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Aaron Dennington

Austin, TX

March 2023

Everywhere Aaron Dennington Goes, Design Master Electrical Follows

Aaron Dennington, PE, has designed electrical distribution systems for several MEP firms since entering the industry in 2007. “The only difference would be the kind of projects they work on,” he says. “So I was able to obtain experience in various types of construction, and in some cases, develop some project management skills.” When asked what kinds of projects, he replies, “It’s probably a shorter list to tell you what projects I haven’t worked on.”

Nearly every company on Aaron’s resume has used (or continues to use) Design Master Electrical. Aaron’s first exposure to the software came in mid-2008 when he joined Tom Green & Company Engineering, Inc. “As I moved on from there,” he says, “then I was the one that introduced it to companies after that.”

Keeps Track of the Little Details

TGCE started using Design Master in 2002, six years before hiring Aaron, which helped with the learning curve. “They had it in place for a little while before I got there and had developed some standards, which made it a smooth transition for me to learn it because I didn’t have to build all the custom blocks and standards for that company,” he recalls. “It was nice to have that in place, plus a couple of people that already were familiar with it so they could get me ramped up to a level where I could feel comfortable.” He adds, “I appreciate that now. As I moved to different companies, that’s been the first thing you have to do is change whatever comes out of the box and turn it into whatever that particular company’s symbol standards are.” As he learned the ropes, he quickly realized how helpful the software could be: “It offered a lot of conveniences and helped cover a lot of human error. That’s always been the thing that stuck with me as I’ve needed to promote it elsewhere.”

The first example Aaron offers is how Design Master helps alleviate the “tedious efforts of circuiting.” “When a circuit changes on a project where you’re using Excel,” he says, “you have to remember to change it on the drawing. Then the homerun. Then any other homeruns that might’ve been tied to that. Then back over into the panel schedule in Excel, where you’d have to go change the load there and possibly the circuit number or description.” He continues, “It’s so much more automated with Design Master. And then you see it when you go to review other projects that didn’t use it; you’ll see those discrepancies popping up constantly. You rarely, if ever, see it on a Design Master project. Those little details would sometimes get missed while looking at the big picture, so that was a big help.” He also mentions that drawing the loops for those circuits is significantly faster: “It’s much more streamlined using Design Master than when you’re just going into CAD and having to change arcs or connect a thousand lights with a thousand different arcs.”

“I decided that, if it were up to me, I was not gonna work at a company that wouldn’t use Design Master. It’s too unwieldy to try to do an electrical design at the pace our clients typically ask for—and with the level of accuracy that’s required—any other way.”
Aaron Dennington, PE

Aaron would eventually move on to other companies, taking his preference for Design Master with him. One firm, O’Connell Robertson, agreed to purchase a Design Master Electrical license for him but elected not to expand its use. “Primarily, it was all done with Revit without incorporating the Design Master add-in. So there was a full year where I was having to go a different route,” he recalls. “If we had a CAD project, I was given the green light to use Design Master for that, and it did speed that up a lot, but it wasn’t something we were able to propagate to the other users.” He quickly realized what he was missing: “Without Design Master, there’s too many places where things can go wrong, so many things that change, that you have to account for. If you don’t have a tool to help you keep track of all that, you’re bound to miss something. After that,” he continues, “I decided that, if it were up to me, I was not gonna work at a company that wouldn’t use Design Master. It’s too unwieldy to try to do an electrical design at the pace our clients typically ask for—and with the level of accuracy that’s required—any other way. So it’s basically been a condition of any company I’ve talked to since that they have Design Master.”

An Easy Sell at Multiple Companies

As Aaron has advocated for Design Master at other companies, he’s picked up on a few things. “If there’s not a system in place, it’s much easier to implement. But if you’re jumping on board with a company that’s already got processes in place, it becomes a much bigger challenge to sell them and show them the benefits,” he explains. “Anything new is gonna, at first, feel slower than just doing what you’ve always done, and even when I would point out, ‘here, this wouldn’t have happened with Design Master, these mistakes would not come up,’ it gets drowned out unless you’re in a decision-making position.” When AYS Engineering first hired him in 2014 as Electrical Design Lead, he was able to persuade them to adopt Design Master with relative ease: “The question that came to me, when I proposed Design Master, was, ‘will this product help us be more efficient and make us money?’ And I was confident to answer ‘yes’ to that question because I’d seen it, and I could back that up.”

When Aaron moved on to Encotech Engineering Consultants, Inc., a few years later, more effort was required. He describes the conversation as, “‘Hey, can we try this thing? I’ll bring it on for one or two people so they can try it on these projects and do a review.’” He explains, “If I’m promoting it, I’m seen as biased, but if we have test users who can try it and see if it’s more efficient than what they’ve been doing, they can vouch for it. Then you’ve got something to stand on, and that’s what we were able to do at Encotech.” Once the firm’s AutoCAD users were up to speed and putting the software through its paces, Aaron says, “They were on board with it pretty quickly.”

At the time of writing, both AYS—where Aaron was rehired and is currently employed— and Encotech are still using Design Master. We even spoke with another designer at AYS in 2018; you can read our AYS Engineering customer story here.

