11 Questions with Rob Cohee, Autodesk Manufacturing Evangelist

December 26th, 2011

What’s your role at Autodesk?

I’m an Evangelist for Autodesk Manufacturing. I work to help engineers and designers capture design digitally, and communicate in all forms so that engineers can design, visualize, and simulate their designs in the digital space. It’s much more cost effective to iterate digitally than physically.

How long have you been with Autodesk and doing this?

I’ve been with Autodesk coming up on 5 years. I’ve been in this industry for about 16 years now. Man, I’m getting old. 

Tell us a little about your background and how you came to be doing what you do now.

I attended a small college in Peru, Nebraska (population +/- 1,200). They have a great industrial management program. As part of that, we studied the theory and application of manufacturing processes. One of the courses was drafting (on a board!). If I’m forced to be honest, I couldn’t draft a straight line using a ruler. In the back of the room, there was an old DOS machine running AutoCAD 10. In short order, I was more effective using AutoCAD, a mouse, and a puck to draw my designs than manually drafting. The eraser population began to rest a little easier at night. Then Windows was released. We loaded AutoCAD onto a 386 processor with 4MB of RAM and finally 3D become available with AutoCAD 12. In my junior year of college, I took an internship with Union Pacific Railroad. My job was to investigate safety accidents and design either procedures or equipment that made that process safer. For some reason, Union Pacific felt that formal AutoCAD training was in order. During the course, rather than learning the fundamentals of AutoCAD, I was playing with the first release of Mechanical Desktop. The instructor of the course, Jeanne Aarhus, was taken aback when I asked, “How do I get your job?” Within two years, I was fortunate enough to be working with Avatech and training AutoCAD 2000 to engineers, architects, and the like. This was just about the time when Inventor was released. After that, I met Lynn Allen, who was similarly taken aback when I asked her, “How do I get your job?” Ten years later, I’m the Autodesk Evangelist for Autodesk Inventor. …be careful what you wish for!

What do feel is unique about the way that you connect with your readers and viewers?

I believe that telling an audience about the capabilities of our technology through the voice of our customers is more impactful than if I said it a thousand times. Our customers design and manufacture some of the most amazing products—from watches to wind turbines. This idea was the inspiration behind the web series On the Job with Rob.  Fortunately, my audience has been growing! You can find me on Twitter (@RobCohee), YouTube, and/or my blog. 

What does a typical day look like at your desk?

The morning starts with a cup of coffee. Then I begin my warm-up. I login to Tweetdeck to see what everyone is chirping about. Then it’s off to Google News to read the day’s  headlines. Then, I reluctantly open Outlook and spend the morning answering e-mails and coordinating projects with team members via conference call. The bulk of my day is spent talking with customers. I strive to get to know what they’re doing, level of satisfaction, and learning what areas we can improve upon. I also look for opportunities to initiate a customer visit and the potential for sharing their organization's story of success and how our technology has helped along the way. When we find an opportunity to share a story, I’ll start talking with Autodesk Product Managers, PR, and extended members of the Autodesk team to determine the best way to share a customer’s story. At the end of the day, I strive to produce something that would be worthy of being placed on my customer's website. If you can’t tell, customer centricity is very important to me and Autodesk. This is one of those areas where Autodesk differentiates itself from competitors: at Autodesk, the customer centricity is the norm.

What kind of challenges do you and those you work with face?

Change. When a customer adopts change, it’s rarely easy. Changes relating to an engineering platform are not as easy to quantify when compared to their manufacturing  counterparts. For example, manufacturing can purchase a new 5-axis mill that produces parts in shorter times with higher accuracy and greater ease. Since those parts are physical, everyone sees them leave the shop on their way down the proverbial manufacturing line. Conversely, improvements inside the four walls of engineering are more intangible. Increases in drawing accuracy, fewer errors, and increased productivity sound like buzzwords but make a real impact on operating costs, etc. One of my Autodesk University classes from years gone by is called Digital Kaizen, in which, we explore lean, Six Sigma, or other manufacturing process improvement principles and adapt those to the engineering space. Almost every engineering director or vice president has requested those slides following the presentation because change is hard to justify in engineering. 

What sort of things do you produce and how do they reach the public?

Just about all of the work I do is available to customers and prospects via social media. Social gives me the opportunity to connect with customers at a scale that wasn’t previously imaginable. In fact, many of my followers are more up to date with my output than some of my colleagues. #CanIGetAFollow? 

Do you have a role at Autodesk University or other events?

Yes and yes. This will be my eighth Autodesk University. Unfortunately, I will not teach a course this year. My focus will be on the Innovation Forums, most notably, the Everything Changes forum. If you haven’t checked these out, click onto http://au.autodesk.com/?nd=au2011_innovation_forums. You’ll also see me at several at the customer appreciation events and, of course, at the Manufacturing Lounge. I’d love to be able to tell you what I’ll be demonstrating in the Lounge…but am contractually bound NOT to. You’ll just have to show up at the Lounge to find out.

What are some of your favorite blogs and web destinations?

I’m a little bit all over the place. Some of my favorite web destinations are Develop3D, Core77, Deelip.com, and SolidSmack. I like to read articles and opinions that give it to me straight and are capable of communicating complex thoughts and ideas in ways that everyone can understand. That’s what I like, and that’s what I try to give to my readers, viewers, and followers: complex ideas in a relatable fashion. Too often in this industry, we resort to frequent overuse of terms and definitions that are overtly complex (e.g., computational fluid dynamics or dynamic linear stress analysis). I like to break these complexities down into simple terms: What is it? What problem does it solve? What does it cost?  

What sort of things do you do for distraction, hobbies, travel?

Over the summer, I took advantage of my sabbatical. I took my family to Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park on our way back to our hometown of Omaha,  Nebraska, in our Airstream camper. In other words, we enjoy the outdoors, camping, fishing, hunting, motocross, and the like.

What would we be most surprised to know about you?

I spent 9 1/2 years in the Army Reserves with the last year and a half deployed to Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom from February 2004 until April 2005. Before I left I worked for Avatech Solutions, an Autodesk Reseller, as a Technical Sales guy. On my first convoy the HMMV that I drove had canvas doors that we took off. Armor was a “nice to have.” If one could find steel, they were welcome to make a little ‘mad max’ to help them feel better. After a while things heated up. Armor was no longer a nice to have, but something we had to have. There were a lot of units digging up steel and slapping it on the sides of trucks, but there was no consistency to the design, material, and time to install. So after I returned from leave, the guys in our maintenance platoon had mocked up a prototype armor kit. Believe it or not, I took a copy of Inventor with me and went about modeling the prototype. I made a couple of changes, worked up a drawing set and assembly instructions so other units could use our kit for their trucks. We ended up showing our design to the commander of the group and not long after, were given all the Hardox steel we needed, a production facility in Doha, Kuwait, and two months (or so) to up armor what ended up being somewhere around 3,000 M915 trucks. The timeframe and actual number of trucks are estimates; I never thought to keep track. As a matter of fact, I didn’t even keep the Inventor files. I never imagined that I would need or want them. I was just doing my part to solve a field problem. For my part in this I was issued the Bronze Star. And largely because of that, I feel it to be my responsibility to share the story of what the 172nd Transportation Company did to contribute to troop safety.

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