What Is A Boilermaker?
A boilermaker is a skilled craftsperson who fabricates, installs, maintains, and repairs boilers, tanks, vats, pressure vessels, and other structures. These structures generate power, provide heat, and function as storage containers for oil, industrial chemicals, or other liquids. Boilermakers primarily use welding and cutting equipment, but can utilize any number of tools to fuse, separate, and shape metal plates, sections, and components. Presently, the term “Boilermaker” is also applied to any member of The International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, and is used to broadly describe anyone who contributes to the building, repair, or maintenance of any number of structures, including blast furnaces, bridges, rocket boosters, elevators, dams, and locomotives.
Why Is This An Important Role?
Boilermakers build and install liquid pressure systems that are essential in modern society. These systems can be large-scale installations, such as coal-fired boilers and power plants that provide us with the energy that powers our homes and businesses, or smaller systems, such as boilers in homes, schools, and hospitals. Many of these systems operate at extremely high pressures, and take on enormous amounts of liquid, chemicals, and gas. As such, stress fractures, leaks, rust, and corrosion are all possibilities, and boilermakers are called upon to ensure that these systems are correctly installed and properly maintained.
What Career Opportunities Are Available to Boilermakers?
Many boilermakers assemble, install, and repair boilers. However, the term ‘Boilermaker’ is also a bit of a misnomer because modern-day boilermakers also work on a wide range of large vessels, and all of their tubes, fittings, valves, controls, and auxiliary mechanisms. Boilermakers can specialize on rigging, fitting, welding, assembling, installing, or testing different types of boilers, vats, tanks, vessels and tubing in industries as diverse as Oil and Gas, Energy, Waste Management, Recycling, Pulp and Paper, Aerospace, Brewing and Distilling, Shipbuilding, Mining, Construction, and Railcar Manufacturing..
How Do I Get Started?
Most boilermakers learn their trade through a 4- or 5-year apprenticeship. The Boilermakers National Apprenticeship Program and The International Brotherhood of Boilermakers are two major entities that sponsor and support boilermakers through apprenticeship programs and employment assistance. Other national and local institutions, as well as many employers, also provide apprenticeship opportunities.
Those who complete a training program at a technical college or other post-secondary educational institution are more likely to be accepted into an apprenticeship program. Many colleges and training organizations offer programs tailored for boilermakers and other similar trades. These programs will accelerate your acquisition of new skills and experience as an apprentice. See the Education section below for additional information about apprenticeships, boilermaker curricula, and taking the next step.
A boilermaker is responsible for a wide variety of tasks related to the fabrication, installation, testing, and maintenance of boilers, tanks, vats, and pressure vessels in buildings, factories, and ships. While specific roles and tasks may vary, a Boilermaker’s responsibilities can be generally summarized in three basic categories: job preparation, execution, and maintenance.
Job Preparation: Before beginning work on a project, boilermakers analyze drawings, blueprints, and other specifications that indicate how the job must be completed. They may also need to be familiar with the lay out, assembly, and tear down of scaffolding, cranes, or other support structures. Job preparation may also involve cutting, bending, or assembling vessels and components for size and fit. Determining the orientation, dimension, and relationships of parts and components will require a boilermaker to understand and utilize geometry and math.
Execution: Boilermakers use welding equipment, hand tools, and power tools for cutting, dismantling, straightening, or reshaping components on boilers, tanks, vats, or other piping systems. They also install auxiliary mechanisms, such as tubes, fittings, valves, and controls to new or previously existing assemblies. Particularly large components, such as large structural frames or plate sections, sometimes require special transportation. This calls for basic rigging knowledge, and constant communication with crane or hoist operators.
Maintenance: Boilermakers routinely inspect and maintain boilers, vats, and other systems, testing them for strength, corrosion, leaks, or other issues. This involves inspecting and testing fittings, feed pumps, safety and check valves, boiler controls, and pressure gauges. Boilermakers carry out necessary repairs and use wire brushes, scrapers, and industrial solvents to clean and maintain these systems.
