Sheet metal shops experience peaks and troughs in demand on a regular basis, and to innovators, the trough in volume is the ideal time to reflect on the peaks – a time to overcome bottlenecks and make work flow smoother.

This “constant improvement” mindset is a pillar to the success of mechanical and sheet metal contractors, said Chris Hronek, application engineer at Tweet/Garot Mechanical.

Speaking at the 2024 MEP Innovation conference in Orlando, Florida, at the end of January, Hronek accepted the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors' National Association (SMACNA) Innovator of the Year award. Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA) and National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) also gave their own respective Innovator of the Year awards to their members.

Innovation to Hronek, at its core, “seems like the same repetitive stuff that we’ve been doing: finding efficiencies in flow.”

But while the terminology and theme may stay constant, bandwidth constraints and other operational challenges are in a constant state of flux on the ground. That’s why at Tweet/Garot Mechanical, everyone from executives to tradespeople contribute to a culture of innovation and change, he said.

“When we're busy, we're busy. We’ve got to get it out the door. And when we’re slower, we've been able to take the time to understand where are bottlenecks are when we're busy,” Hronek said.

Hronek is a career sheet metal worker with experience in other trades.

“Early in my career, it was easy to put blame on problems the next step up. When you’re in the field, it’s the shop’s problem, when you’re in the office, it’s the owners and architects problem,” Hronek said. “Through my journey, I think it's been interesting to kind of move into that next role and figure out nobody wants to give anybody a bad product. I feel like I've been able to provide value by living it and that has allowed me to kind of talk through and understand what the problems are upstream, downstream, and try to find the best solution for it.”

Linda Jennings, executive director of innovation, integration and learning at SMACNA, says Hronek is a skilled technologist and sheet metal worker.

“Chris is an incredibly skilled sheet metal worker who combines his trade expertise with a keen interest in technology to spearhead the digitization of the fabrication process, specifically focusing on optimizing shop workflows,” Jennings said. “Chris is also a valued resource throughout Tweet/Garot and the industry, always going above and beyond to share and promote new and innovative workflows.”

Chris Howald, CEO of Tweet/Garot Mechanical, concluded by saying he is proud that Hronek’s knowledge has made him a resource to MEP contractors across the country.

“I'm proud to have you as part of our team and grateful you've helped shape our digital transformation and worked as a change agent to grow adoption with all our employees,” Howald said. “You are a wonderful resource for other companies with similar challenges. I know this is just the beginning of the recognition that your innovation and leadership will bring in the future.”