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Expanded Horizons: An Engineer's Development Journey

Over the years, Steve Kujak has built internal networks at Trane and external ones through ASHRAE and AHRI, broadening his knowledge, boosting his network, and gathering tools to sharpen innovation.

Attend Steve Kujak's presentation "Examination of Low GWP Refrigerant Advancements for Decarbonization" at AHR 

Steve Kujak is Trane's Director of Next Generation Refrigerant Research. It's his job to identify more environmentally friendly refrigerants and reduce the potential for global warming. He is constantly looking for novel chemistries that can make heating and cooling systems safer, more sustainable and reduce the cost of ownership.

During his 30 years at Trane, Kujak has built a reputation as an answers guy. That's true, but it doesn't explain how he gets all that information. “Some people think I know a lot about everything," said Kujak, "but I don't really. I just know who to talk to.”

Kujak has built an impressive network of internal and external colleagues who help him answer questions and regularly take the HVAC industry's pulse. He works closely with ASHRAE and eagerly consumes content at every AHR Expo (AHR), among other learning and networking events.

As an organization, ASHRAE offers unique opportunities to share innovative ideas in engineering and across the buildings industry. AHR shows engineers how innovation translates into commercial products. The Expo, coming up February 6 - 8, showcases a little bit of everything: HVAC equipment and controls systems, plumbing, parts and services, tools and instruments, and software, to name a few. Kujak is like a kid in a candy store.

“I go around looking for new ideas and trying to understand how and why people are making those innovations,” said Kujak. “Here's a new product, and how can we apply it differently or take an idea and grow it into something else?”

Connecting People and Ideas
Part of Kujak's role at Trane is helping colleagues see the bigger picture by sharing ideas and generally cross-pollinating. “As I've gotten more experienced in this role, I've become more of a counselor/mentor,” said Kujak, “introducing people in different areas who can benefit by sharing information.”

On the external side, ASHRAE plays a similar role, helping people build their networks, glean useful information, and learn more about the HVAC industry at large. He always encourages younger colleagues to take advantage of these opportunities.


“When you're a young engineer, you tend to be narrowly focused on one area," said Kujak. "I think ASHRAE meetings and the AHR Expo help broaden those perspectives. I've been involved for more than 20 years, and my only regret is that I didn't get more involved sooner.”

Kujak is now a distinguished lecturer for ASHRAE and will present at AHR 2023 in Expo Session 3: Examination of Low GWP Refrigerant Advancements for Decarbonization. However, he recognizes his early career mistake – focusing only on ASHRAE's national offerings while neglecting opportunities at the regional and local levels. He encourages fellow engineers to engage with local chapters to expand their information base and worldview.

In addition to broadening technical skills, Kujak believes these associations are great ways to enhance people skills: negotiation, compromise, and finding ways to move ideas forward.

“I always tell people it helps to broaden their focus,” said Kujak. “At first, you think you're going to solve the world's problems by focusing on one area. But if you're really going to commit to helping grow air conditioning and refrigeration and the whole industry, you need to expand your horizons. That's one of the major benefits of ASHRAE and AHR.”

"If you're really going to commit to helping grow air conditioning and refrigeration and the whole industry, you need to expand your horizons. That's one of the major benefits of ASHRAE and AHR."

Steve Kujak Principal Engineer & Director of Next Generation Refrigerant Research, Trane

Catalyzing Innovation at Trane
At Trane, Kujak leads a team of subject matter experts who are working to improve technological readiness. He is a technologist and a mentor – two roles he loves.

“I work with a diverse group of people in our various businesses around the globe,” said Kujak. “They might focus on refrigeration, heat pumps, compressors, heat exchangers, fluid compatibility, or thermodynamics. It's a really broad base of people, and it's exciting that we get to share ideas and solve problems.”

This group brings different points of view, communication styles, cultures, and technologies to the table, and it's Kujak's role to act as a translator. He also works with Trane customers to understand emerging needs, as well as collaborating with people at universities and government regulatory agencies to help identify the right technologies to meet those needs.

Trane and Kujak will need every technological tool they can gather to solve some of the problems the industry is facing – creating HVAC systems that can meet the decarbonization needs of the future for both cooling and heating – while being more environmentally friendly, easier to use, and which fully meets customers’ needs.

“The greatest challenge facing the industry is figuring out how to electrify heating,” said Kujak. “James Trane started his business to provide more efficient heating products for customers, and that remains central to our mission. We lead by example, showing the industry the research, product, and application needs for heating. How do we get rid of the heat pump’s complexity and make it work like flipping a switch, so it runs like a furnace? We are going to simplify that for our customers – that's our goal.”

For Kujak and many others at Trane, the learning and development opportunities at AHR and ASHRAE are a key ingredient to delivering these and other innovations.

“It’s always important for engineers to keep their ears to the ground,” said Kujak. “It will help them with their own professional development, and it will help them tackle some of the major challenges we are now facing.”

Learn from Steve Kujak at AHR Expo Session 3: Examination of Low GWP Refrigerant Advancements for Decarbonization (Part 3) on Tuesday, February 7 at 11:00 a.m. EST. To learn more about Steve’s ASHRAE presentations at the upcoming ASHRAE Winter Conference here. Or visit to find more opportunities to engage with Trane at AHR.


Trane Engineer Support

Kasey Boxleitner

About the author
Amy Fitzgerald, Senior Marketing Manager

Amy is a Senior Marketing Manager with Trane, focused on the marketing strategy and campaign execution for Consulting Engineers - a key customer segment in the commercial HVAC space.

Amy has been with Trane for 4 years and in previous roles managed campaign execution for various vertical markets, as well as supporting the commercial field organization as a Regional Marketing Leader for the Rocky Mountain and Southwest regions.Prior to joining Trane, Amy spent 10 years in marketing for a non-profit manufacturing consulting firm based in Illinois.