“Higher Quality Across the Board”

Fifteen years after his first exposure to Design Master, Aaron remains grateful for the added efficiency it provides, especially when making revisions. “Being able to just change circuits from one panel to another,” he offers as an example. “Sometimes you’re overloaded on one panel by a hundred amps, and you need to move twenty circuits over to a different panel, and that’s very easy with Design Master. It would’ve been very tedious using Excel or even using Revit.” Giving another example, he says, “If you have sixty lights on a project and you find out they need to be 2x2 instead of 2x4, you just change the symbol in the schedule, and they all change automatically. That’s a major benefit.” He points out how this benefit translates to happier clients: “It does help us meet expectations, especially in a fast turnaround RFI situation or a review session. You can turn those requests around a lot faster, and they appreciate that. Your days only have so many hours, and the more you can get out of them, the more people you’re gonna please.”

Aaron also makes frequent use of the software’s point-by-point photometrics capabilities, which save both time and money. “The photometrics we would otherwise have to send out, or we’d have to pay for a separate piece of software, then import it into CAD to get it to show on the drawing,” he explains “With Design Master, you can do all those functions on the program itself and quickly make updates without having to involve anybody else.” Further, he appreciates the ability to export his lighting plan into COMcheck. Entering that information, he says, “is a very tedious effort if you don’t have a tool to help with it. Design Master makes a big, end-of-project task a lot smaller.” He muses that lighting reps and dedicated lighting designers may have tools that are better suited to their work specifically, but “they don’t get the benefits that I get. They don’t have to put it in CAD and figure out how to issue it and change it to a certain standard. They don’t have to tie it into an existing design. Those are all things Design Master offers.”

Expanding on his favorite features, Aaron says, “Managing the load calcs is fantastic, especially multifamily. The bigger the project, the more I’m glad we have it. For a lot of the multifamily projects, I don’t wanna think about what would be involved in making some of the changes and calculations that have to happen to get the entire project coordinated and tied together.” The recurring panel functionality makes those projects a breeze: “Oh, we need to add a unit? We’ve already got the unit built, we just have to add another recurring panel.” That ease also carries over into similarly large and complex projects. “I would highly suggest using Design Master for a school or hospital, anything that’s gonna have a bunch of panels. You’re just giving yourself a break by putting that tool to work,” he says. “The schools we’ve done, those inevitably take a year or two, depending on how big the school is or who you’re working with. There’s constant changes that come in on those, and the legwork in Design Master is done on the first pass, which makes all revisions thereafter much more streamlined.” He concludes that the benefits of Design Master scale with the size of the project: “I’ll use it on small projects as well because the blocks are easy to drop in and circuit—you can knock it out real quick. But if I were to race another designer who’s not using Design Master, I’m gonna win by a larger margin on those larger projects.”

In Aaron’s current position, he often reviews the work of his coworkers, which is another task Design Master makes easier. “If it’s a Design Master project, I know I don’t have to constantly check the panel schedules and all their load calcs because I’ve done all that vetting,” he explains. “I’ve checked those calculations many times and had to stand up for them and, pretty much all the time, when somebody questions me, I’m very confident the calculations I have are correct and what they came up with is incorrect. So I have a lot of confidence that the product by the design team is gonna be accurate, and it’s one less thing I have to check in depth.” He deduces that Design Master raises the quality floor significantly, giving a leg-up to less experienced designers: “It helps with the reduction of human error. A good designer can probably end up with a finished product that’s equivalent, but it really makes a difference when you’re working with somebody that’s less experienced. It’s gonna help bring them along, help them catch a lot of errors, help them understand where those errors are, and improve their skill level.” He concludes, “Design Master will deliver higher quality across the board, whereas you have to have the right person doing the design to get the same level of quality without it.”


Speaking on Design Master’s place in the MEP industry, “I’m kind of surprised there isn’t more competition—maybe there is, I don’t know—but I haven’t seen anything that compares,” Aaron says. “Construction and engineering is such a big industry in the United States, but it feels like it’s lagging in its development compared to others. Revit’s a good example: Architects jumped on it because it emphasized the architectural features and benefits, and it took ten years for them to even glance at the electrical design part of it. So we’re being forced to use a tool that wasn’t fully developed for us. I think they feel like they’re leading the pack, but really they’re running in second place.” He notes that Design Master support plays a large role: “The customer service stands apart from any of those other ones. Being able to talk to somebody with a phone call is unheard of these days, and to have that available is really unmatched.” He continues, “With Revit, it’s hard to find anybody that can tell you about the electrical ins and outs and troubleshoot minor things. Design Master has the actual programmers in the office and can resolve issues. And even if it’s something you can’t do over the phone, you can share the screen or send the project and get a patch. That’s tremendous.”

Overall, he says, “I really appreciated the product and had good experiences with it. It seems to always bring efficiencies that I haven’t been able to find elsewhere. And we’ve looked at a lot of different things, including Revit. But I haven’t been able to find something that works as well as an electrical design tool.” He adds, “Having been at a number of different companies, it always felt like it would’ve been better if we had Design Master, or it was better because we had Design Master.”