I’m Tom Chan and This Is How I Mesh

I consider myself a true Seattle native, but I was born in South Vietnam. At the time, my parents were living in a thriving Chinese community in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City). We were fortunate enough to leave in 1975, just before “The Fall.”  After a brief stint in California, we moved to Bellevue, Washington, just east, across Lake Washington from Seattle. I have lived “on the Eastside” ever since. I went to the high school just down the street from Tecplot’s current office, and then attended the University of Washington in Seattle. As a kid, I had a great interest in rocketry and remote-controlled airplanes, but I also enjoyed sports – playing youth soccer and Little League baseball and tennis in high school.

At the University of Washington (Go Dawgs!), I studied chemical engineering and worked part-time as a lab assistant at the Polymeric Composites Laboratory.

My first job out of college was working at the Hanford Site in Eastern Washington as a Process Engineer for Battelle at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). After two years of working a desk job, I knew I needed something more dynamic. I began taking classes at the Washington State University campus in the Tri-Cities to begin my masters in Chemical Engineering. The degree required some business classes and I found myself increasingly intrigued by them.

There was not a lot for a young man to do in the Tri-Cities area, so I looked around for something back on the “wet” side of the mountains – namely the Seattle area. Amtec Engineering, Inc. (now Tecplot, Inc.) was looking for a business development engineer, and I was thrilled to get the job. After a few years, I enrolled in the MBA program at Seattle University’s Albers School of Business. Not long after I completed my MBA, I left Tecplot for a job as a business management consultant to broaden my horizons. In 2002, I returned to Tecplot, where I have been ever since.

My roles at Tecplot have changed over the years, from business development, to product manager and even manager of software development! Having an engineering background has helped me in innumerable ways – from relating to our customers, having a better understanding of CFD, and being able to assemble IKEA furniture (just kidding).

In 2016, our beloved co-founders, Mike Peery and Don Roberts, retired. We were acquired by Vela Software, a Toronto-based global provider of software solutions to a number of vertical markets. Now, as President of the company, I see it’s been an amazing journey, and a journey that is accelerating!

I am extremely results-oriented and am driven by goals for myself and for Tecplot. I have a passion for technologies that help engineers make better decisions and improve speed to market. My team at Tecplot is outstanding and have copious years of experience under their belt in CFD and software development. Overall, I am proud to be the “skipper” of this company and I enjoy coming in and leading the pack each and every day.

  • Location: Bellevue, Washington
  • Current position: President, Tecplot, Inc.
  • Current computer: Microsoft Surface Book with a 6th Gen Intel Core i7, 16GBs of RAM, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 965M video card with 2GB GDDR5 memory, and a 512GB SSD, running Windows 10 Enterprise.
  • One word that best describes how you work: Achiever.

How do you know Pointwise?

I was originally introduced to John Chawner by Mike and Don at an AIAA Aerospace Sciences Meeting when the conference was held in Reno for many years – “AIAA Reno” we called it. We were instant friends, and it has been a long and satisfying relationship.

Tecplot and Pointwise bookend the simulation process – Pointwise on the pre-processing side and Tecplot on the post-processing end. We have worked with the folks at Pointwise for many years and have many joint customers.

What do you see are the biggest challenges facing CFD in the next 5 years?

The analysis of turbulent flows comes to mind. For most flows, computers are not yet powerful enough to directly compute the effect of turbulence through direct numerical simulation (DNS) or large eddy simulation (LES). So, in practice, we still rely on Reynolds-Averaged Navier-Stokes solutions and turbulence models. These turbulence models work well for “nice” flows, but not for more complicated flows like you get with large-scale boundary-layer separation. Practical LES applications for complicated flows will require far more powerful computers and/or far more accurate CFD algorithms like higher-order finite-element methods.

What are you currently working on?

As the skipper of Tecplot, and as we integrate Tecplot into the Vela family, I’m looking for new opportunities for growth and expansion.

