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26 Apr 2011

Get back! (Personal Impressions from COFES-2011)

Dmitry Ushakov

Jojo was a man who thought he was a loner
But he knew it wouldn't last
Jojo left his home in Tucson, Arizona
For some California grass
Get back, get back
Get back to where you once belonged


The Beatles

COFES-2011 - the 13th Congress of the Future of Engineering Software (or 16th if counting COFES “field” events) that took place in Scottsdale (a suburb of Phoenix, the capital city of Arizona, the USA) on April 13-17 – is now over. And so are the follow-up sightseeing program and three consecutive and tiring “red-eye flights” back home. I’m looking at an impressive pile of business cards collected at the Congress and contemplate what I can write for isicad.net about my first COFES.

Scottsdale, AZ

COFES was a truly multi-layer event. The first and obvious layer was presented in the COFES official agenda: invited reports, briefings and round tables, of which David Levin gave a comprehensive account for isicad (see COFES 2011. Day 1, COFES 2011. Day 2, and COFES 2011. Day 3). The next layer – business negotiations, which nobody ever discloses in public. And finally – informal communication that is never-ceasing at COFES – on Twitter you could read about demonstrations given at 3 a.m. (naturally, washed down with sufficient quantities of beer).

I arrived to COFES to pursue specific goals towards developing LEDAS business so I concentrated on negotiations, especially as COFES possibilities are full-blown: even if you cannot spot the person you need to talk to, the organisers (Cyon Research) would do everything they can to help find your party. Sometimes this was not an easy task at all: the number of attendees was record high - 242 persons representing around 160 various organisations.

Obviously, even before leaving for Scottsdale I carefully studied the list of participants and identified the potential “targets”. And I felt being somewhat spoiled for choice – all leading engineering software developers sent their representatives to COFES. Most impressive delegations were those of Dassault Systemes (12 persons from its various units in the US), Kubotek, Siemens PLM, Tech Soft 3D (four reps each), SpaceClaim, ZWCAD Software and ASCON (three participants from each company). Other CAD-vendors (including Autodesk, PTC, Bentley Systems, Nemetschek Vectorworks, Bricsys and IMSI/design) confined themselves to one or two members of their staff. CAE vendors (ANSYS, MSC.Software, AMPS Technologies, ESRD) also were present at COFES. The absence of CAM developers (with the exception of Sescoi) was noticeable; however, the leading vendors of reverse engineering software, such as Geomagic and Rapidform, were there. Apart from the Big Four, the PDM/PLM sector was broadly represented by the “second echelon” companies, like Actify, Akoya, Altair, Aras, CadFaster, Inforbix, ShapeSpace, Synergis Software, etc.

Besides CAD-vendors, COFES attracted those who help develop such solutions - numerous suppliers of technological components and services, such as Geometric, IntrinSIM, Lightworks Design, Luxion, Luxology, Next Limit Technologies, Open Design Alliance, Spatial, Tech Soft 3D, Tetra 4D and LEDAS) and sell them (Novedge, CSD). A salient group was the companies offering hardware and platform solutions: 3D Systems, 3Dconnexion, AMD, Intel, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, NVIDIA. Consultants, analysts and journalists took to COFES like a duck to water: Cyon Research, Cambashi, CIMdata, ConnectPress, CPDA, Desktop Engineering, DEVELOP3D, Gartner, Jon Peddie Research, Tech-Clarity, TenLinks. Considerable number of professors and post-graduate students from various schools from different corners of the world (Carnegie Mellon University, Simon Fraser University, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, University of Reading, University of Salford, University of Wisconsin-Madison) took part in the Congress. Finally, COFES also lured those for whom engineering software is developed: Boeing, Ford Motor Company, Harley-Davidson Motor Company, Nike, Bose and many other companies.

