2019 pme Mechanical Engineer of the Year: Fitzemeyer & Tocci's Chris Wysoczanski, P.E.
Higher education did its job and then some when it comes to Connecticut native Chris Wysoczanski, P.E.
Wysoczanski, who grew up in Cheshire, Connecticut, headed to Boston to Wentworth Institute of Technology where his intent was to get into some sort of engineering discipline. At first, it was computer engineering.
“You had to declare a major so I did computer engineering,” he explains. “I made a couple of friends in the mechanical engineering program and learned about what they were doing, some of their projects and their coursework. That got me interested. I switched to mechanical engineering, but wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with it because it’s a pretty broad major.”
A pair of co-ops while at Wentworth took care of the uncertainty in a hurry. “My first co-op at HTS Engineering (a manufacturers rep firm), I saw some drawings and I saw the product side of things and thought that was interesting,” Wysoczanski says. “It was interesting how these products came together to make a building work. My second co-op (at Arup), I worked on a lot of different projects from high-end residential to high-level schematic projects to some work on projects overseas in the Middle East. All of that grabbed me and got me interested.”
And Wysoczanski, the 2019 pme Mechanical Engineer of the Year honoree, hasn’t looked back since. He was offered a full-time job with Arup before he graduated from Wentworth. He was there for two years before coming over to Woburn, Massachusetts-based Fitzemeyer & Tocci Associates in 2010 where he has been ever since as a rising star in the HVAC/radiant and hydronics side of the mechanical engineering discipline.
“I am very fortunate,” he says. “I started working right before the recession hit, and now I feel like engineering is something that is really in demand. There are not as many candidates to fill the positions out there, especially for consulting for construction and building engineering. I think engineering students look at other types of engineering work such as automotive and bio-medical companies, especially in the Boston area. Getting students interested in HVAC and plumbing engineering can be a little tougher.”
Wysoczanski says green initiatives are alive and well. "Energy modeling is becoming almost standard on bigger projects, thus you have to stay on top of all the code updates and find ways to exceed those minimum energy performance requirements," he says.
A customer-service business
Wysoczanski says the key to excelling in the engineering realm is far from rocket science. “Our industry is highly customer-service based,” he says. “To be a good engineer you need to be able to listen to clients and understand what they really want. Some of it is leading them along the way because they don’t always know what they want or know what they need. You have to make decisions to get them there. Some clients are a little more versed in engineering and the construction side of things. It’s about learning to read a client and understanding what they need and what they expect out of you to make a successful project.”
Wysoczanski says working with an owner/key stakeholder who is well-versed in the mechanical realm is a treat. “Having an owner who knows a bit about buildings and the different systems we can put in is hugely important,” he notes. “As engineers, we can recommend things. When it comes time for bids, certain efficient systems can be expensive, and they are easy to be V-E’ed out. If you have an owner who is well-versed in building systems and green technologies, that helps our position of getting cutting-edge technologies into a building that reduce energy usage and bring value to the end user.”
The 34-year-old Wysoczanski, now a mechanical group leader at FItzemeyer & Tocci, says his goal during a project has multiple layers to it.
“My biggest goal is to deliver something to an owner that meets expectations in terms of the time it takes to deliver, how much it will cost to build and the ultimate return on investment,” he says. “I want something that will last for the lifecycle of the building. I want to really come through for the owners I am working for. You must remember it’s a service industry and those are the people we are trying to help. It all goes back to delivering something that meets the client’s needs.”
Wysoczanski worked on this Yale New Haven Health Regional Operations Center project in Connecticut, and also worked on a recent New Hampshire project where process cooling was incorporated through the use of a completely water-cooled system.
A changing landscape
Going back to his days at Wentworth, Wysoczanski excels at what he does thanks in part to his continual curiosity for how things work.
“I like getting down to the technical side of it,” he says. “I love the details of how things work and how they are put together. When you first become an engineer and you are handing your work off to others to basically build, you might not know how things come together. Once I started to get some experience with construction work and working with contractors in the field, I started to see how things were built and how they came together. That impacts being a good engineer because you understand how something might work on paper but not in reality. You understand what contractors have in their toolbox to work with. The details can be the difference between a system that works just OK vs. one that’s high-performing.”