The duties of a Boilermaker may also include:
- Verifying safety requirement compliance
- Maintaining records and logs of materials used and work performed
- Conducting inspections and preparing reports
- Highly motivated and self-directed
- Flexible and able to work in a team environment
- Logical and critical thinker
- Mechanical aptitude
- Manual dexterity
- Ability to work in harsh weather (heat, cold, snow, rain, etc.)
- Good hand-to-eye coordination and physical strength
- Strong analytical thinking and problem solving skills
IMPORTANT KNOWLEDGE & SKILLS
- Knowledge of standard welding safety procedures and protocol
- Ability to use basic welding equipment and engage in welding and cutting processes
- Ability to use basic cutting and shaping hand or power tools
- Ability to read blueprints, analyze design plans, and understand building codes
- Ability to perform basic rigging
A career as a Boilermaker usually starts with an apprenticeship. The educational requirements to begin an apprenticeship will vary depending on the employer or institution administering the program. However, a high school diploma or GED is usually the minimum. Attaining a certificate or degree from a training institution or college accelerates the acquisition of the required skills and increases the chances of being considered for an apprenticeship. Some colleges and employers offer instruction specific to boilermaking and related disciplines. These programs often allow participants to earn credits that can be applied toward an Associate of Applied Science or an Associate of Science degree.
Some of the topics covered in these programs include:
- Welding Technology
- Welding Safety
- Blueprint reading, projection drawing, and drafting
- SMAW, GTAW, and Oxyfuel welding and cutting
TRAINING & DEVELOPMENT
Prospective Boilermakers can follow several avenues to further develop their skills. However, an apprenticeship is the most common way for Boilermakers to obtain the required experience and find employment in the field. An apprenticeship typically lasts four years, and includes anywhere from 6000 to over 8000 hours of on-the-job training, in addition to supplemental classroom instruction. Apprentices learn from experienced boilermakers while building, installing, and repairing boilers, piping systems, and related products. The completion of an apprenticeship earns a Boilermaker the title of Journeyman, which can open up career opportunities not previously available as an apprentice.
Many states require persons working with boilers, pressure vessels, or regulated piping systems to be licensed. The licensing structure varies from state to state and different licensing categories may exist, depending on the specialty or expertise of the Boilermaker, e.g. apprentice, installer, service mechanic, steamfitter, welder, etc. An examination is also sometimes required, so be sure to check your state’s guidelines carefully.
Continuing education and training is important in any industry, and this is especially true for technical fields such as boilermaking. Techniques and technologies are constantly evolving, and codes are always subject to changes and revisions. Consequently, many employers offer in-house training on techniques, safety, and code-specific compliance. National organizations also offer training. For example, The Occupational Safety & Health Administration offers a wide selection of pressure vessel safety training courses. These include topics such as working in confined spaces and at great heights. Additionally, the National Center for Construction Education and Research offers a range of training courses and certifications for boilermakers, crane operators, riggers and signal persons.
Boilermakers regularly work to the ASME B31 set of standards for pressure piping. The ASME B31 series of standards for pressure piping covers several piping processes, including fuel gas piping, process piping, pipeline transportation, and refrigeration piping. ASME offers training and certification to these codes. Boilermakers interested in furthering their career by becoming an AWS Certified Welding Inspector, can test to the ASME B31.1 & B31.3.
- American Society of Mechanical Engineers
- ASME B31.1 – Power Piping
- ASME B31.3 – Process Piping Design
- ASME Technical Divisions & Subdivisions
- Boilermaker – Basic Information
- Boilermakers National Apprenticeship Program
- Bureau of Labor Statistics – Boilermakers
- Bureau of Labor Statistics - Occupational Employment and Wages
- Bureau of Labor Statistics – Related Careers - Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters
- Job Duties and Requirements for Becoming a Boilermaker
- MOST Programs
- National Center for Construction Education and Research - Certifications
- The International Brotherhood of Boilermakers – What is a Boilermaker?
- United States Department of Labor - OSHA