It is essential to COFES that majority of companies were represented by their top-executives (CEO, COO, CTO, Vice-Presidents) rather than sale and marketing persons (although such were also present), which gave unique opportunities for business development negotiations. I must admit that I jumped at these opportunities to the maximum, practically ignoring the rest of COFES – I simply had no time to gain insight of invited reports and briefings and take part in the Round Tables. It means I now have a wonderful excuse to come to COFES once again in order to catch up.

Nevertheless, I played a full role in one formal event – a Poster Section where participants present posters with concise illustrated description of research or technical problems and possible solutions. This year the Poster Section comprised only four posters, which does not make it less important: the Section was opened by Brad Holtz himself at the breakfast on the very first day of the Congress (the posters were on display at the same place where COFES attendees gathered for breakfasts, lunches and dinners). Dave Ullman put big efforts to organise this Section and personally I am very grateful to him for valuable help and advice given in course of preparing my poster.

(Click on the picture to view the poster.)

I’d like to very briefly comment on other events (more details are in David Levin’s reviews). First, COFES formally opened on Thursday afternoon, prior to which there had been two affiliated events: the Design and Sustainability Symposium (DaS) and Tech Soft 3D Annual Customer Meeting. I attended both events, which very quite interesting. In my opinion, the essence of DaS is best characterised by the following slide (“The emperor wears no clothes!”):

The truth about environmental performance software

It remembered me what Vladimir Zakharov’s (of ASCON) wrote on our portal about sustainable design that caused wide response of our readers: I am not in the least against hotels made of palm leaves, coconut shell and houses built on trees. But really and truly, design tools are pretty poor last thing here. Persistent desire of the industry leaders to be art and part in everything good on the planet is understandable. But reading pieces about “CAD and the environment” I can’t help thinking about the crisis of the genre. We would prefer to talk to the engineers in their own language, satisfying environmental, strength or economic requirements by calculations rather than charms.

As you can see, Vladimir is not alone in such thoughts. The crisis of the genre does exist and its consequences are easily noticeable, for instance, in Arizona. In mid-April the sun is already deadly hot, with the temperature rising above + 35 C˚. But even about five years ago solar energy accounted for miserable percentage points in the total power generation in Arizona (the main sources of power production are coal and gas). It is planned that by 2020 solar (and bio-) energy will be increased to 15%. However, one can hardly believe in it seeing practically no solar batteries (perhaps, they simply did not catch the eye) and total absence of electric and hybrid cars (in Arizona they prefer full-size pickups that consume unconceivable quantity of petrol). The problem of sustainable development is indeed in the heads rather than in the tools. Some elements of sustainability can be found in America though. For instance, during our excursion to the Grand Canyon my ASCON colleagues and I noticed some constructions for collecting melt-water (however, they were idle as everything melted before we arrived).

Tech Soft 3D Annual Customer Meeting was interesting due to an announcement of a new product - HOOPS Publish, which is a separate component for generating 3D PDF files from any applications, as well as an announcement that the company entered into an agreement with Autodesk about selling Inventor OEM (in addition to AutoCAD OEM). Now anyone can use rich functionalities of Inventor to create applications under their own brands.

Ron Fritz (CEO of Tech Soft 3D) presenting HOOPS Publish

Apart from Tech Soft 3D Meeting there were some other events in Scottsdale; for example, a meeting of Open Desing Alliance, where the new leadership was elected. I am especially pleased to see how the Alliance is being developed as LEDAS is building up its partnership with this organisation and more and more Alliance members are chosing our constraint-solving components and related services to integrate these components in applications.

Among all COFES Round Tables I would like to mark the one that I very much wanted but could not take part in (due to an important business meeting) – the bloggers discussion. I myself use LinkedIn and Twitter for professional purposes and during the long transatlantic flight watched with interest “Social Network” (a Hollywood version of the history of Facebook – the largest global social network, which has recently hit 700 million users). After watching this film I became even more convinced that it’s better to separate professional interests from all others (personal and family relations, hobbies, etc.) – both in real and virtual life. Each social network has grown up to become more specialised, which would be useful to adhere to when blogging (Facebook – personal messages, LinkedIn – professional communication, Twitter – news and interesting links). As I later read on Twitter, the Round Table participants reached exactly the same (not difficult) conclusions. However, the volume of information transmitted through social networks is rapidly increasing, which is best illustrated by the number of tweets (short messages on Twitter) with tags #cofes2010 and #cofes2011: 261 and 926 accordingly (a 3.5-fold increase within a year). To grasp this scope of information is becoming more and more difficult, so I expect that social networks will evolve towards new tools for messages filtration and rapid information search.