What project are you most proud of and why?

We are involved in many cool projects, but one that stands out for me is NASA’s STS-114 Return to Flight. I’ve always been fascinated by rockets and space and still remember watching the first Space Shuttle launch. As a young boy, I was in awe.

When the Space Shuttle program shut down after the fatal Columbia accident, it was amazing to see how we played such an integral role in the Space Shuttle’s heat shield damage assessment program and the Return-to-Flight mission. NASA engineers performed numerous CFD analyses on the heat shield during the STS-114 flight where a protruding gap filler was discovered. I remember getting an urgent request from NASA Langley Research Center to make a code change to help streamline their analyses. Ultimately, NASA decided to have one of the astronauts remove the gap filler to ensure a safe return. Our role was minor, but a crucial part of a very important mission.

Tecplot has been working with NASA for over 30 years and I’m extremely proud of our ongoing partnership.

Are you reading any interesting technical papers we should know about?

I don’t read many technical papers these days, but the NASA CFD 2030 Vision Study comes first to mind. The NASA paper helps identify current and future issues with streamlining CFD workflows. In fact, the study inspired our large-data initiative to address the growing complexity of CFD simulations, which are primarily limited by computer performance. Our SZL technology was developed to overcome computer performance limitations by reducing the amount of solution data loaded when visualizing and analyzing CFD results. More Tecplot trivia, the company’s first job was helping NASA Langley with a CFD project. We have been long-time partners ever since.

What software or tools do you use every day?

I use a lot of the Microsoft programs, mostly Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and Dynamics (our CRM) – and of course Tecplot!

What does your workspace look like?

Do you plan on attending any conferences or workshops this year?

Our engineers attend many conferences every year. And we exhibit at AIAA SciTech, AIAA Aviation, SPE-ATCE (an oil & gas conference), CONVERGE User Conference, and of course the Pointwise User Group Meeting.

This year I will be attending the Assess 2018 Congress, the CONVERGE User Conference, and of course, the Pointwise UGM.

What do you do outside the world of CFD?

Outside of work, I’m very involved in life with my family – my wife, college-aged son (Georgia Tech – go Yellow Jackets!), high-school son and middle-school daughter. I spend a lot of my spare time at their sporting and school events. My boys play baseball, basketball and golf, and my daughter plays softball and basketball, and I volunteer on a few of the boards. I also enjoy playing sports, especially volleyball and golf, but haven’t had as much time as I’d like to do that since my weekends are consumed with tournaments and travel ball.

When I can, I like to go fishing. My oldest son is making quite a name for himself in the fishing world – check out his website at www.bassmasterty.com.

We also like to travel as a family and have been to some spectacular places including Hawaii, Bryce Canyon and Zion, Cabo San Lucas, Washington DC and New York City. Now we’re planning a family trip to Japan and China!

What is some of the best CFD advice you’ve ever received?

Avoid the “black box” syndrome – don’t blindly depend on automated “black box” techniques.

Our customers are some of the smartest, most experienced engineers in the world. They work hard year after year, developing a deep knowledge of their craft. The experience and intuition they acquire can never be replaced by a “black box.”

But, much can be done to help engineers with the more tedious and tiresome tasks, which would give them more time for analysis and digging deeper into their research and designs.

If you had to pick a place to have dinner, where would you go?

I love a good steak at the Metropolitan Grill in Seattle. But my favorite restaurant is Tai Tung Restaurant in Seattle’s International District. It is the oldest Chinese restaurant in Seattle, opening its doors in 1935, and it just happens to be owned by my wife’s family! Be sure to visit Tai Tung the next time you’re in Seattle, and try Bruce Lee’s favorite dish, https://www.eater.com/2018/1/15/16886416/tai-tung-seattle-bruce-lee-video.

About Travis Carrigan

A Pointwise engineer helping other engineers solve their meshing problems.
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