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Mattern Stith Engineering

Fort Worth, TX

July 2023


Design Master Electrical Makes Beth Mattern Say, “Holy Cow!”

In mid-2020, Beth Mattern, PE, LC, LEED AP, and her husband, James Stith, PE, started taking on work through Mattern Stith Engineering. “Just doing some engineering and design projects,” Beth says, “a lot of schoolwork, some healthcare, some commercial.” At first, they relied on AutoCAD and Excel for their drafting and calculations.

When Beth chose to focus on Mattern Stith full-time, she knew she needed to get the most out of her time. Fortunately, her years at Fratto Engineering (now KAI Enterprises) made her familiar with Design Master Software.

Unbelievably Accurate and Useable

“It didn’t take me long to understand what it was and that it truly was designed by somebody who understood how we, as electrical engineers, work.”
Beth Mattern, PE, LC, LEED AP

When Beth started at Fratto and was introduced to Design Master Electrical, she wasn’t convinced: “I couldn’t believe that it really worked like it said it was gonna work. So I have to admit, when I first started using it, I would double-check all the calculations to make sure everything was adding up like it should.” She explains, “That was early in my career, like 2010, 2011. I was skeptical because I had heard the rumblings that Revit was coming, and we knew the issues with Revit, and this was another program that was supposed to do something similar. But it didn’t take me long to understand what it was and that it truly was designed by somebody who understood how we, as electrical engineers, work.” After learning how the software functioned and where everything was located, she says, “I became a believer very quickly. It was just mind-blowing that you could have this symbol that was smart and would make your life so much easier.”

That confidence was bolstered, Beth says, when she attended a one-day training event in Washington in 2015: “I had already been using the software for probably five or six years, but I knew there were things we didn’t use and maybe we're not using effectively. And that’s where I really understood where and how it started and why it worked so well, and that it was designed by someone who worked in the electrical engineering profession, and it was built for electrical engineers. I was like, ‘Oh, that’s why it works! That’s why it makes sense, why you can easily pick it up and easily do it as an electrical engineer.’”

Asked how long it took to feel proficient with the software, Beth replies, “Weeks. It didn’t take long; I only say weeks because I couldn’t figure out where all the symbols were, getting your ribbons figured out, things like that. I mean, a new version of AutoCAD can take a couple of weeks to figure out.” She continues, “It’s really user-friendly. If you needed something, it was there, and it was very easy to figure out: ‘Oh, I wanna create a new receptacle symbol for a printer. That way, all my printers are 1.2, and if they change to 1.0, it’s just a single click to change.’ It took a little bit to figure out where some of those things were, but in the grand scheme of things, it did not take very long at all.” She recalls that her experience was typical among her colleagues, saying, “The designers in our office came out of CAD schools, and they could easily pick it up and understand what was going on. Everything was labeled, you can easily see, ‘that’s the light fixtures, those are receptacles, everything’s labeled, there’s pictures,’ I mean, it’s easy. It’s easy.”

When Beth eventually parted ways with Fratto, she says, “I started working at another company that did a lot of work in Revit. So when I transitioned from the AutoCAD world to the Revit world, obviously, Revit has some of that functionality already built in. But,” she remarks, “it wasn’t and isn’t as user-friendly as Design Master. Things like doing the riser diagram for you. That was a big thing once we figured out how to use it. It’s so much easier to have that; you do it once, then you hit refresh, and everything recalculates. And if you rename a panel, it updates automatically. It was all those little things, and Revit didn’t do that.” She also recalls the shortcomings of Revit’s less-than-comprehensive load calculations: “I did a project at my last company where they had done a multifamily dwelling unit complex in Revit. That was five stories, hundreds of units. I reached out to David Robison and asked, ‘Do you have the ability to do the recurring panels and do all these calculations for us rather than trust Revit?’ And he said no, so we ended up having to do all of that by hand in Excel schedules. It was a monster, because you have the Revit piece that has to show the panel in Revit to do some of the calculations, then you have the Excel piece.” When she left that company to focus on Mattern Stith Engineering, she was all too ready to regain access to the features she’d been missing.