Another COFES impression is how delicately Brad Holtz works with the sponsors. No one was given the microphone to make declarations like “our solution is the best” but those who wished were able to have separate de luxe bi-level suites at Scottsdale Plaza Resort (offering lodging in cozy two-story villas), inside of which they could state whatever they wanted to whoever comes – even with special time allocated to do this). For instance, Siemens PLM lured people to its suite by promising to give away an iPad 2 as a present (I found that it’s a real scarce product as you can’t get it in American Apple Stores for love or money) and the company kept its promise organising a lottery on the concluding evening. It’s funny that the prize went to Maxim Bogdanov, General Director of ASCON. Looks like leadership manifests itself always and in everything:)

Scottsdale Plaza Resort

The third COFES layer – informal communication – is a truly unique one. Where else you can meet so many old friends together? Congratulate Deelip Menezes with successful sale of his business; talk over a pint with one of the most talented English-speaking CAD-journalists Martyn Day (this time, he quite justly received an award); remember with Evan Yares his visit to Novosibirsk in 2004; sip wine with Franco Folini (Novedge) – our American partner who I’ve never seen face-to-face before – and discuss the difference between Italian and Siberian cuisine, an so on and so forth. Often such informal talks are more rewarding than formal business meetings.

It is very important that all COFES participants are open to contacts. I was easily able to discuss the points of interest with representatives of Autodesk, PTC, SpaceClaim, Kubotek and other well-known CAD-vendors – nobody refused to talk (for COFES it would simply be inconceivable). Or placidly approach an industry legend – in this case I mean Mike Payne, the founder of SolidWorks and talk about evolution of 3D modeling systems - software becoming “smarter” and users becoming “stultified” (perhaps I will write a separate article for isicad.net based on our talk).

And the value of informal communication with Russian participants of COFES (Maxim Bogdanov, Vladimir Panchenko, Oleg Zykov and Galina Chernyak) cannot be measured: Arizona removes barriers between people, companies and cities as not any isicad event has yet done (my humble hope that our editor-in-chief will not censor this phrase).

Russian delegation at COFES-2011

I would like to devote a special paragraph to Oleg Shilovitsky, with who we have been in a long-lasting (already for at least six years) and productive cooperation in various fields. Oleg received a CADwire.net Tech Innovator Award 2011 for founding Infobrix that has come to the market with a unique semantic technology of product data retrieval from different types of files and databases. I take this opportunity to once again send my compliments to Oleg in front of the multi-thousand audience of isicad portal.

Oleg Shilovitsky at COFES-2011

Along with the awards for Oleg and Martyn, I would like to mark the award for 3Dconnexion. Recently this unit of Logitech sold the 1,000,000th 3D mouse, so the company decided to present a personal SpaceNavigator to each COFES participant. If you haven’t tried this device yet I would highly recommend it – it is much more convenient to work with any 3D system using both hands (a mouse in the right hand and a navigator – in the left one). In particular, I recommend using SpaceNavigator jointly with LEDAS RhinoWorks plugin.

If somebody has not understood why the title and the epigraph to this report is based on the famous composition of The Beatles, let me explain. I call upon myself and all my compatriots who took part or will ever take part in COFES to “Get back!” Go to COFES and get back to Russia with new insights, new partners and new ideas – we all lack this so much here! No need to be a loner such as Jojo from Tucson – we should communicate in Russia as fruitfully as they do in Arizona during three days in April for already 13th year in a row. We are prepared to do everything we can for this: isicad plans to continue and expand cooperation with Brad Holtz and Cyon Research.



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