MCAD Tech News #118: COFES 2004?Wet and wild

4 Apr, 2004 By: Joe Greco

Well, maybe not wild. But the first day and a half of COFES 2004 was not graced by your typical desert weather as heavy rains soaked the Scottsdale, Arizona location. But then again, COFES is not your typical industry event.

For those not familiar with COFES, which stands for the Congress on the Future of Engineering Software, this yearly event held by Cyon Research aims at bringing together top executives, users, and other pundits from the CAD/CAM/CAE/PLM marketplace. Unlike other events, COFES makes use of break time between keynotes and roundtables to encourage informal chats among attendees, where many business ideas and relationships blossom. Instead of noisy, crowded booths, vendors show their wares in the relaxed environment of a tech suite.

I attended most of the keynotes and other talks and learned about the amazing progress made in areas such as genetic programming and nanotechnology. I also heard attendees' views on the state of both the MCAD and AEC industries. What interested me most were the applications that are available today from vendors such as KollabNet.

I've covered the development of this technology several times before in the newsletter, but now KollabNet is finally shipping. The program is based on the idea of "knowledge accounting," which has many uses, including the ability to store data that may usually be discarded. For instance, a design engineer does a calculation in Microsoft Excel to figure out the cost of using a certain plastic for a new cell phone. If that material proves to be too costly, the engineer can save that calculation. Should the material price change in the future, it can automatically be collected from the Web and the designer notified.

KollabNet also works with MCAD programs such as SolidWorks, Inventor, and now CATIA. It ties them to office applications like Microsoft Word and Excel. This means that a certain project requirement, such as size or weight, that is part of a specification in Word can drive a 3D CAD model.

Some new features in this shipping version of the software weren't available earlier in the development stage. Perhaps most important is a new client-server setup that makes it easier for users to share KollabNet files. The shipping version also has the ability to incorporate any user rights already set up in your PDM system, so that data need not be recreated. Look for a full review of KollabNet in an upcoming MCAD News.

A company called Product Sight has a pair of products used to find and manage any type of project-related data. The first application, called FindView, uses Google-like technology to find data located inside drawings, models, Word files, PDFs, and so forth. For instance, you can search for a part number embedded inside a title block. This is nice, but Product Sight's most important difference is the company's claim that there is no need to re-input product data - it uses what is already inside an organization's PDM system(s).

When users log in, their access rights determine the location of the data they can search, for example, an Inventor Vault, perhaps located in Chicago, and the type of data, such as 2D drawings only, released assemblies, etc. Once a search criterion, say a part number, is entered, all documents that contain that number are displayed. Unlike Google, FindView lets you select multiple files from the results list, then organize these files into a project.

To set up and manage these projects, Product Sight's second program, SyncroSpec, comes into play. Via a Web browser, it allows secure control of the product data so project teams can work together. SyncroSpec also includes add-ons for streamlining manufacturing processes, working with suppliers, and more.

For 20 concurrent users, FindView starts at $29,000, and SyncroSpec is about $50,000. That's a heck of a lot more than Google, but considering the value either one or both products can add to an organization, without any disruption of work processes, it's worth looking into.

I also viewed a demonstration of IMSI's popular TurboCAD application. One of the major updates to version 10, which is now shipping, is a deformable modeling capability based on technology from Spatial Corp. It works well--just select a face and decide how much to deform it by entering a keyboard value. You can also place points on the face to lock down certain areas for more control. In short, it's similar to the old deforming tools introduced in SolidWorks about five years ago (which were also based on technology from Spatial), only now they are available in a product that costs just $795.

TurboCAD 10 also features a host of new drafting tools. My favorite is a series of templates that semiautomatically create multiview drawings for models, just like in the more expensive MCAD programs. Drafting also features dimensioning updates and new sectioning tools. In addition, TurboCAD v10 features improved speed and user interface upgrades such as more robust right-click contextual menus.

There were many other interesting products to see and other things to be a part of at COFES 2004. To find out more about the event, go to