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Summit Professional Engineering

Spokane, WA

January 2023

Design Master Electrical Shines Daily at Summit Professional Engineering

Summit Professional Engineering is a small electrical engineering firm that, in the words of its founder Don Nielsen, “was formed in 2000 mostly as an adventure and a test to see if we could compete with the other excellent firms in our area. The first couple of years were tough, but we had lots of support and return customers.” Over the years, they have delivered a bit of everything, from commercial to industrial to multifamily to education to healthcare. As engineer Mark Hoppe puts it, “We don’t really have a niche market that we’re in. We have a lot of clients, and we take on pretty much everything.” He also comments, “It is crazy busy up in the Pacific Northwest, and it doesn’t look like it’s going down anytime soon.”

While Don appreciates the relative ease of managing a smaller company, it also “means that we must be efficient and organized.” To that end, Design Master Electrical has played a vital part in the efficiency of their workflow since 2005.

“Much better than AutoCAD MEP”

“I don’t remember exactly how I found out about Design Master,” Don says. “Years ago, [Design Master Vice-President] Mark Robison came to my office in Spokane, and I know that we talked about the sale of his company and that he had kept the software component.” When he started looking for tools to improve project organization and efficiency at Summit, his first thought was AutoCAD MEP: “We were using basic AutoCAD at the time, so I began there by looking at their MEP packages. I went through some basic tutorials to see what calculation options they offered and found it to be very clunky and limited in application. I decided in a short time that it was not for us.” He then looked up Design Master, downloaded the free trial, and immediately discovered “it was much better than AutoCAD MEP.” Mark Hoppe adds that he remembers how Don appreciated, among other factors, the customization available: “There’s a lot of stuff that says, ‘the panel schedule is the panel schedule.’ Yours, we could actually make look like our old one. I know that was a big piece, the ability to customize the output.”

Shortly after Don purchased Design Master Electrical, Mark joined the firm. “We were still using the ‘old method’ when I got here, and there were a lot of projects that stayed under the old method until we were comfortable that everything in Design Master was spitting out the results we expected,” Mark explains. “Our old method was basically doing calculations in Excel. Don had a pretty complete spreadsheet that would let us do panel schedules and things like that. One of the bigger challenges with that is that, even though the calculations worked well, you had to count up how many receptacles you had on a circuit, how many light fixtures. Then manually inputting the VA into the panel schedule. That was pretty time-consuming, especially if something changed.”

Don says, “It took us a while to adopt it simply because we were too busy to spend the time getting fully integrated.” Mark recalls, “It was my task to implement Design Master and get it configured to look like Summit’s previous work. That was one of my first projects before Don started loading me up with production work.” Don chimes in, “The first tool that helped us was the basic schedule management. Some things we did with DM and some we still did manually.” Mark remembers having to learn underlying concepts, such as “how the blocks were created and related, and once you got them put in, how they acted,” but it wasn’t overly complicated. “Once we’d convinced ourselves everything was showing up the way we wanted to,” Mark says, “it had to have only been a couple months.”

“When we started using the Design Master one-line, it really felt like we had it made.”
Mark Hoppe

“We Had It Made”

“We currently incorporate nearly all of the DM tools,” Don says of the company’s workflow today. Mark concedes that he does not use the point-by-point photometrics features, but “Everybody else here is doing all of their photometrics in Design Master. It’s just another thing you don’t have to translate from one program to another.” Don explains, “One of the benefits for us is that it provides a logical design path that improves efficiency. That path begins with selecting custom device, lighting, and equipment libraries. That leads to selecting the specific code calculation section.” He adds, “There are a number of calculation types in DM that AutoCAD products cannot do well, such as recurring panels for apartments.” Mark continues that thread, saying, “The recurring panels are an incredible time-saver. Instead of having to update a panel 32 times for 32 different units, you do it once, and it updates it.” He also appreciates that he “can get all the loads in there, and it calculates the loads and keeps our schedules up-to-date. That seems like the most useful portion.”

Beyond the general cohesive intelligence of the software, though, Mark gets the most joy out of using the one-line diagram features. “I was really ecstatic about the one-line stuff,” he recalls. “That was one of our biggest holes—we had these panel schedules, which were correct, and everything was calculating correct, but we still had the dumb graphics we’d have to update manually if we changed a breaker or feeder size. When we started using the Design Master one-line, it really felt like we had it made.” Unlike the previous workflow of making and reconciling changes manually, he says, “You go in there right before you publish and hit ‘Update,’ and you have some confidence that at least everything on your drawing is gonna match. You don’t have things called out to different sizes in different places, which obviously leads to questions later on. Or, worst case, someone picks the wrong one and orders the wrong size.” He concludes, “Having to make changes at the last minute, instead of going through and manually catching everything in the drawing, if you change a panel size, the one-line picks up on it and fixes it. To me, that’s one of its biggest features: eliminating errors.”

“An Essential Tool”

When asked to describe a particular instance of Design Master showing its worth, Mark responds, “Every project nowadays has incredibly short schedules, so I would say that, daily, it stands out as being able to help me get that done in a timely manner. I can’t think of any one thing.” He continues on the subject of deadlines, “Design Master gives us a chance at meeting some of the crazy schedules that we’re having to deal with. To think about having to count light fixtures and try to put a VA to a circuit on a 30,000sf office building, you just can’t. We don’t have the time. Nobody gives us that much time to design projects manually.” He finds it hard to believe companies like theirs could manage without Design Master. “Unless you’ve got clients that give you unlimited time to get your work done,” he says, “I don’t see how you couldn’t need something like this to be competitive.”

Mark recommends the software to “Anybody who wants to have a solid design and actually has deadlines to meet.” He adds, “It’s become such an essential tool here that if I went anywhere else and they didn’t have Design Master, that would be one of my first questions: ‘If you don’t, what do you have? And let me see it before I even consider working there.’ To not have something like this, I think, would be a non-starter.”

(Editor’s Note: Mark wanted it known at time of writing that “if Don asks, I don’t have any other plans.”)