive chairman of Siemens PLM Software, a business unit of the Siemens Digital Factory Division.

Chuck received the 2017 Leadership Award In recognition of his leadership, and success in guiding his company through significant technical mergers and corporate transitions, solidifying the company’s vision, all while staying true to the needs of the customer.

He first joined the company in 1978 when it was known as Unigraphics Solutions, holding a variety of R&D positions. After a hiatus, in 1994, Grindstaff took over leadership of the Unigraphics product business unit before assuming a broader role as vice president of Unigraphics products and operations in 2000. In 2001, Unigraphics formed the PLM business later known as UGS, which Siemens acquired and re-branded as Siemens PLM Software in 2007. In October 2010 Mr. Grindstaff was appointed president, and in 2011 also assumed the role of CEO until his appointment as executive chairman in 2016.

Past Leadership Award recipients include Peter Schroer, Jim Heppelmann, Carl Bass, Tony Affuso, Jon Hirschtick, Bernard Charles, and Ping Fu.

Lifetime Achievement Award – Chuck Hull, 3D Systems

The CAD Society’s Lifetime Achievement Award recognizes a lifetime of outstanding technical and business contributions to the CAD industry.

The Lifetime Achievement Award recipient this year was Chuck Hull, the co-founder, executive vice president, and chief technology officer of 3D Systems.He is the inventor of the additive manufacturing process (3D Printing) known as stereolithography (STL). STL was the first commercial rapid prototyping technology. He is named on more than 60 U.S. patents as well as other patents around the world in the fields of ion optics and rapid prototyping. He was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2014 and received the Washington Award this year (2017).

Chuck received the 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of his lifetime of work in, helping create the 3D printing industry, guiding its growth into additive manufacturing, and in the process, creating a third industrial revolution.

Previous Lifetime Achievement Award recipients include John McEleney, Michael Payne, Carl Machover, David Levin, Jon Peddie, and Mike Riddle.

For those of you who may not know, the CAD Society is a not-for-profit industry association with the goal of fostering community and encouraging open communication among those who make their living within the CAD industry including AEC, mechanical, manufacturing, and GIS. The CAD Society is dedicated to creating an informative community and improving the tools its members employ in order to get their jobs done. This is achieved by providing an open forum of communication, which helps to illuminate the practices of industry vendors. It has been a leader in creating interoperability guidelines that encourage software vendors to develop applications that can openly share data.

The Future of COFES: Newly Formed COFES Institute Announced

During COFES, Cyon Research Corp. announced the formation of COFES Institute, a non-profit think-tank that will continue to hold its annual event for the design and engineering software industry. After 18 years, Cyon Research donated the rights to COFES, paving the way for the new COFES Institute. The COFES Institute, governed by a board of industry luminaries, will continue the tradition of holding an annual event for leading keynote visionaries who provide perspectives on the future of the industry.

According to Brad Holtz, president and CEO of Cyon Research Corporation, Cyon Research has donated COFES to the COFES Institute so that the Institute may serve the COFES community for the next generation. “I have been looking for a way to ensure the future success of COFES as I transition into activities that are taking my focus beyond the sole scope of COFES. “With the formation of the COFES Institute, that search is over,” explained Holtz. “I have great confidence in the Board of Directors of the Institute, and I will continue to provide assistance and guidance to the Board of Directors. They, with the support of the COFES Advisory Board, will be able to serve the COFES community much better than I would be able to. Please join me in supporting this transition.”

The Nature Of COFES Is Communication Of Ideas, Not Marketing Of Products

COFES will now be managed by the COFES Institute which is a non-profit led by Executive Director and President, Vincent Caprio. Caprio who has a 30-year track-record of applying technology to solving problems in fields of science and engineering and is one of America’s leading advocates for research & development spending. “I am honored to accept this position,” said Vincent Caprio. “The founders, Dr. Joel Orr, Brad Holtz, and Evan Yares had a wonderful vision years ago. With COFES enjoying its 18th year, it is clear that the formula works.”

The Board of Directors is comprised of the following members:

  • Vincent Caprio Executive Director and President
  • Becca Yeh COFES Event Director
  • Jason Preston, Co-Founder of Dent
  • Jim Brown, President/Tech-Clarity
  • Jim Doxey, Product Configuration Manager, Oculus (division of Facebook)
  • Nathanael Miller, Aerospace Engineer/NASA Langley Research Center
  • Pete Wells, CEO, Smart2Market

COFES began the late 1990s and was the brainchild of Dr. Joel Orr, Brad Holtz, and Evan Yares. COFES was unique, founded on the idea that one-on-one interaction and the building of community are the most valuable functions of an industry forum. The first COFES was actually SOFES – Summit on the Future of Engineering Software held in Chicago, November 1999. The importance of COFES to the engineering software community can probably best be told by some its long-term participants quoted below.

Jon Hirschtick, Founder OnShape / Founder of SOLIDWORKS said, “COFES has always been a unique and valuable opportunity to meet with key people throughout the CAD industry and related businesses. I thank the Cyon Research team for the many successful COFES’s they have organized and look forward to the new COFES Institute continuing to evolve COFES to serve our industry’s future.”

Mike Payne, Founder Kenesto, Co-founder/CEO SpaceClaim, CEO Spatial, Co-Founder Parametric Technology Corporation said, “Over the decades, in the world of engineering software, COFES has shown itself to be a unique catalyst for the exchange of ideas. This phenomenon has occurred, in large measure, as a result of Brad’s leadership, and a liberal amount of liquid refreshment (Editor’s note: Ideas and connections are plentiful at the Thursday evening poolside cocktail party it is not to be missed). While I am sure, with the change to the COFES Institute, there may be some changes; I would hope that the formula, which Brad has used so well, will continue and flourish, especially that of encouraging the future stars from all over the world.”

In the end, COFES is about enabling innovation. Plethora, a Silicon Valley start-up, is an excellent example of the type of company that gains value participating in COFES. Plethora enables users of popular 3D packages (like SOLIDWORKS and Inventor) to receive instant manufacturability feedback, part pricing and ordering directly from the CAD system. Why simply stand on the shoulders of giants when you can talk with and learn from them as well, said Jeremy Herrman,” CTO of Plethora. “COFES is the place where those leaders share their experiences with newcomers to empower the next generation of engineering software.”

“Our original idea for COFES was an industry meeting where substantive conversations could take place,” said Joel Orr. “The concept “touched a nerve”– it was something the engineering software industry was ripe for. More than that, COFES gave birth to a community, where deep and long-lasting relationships formed and grew. We have watched technologies spread and mature. We have watched young people take their first steps in engineering software — and eventually become leaders. Successful startups have emerged from the rich stew that is COFES. The best is yet to come!”

“COFES started as a conversation about the future of engineering software,” said Evan Yares. The future is obviously perpetual and it is the role of COFES to help people to continue to explore that envelope. While the topics evolve, the value of the conversation has not. I am pleased that with COFES, the conversation will continue.”

“Speaking for the COFES community and the newly formed Board, we take our collective hats off to Brad, Joel, and Evan.” Said Caprio. “Engineering software creates the things of this world, and out of this world, myself and the board will ensure COFES grows and develops to best serve this very important community.”

COFES 2018 will be held in Scottsdale, AZ April 12-15, 2018. 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.

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