Astronomical Time Saving

“When my husband and I started up the company, it was just moonlighting,” Beth explains, “so I didn’t make the purchase immediately. Even then, it was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I have to use text and symbols and Excel files to do my calculations.’ And it’s just more time-consuming to do it that way. It was fine when it was just small projects. But I came from having all the smart things, and then to go back to dumb things was like ‘ugh.’” She continues: “When I decided I wanted to do this full-time, it was pretty much a no-brainer. Design Master saved me so much time not having to figure out how to classify everything in an Excel schedule. It is a little bit more expensive, and you need the upgraded AutoCAD for it to work. But ultimately, the time-saving and just knowing that it will do the calculations and has smart devices—if you add a plug somewhere, it’ll automatically redo it for you. You don’t have to go back through and, ‘Oh crud, that light fixture changed from 20 watts to 25 watts, now I have to figure out where to redo all my Excel spreadsheets.’ Yeah, no-brainer.” She adds that it didn’t take long for her to brush up on using the software, saying, “Yeah, I was already really familiar with it, so it was really easy for me to just go back through, set up the symbols again, and move forward. There were some things I’d forgotten because I had a four-year lag in there.”

Once Beth had Design Master up and running, recurring panels became a standout feature: “We did a lot of assisted and independent living projects. The recurring panels… holy cow. It was just astronomical how much time that alone saved us. ‘Well, we decided to change from an A to a B.’ No problem, you just put in a new panel. You don’t have to redo all of the loads; it’s all built in there. That was a big game-changer when we figured that out.” She elaborates, “It was multistory, usually about three floors, a couple wings. Maybe 40, 50 rooms a floor; it was big. And all those calcs are super crazy to try to do by hand or through an Excel sheet. It took us a while to figure out how to set it up, but we were gonna do it because we knew it was gonna help us in the end. Once we figured it out for that first project and moved on to the next projects, it really did help us a ton.”

Eleventh-Hour Revisions Made Easy

In terms of time saved, Beth says the biggest difference is felt during revision cycles: “When we figured out how to use the one-line diagram, that was just awesome. I remember trying to get that working because there’s always something at the eleventh hour, mechanical decides to change their air unit or whatever, and that changes the distribution. The fact that Design Master will automatically update that on the one-line, in the panelboard schedules… you don’t have to remember to update it in all of those locations.” Further, she says, “The mechanical equipment schedules. The ability to have the freedom to have those schedules and easily update them. ‘Oh, now I need to provide a disconnect, no problem.’ It’s just easy. So things like the mechanical, you can wait until the eleventh hour to make those changes and still not be too frazzled. In that respect, it allows you to make the changes quicker, which is everything in today’s game—do it quicker.”

“The other reason I like the software is you can copy and paste from other projects and set up your own master schedule to keep reusing things,” Beth says. “And even out of the box, there’s already symbols in there, you can just find what you need and go. You don’t have to recreate the wheel, you don’t have to download a BIM model or light fixture.” Those benefits, she explains, give her more time to focus on other parts of the design: “Everything’s preset, so you don’t have to worry about graphical errors and things like that. And if you forgot to circuit something? There’s that cool little button, Highlight Uncircuited Devices. Boom, done. Your lighting fixture schedule only shows the fixtures you have in the project. It definitely can help produce a good project.”

Beth also describes how she saved time on projects that needed to go through COMcheck compliance: “During one of my play sessions in Design Master, I found the Export to COMcheck button. ‘Huh, what does that do? … Holy cow! It filled out everything!’” As a result of saving so much time during the design process, she is able to make time for the additional responsibilities that come with owning a business. “I’m self-employed now, so I do the project management, I do the marketing, I do the design, I do everything,” she explains. “I don’t have enough time in the day to count receptacles and draw tick marks, it’s not what I really wanna do.”

“A Better Project Overall”

When asked if she thinks the adoption of BIM tools like Design Master will increase, Beth replies, “I would hope so. I’ve had people come in from AutoCAD and say they still use Excel schedules. Why? Or they trust Revit implicitly to do everything the NEC says, and it doesn’t.”

“I hope more people use these tools because it does make a better project overall, and you can do things more quickly. I realize doing it quickly is not always the right thing, but sometimes time is of the essence,” she says. “From the larger companies to the smaller companies, everyone would benefit from this type of software.”