MCAD Tech News #143

20 Apr, 2005 By: Jeffrey Rowe

Cadalyst MCAD Tech News

Show Report: COFES

Innovation takes center stage at Congress On the Future of Engineering Software

I just returned from a 1,500-mile round road trip to Scottsdale, Arizona, to attend the sixth-annual COFES (Congress On the Future of Engineering Software), sponsored by Cyon Research. Put simply, the trip was worth it.

Well over 200 attendees from around the world came together at this unique event to discuss best practices, exchange ideas for managing change and propose new directions and innovations for engineering software.

The main theme of this year's COFES was "Innovation in an Idea Economy: Putting Your Money Where Your Mind Is." This theme resounded throughout the three-day conference in keynote presentations, roundtable discussions and private conversations. Those attending COFES looked to past and current engineering software innovations and how they could be applied in the future to benefit and create opportunities for businesses, educators, students and entrepreneurs and improve society as a whole.

Topics of Debate
A few hot topics that have been omnipresent in the mechanical CAD and engineering world at large emerged as topics of debate, sometimes heated, during COFES.

Data interoperability. First, the highly contested subject of data interoperability came up and was greeted with vocal proponents and opponents. On one hand, some said that companies hold users hostage when they develop products that are not interoperable. In other words, companies that own the data also "own" the user. On the other hand, some contend that CAD data should be regarded as intellectual property and protected as such with proprietary data formats.

No one could agree on who was right and who was wrong, but consensus did emerge that Dassault Systèmes holds the key to solving the interoperability problem. If that company came to the table on interoperability, then so would UGS, Autodesk and so on. Will this ever come to pass? Only time will tell. But don't hold your breath.

Future engineers, or lack thereof. Second, the question was posed, "How do we as engineers encourage young people to pursue engineering as a career path?" In other words, how do we market this career path, make it a "cool" endeavor? No true consensus emerged here, but most agreed that students don't pursue engineering because it is so difficult — too difficult for many prospective students to even consider. This is a sad statement, but one that rings true when you examine the low enrollments at many engineering schools around the country.

Product lifecycle management. Finally, what engineering software conference would be complete without a perfunctory discussion of the perennial favorite, PLM? The question was raised, "Where have all the disruptive PLM technologies gone?" PLM is marketed as an ecosystem for innovation, but is actually used as a tool for improving engineering productivity. The automotive and aerospace industries still account for more than 50% of the PLM market, or about the same percentage as 10 years ago. While the SMB (small- and medium-sized business) market for PLM appears outwardly to be large in number, in reality it has a difficult distribution model and is actually more CAD-centric than truly PLM-centric. A couple of trends to watch are role-based user interfaces for PLM products and greater interoperability with the Microsoft Office desktop.

CAD Society Awards
As president of the CAD Society, on the last evening of COFES I presented awards to three outstanding members of the CAD community. Before presenting the awards, I had an opportunity to pay tribute to a good friend and colleague, Joe Greco, who passed away last December well before his time.

The CAD Society is a nonprofit, fraternal organization that works to foster a community and encourage open communication among those who make their living within the CAD industry — users and vendors. The recipient of this year's CAD Society Leadership award was Robert McNeel, founder and president of Robert McNeel & Associates. McNeel has led the CAD industry from the very beginning of his career, building his company into the largest U.S. Autodesk reseller due in large part to a solid customer focus.

Lynn Allen, worldwide Autodesk technical evangelist, received this year's Joe Greco Community award for improving communication and developing a sense of community within the CAD industry. For the past ten years, Allen has written the very popular Cadalyst tutorial "Circles and Lines." She has taught at corporate and collegiate levels for 13 years and speaks to more than 20,000 AutoCAD users each year.

Ken Versprille received this year's Lifetime Achievement Award, presented for a lifetime of outstanding technical and business contributions to the CAD industry. We acknowledged Versprille's life-long dedication to the CAD industry as one of the top software developers at Computervision, for his invaluable contribution of NURBS (Non-Uniform Rational B-Splines) to CAD technology, and as a respected industry analyst.

Summing Up
The next morning brought a 12-hour drive home, but the trip allowed me plenty of time to reflect on all the interesting people I met or reconnected with at COFES, all the ideas that had been exchanged and the satisfaction of being even a small part of the engineering software community. I'm already looking forward to next year's COFES, road trip and all.