Wysoczanski says one major recent industry shift has been the continued proliferation of building information modeling being used on a widespread basis.
“We do BIM almost exclusively now,” he says. “The days of doing two-dimensional plans are rapidly fading. You can have a building essentially built graphically before they even start working on foundations. We have the ability to make it a live, working document of how the building is coming together. So much goes into each model. There probably is a certain level in the industry where BIM is not totally necessary, but among the big players and those who want to compete on big projects, it is absolutely a necessity. Before time, it will become standard practice for everything even down to light commercial-grade work. The capabilities BIM has will make it desirable for everybody.”
And with a changing workforce and younger players coming into the game, Wysoczanski sees the BIM push accelerating even more.
“Kids in school are learning programming and that’s only going to push it more,” he says. “You are talking about drafting software now that does calculations. You used to do calcs by hand or use separate software programs. Now you have software suites where it is loaded into it. It’s becoming a one-stop shop. With people graduating with a lot of computer skills, it will only drive this more and increase the software capabilities even more. I think we’ve only briefly touched on the capabilities of BIM. It’s going to keep growing exponentially.”
On the flipside, technology presents another challenge for engineers to tackle.
“One of the most challenging aspects is how the pace of construction has kind of skyrocketed,” Wysoczanski says. “Owners need things right away these days. How often do you drive on the highway and see people working on construction sites on the weekend? It’s becoming a seven-day-a-week thing. Things get built quicker and keeping up with that pace is one of the most challenging things. You have to keep these projects going and deliver them quick, but at the same time you have to deliver a quality project that will provide a great return on investment and meets the owner’s needs.”
Speaking of ROI, Wysoczanski says green and energy efficiency are terms that are still alive and well in the building industry.
“Green has come in waves in past years,” he says. “When I started, LEED was pretty huge. Now there are a lot of other programs out there. Owners are definitely interested in making buildings green. In Boston here, there is a big movement toward carbon neutrality. Local government is pushing these standards, which is bringing back these green initiatives. Energy modeling is becoming almost standard on bigger projects, thus you have to stay on top of all the code updates and find ways to exceed those minimum energy performance requirements.”
Wysoczanski helped take green to the next level on a recent project in New Hampshire that incorporated process cooling through the use of a completely water-cooled system.
“The days of doing two-dimensional plans are rapidly fading. You can have a building essentially built graphically before they even start working on foundations. We have the ability to make it a live, working document of how the building is coming together."
“We were able to come up with a design that saved them a lot of water usage, which translates to a lot of cost savings,” he says. “We put in 700 tons worth of cooling in that building. It’s one of the biggest systems I have ever worked on, and it was exciting to see that all come alive in the field. Designing a 40-HP pump on paper is one thing, but when you see it installed in the field you realize just how big things are.”
In terms of industry involvement, Wysoczanski has benefitted greatly from his ASHRAE membership.
“We have a really active ASHRAE chapter in Boston,” he says. “Meetings happen in the suburbs and in the city. I like it because it has a lot of good, technical content. It’s a great way to stay up on things in the industry in terms of new technologies and products. It’s a huge benefit. You keep in contact with other engineers in the industry and owners. There are a lot of building owners who attend ASHRAE meetings. You get a lot of different perspectives and different ways to approach things.”
In fact, Wysoczanski learned about ASHRAE while in college. “A professor told us about the ASHRAE meetings and that helped spark my interest,” he says. “I was able to see the professional side of things before I even had a job.”
His advice for someone studying engineering in college or thinking about getting into the profession? “It’s a great field to be in,” Wysoczanski says. “There is going to be a lot of demand for building engineers, especially in HVAC and plumbing. This is not a job where you sit behind a desk all day. I get to get out in the field and see things being built. You are using your brains, not just in an engineering sense, but in a practical sense. You are helping make something work out in the field and not just on paper. I most definitely would recommend this field.”