As the principal and sole employee of Specialized Outsourcing Services, LP, Steve Hamilton stays busy. He spends most days working directly with property owners to design tenant finish-outs for commercial buildings such as warehouses and manufacturing facilities.
For much of his electrical design career, he relied on spreadsheets and standard AutoCAD functions. It got the job done, but it was far from easy, especially when handling revisions.
“I’ve been doing design for about 20 years the old-school way with spreadsheets and object-link embedments,” Steve explains. “The biggest frustration was making changes and the effects downstream, from panel schedules to fault current calculations. … Any time you made a change, you had to go back through and run new calcs on everything, and it was just taking up so much time because, in the design-build process, you’re designing it on the fly.” Because the design particulars often haven’t been determined at the outset, he explains, “you just have a multitude of changes on a drawing before you’re actually able to send it in for permit.” He also recalls one nerve-wracking contract in which, due to transformer size limitations for that area, he had to stay vigilant that his changes wouldn’t overload the service. “I can see why some engineering firms have 20 or 30 people working on stuff,” he remarks.
While Design Master was ultimately able to solve Steve’s revision woes, that wasn’t what initially drew him in when he found the software in early 2020: “I kinda stumbled into it looking for a program that would do breaker curves and breaker coordination.” But once he saw how easy it was to make changes and realized the software was more feature-rich than anything else he’d seen, he was sold. “Design Master really fit the bill,” he says. He also appreciated the AutoCAD integration aspect, especially how it performed compared to his previous workflow: “When you object-link and embed a spreadsheet, it slows AutoCAD down. I didn’t notice any lack of performance using Design Master—in fact, when I got rid of all my embedments and started from scratch, things worked probably 20% faster from a performance standpoint.”
When Steve set to learning the software, he admits to some difficulties at first. “I’m not gonna kid you; it was rough at the beginning,” he remarks with a laugh. “But once I got over the learning curve and started understanding what the program was doing, I fell in love with it.” Once everything clicked, he estimates that “it cut my time by 60% on a project.”
Now an experienced Design Master user, Steve says of the software, “It makes sense, and the workflow is pretty much spot-on. It’s obvious to me that electricians and engineers are involved with the design of this software. I’ve tried AutoCAD MEP, and this just tears it up. I won’t even think about it.” The software significantly improved his efficiency: “You get a thousand devices on a job, that’s several days’ worth of work that Design Master can do in three or four minutes.” Further, the finalization process, which he used to describe as “a trip to hell and back,” is now little more than “just cleaning up the drawings, making sure your stuff is displayed and presented properly.”
Steve says Design Master also provides a higher level of confidence in his work: “You’ve got warnings telling me if I’m overloaded or mismatched on voltages. There are so many helpful tools embedded in the program to keep us from making mistakes. I could sleep at night knowing that I had everything calculated correctly.”
In summary, Steve says, “Even the complex can be easy with all the reports the software has available and the ability to make changes en masse. … Just gotta remember to update your drawings and coordinate everything, then push a couple of magic buttons, and it runs. It’s just raw data in and an engineered drawing out.”
Steve has amassed several success stories while using Design Master. “Most of my projects are from a scope letter with the design criteria, and I’m just reading what they want and putting it where they say they want it,” he explains. “But you can plug all this stuff in, and as the correct data for something shows up—like a wrapping machine or conveyor system or fire pump or whatever—you can already have that stuff plotted in because you know you’re gonna use it. Then just go back in and put in the correct loads and voltages and you’re done. It’s too damn easy.” It’s especially simple when he accepts contracts for projects similar to those he’s already completed: “I’ll take [an old project] that’s close to what I’m working on, copy it over, start rearranging devices, delete what I don’t need, and I’m done.”
In the case of one contract for a 10,000sf warehouse, Steve was able to get started with just three pages of design criteria. “They don’t know exactly what they want yet, but they know … what it’s gonna look like. I can start plotting devices and take off running. Because you can edit literally everything you’ve laid on that drawing in a matter of minutes, you can get ahead of the curve. I’ve taken a million-dollar job and, in three days, presented a 75% drawing.” Another contract—valued at $1.2 million, which involved four services and over a thousand devices—was also finished in three days. “I couldn’t have done that in two weeks without Design Master, and would not be willing to do that the old-school way because of how much it takes to change something and make sure everything’s correct.”
Thanks to his increased efficiency, Steve says, “I can charge a much more competitive rate for doing these designs,” citing one example where he felt comfortable quoting 30% lower than his competition. His reduction in turnaround time has also helped bring in business: “If my competition says it’s two weeks to turn a project around and I tell them I can do it in two days, that gets everybody’s attention.”
Steve considers Design Master an essential program for any electrical designer, especially if they work in design-build.
Asked if he thinks more businesses should be using tools like Design Master, he responds “if they’re not, they’re behind.”
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