What Is A Pipeline Welder?
Pipeline Welders, also known as Pipe Welders, join and repair tubular products and metallic pipe components and assemblies as part of the construction of buildings, vessels, structures, and stand-alone pipelines. They use a variety of welding processes and equipment, in a wide range of industrial and commercial environments. Because pipes are routinely set up in fixed positions and situated in ways that make welding difficult, pipeline welders must be well-trained and versatile. As such, they are among the most highly skilled and sought after welders.
Why Is This An Important Role?
In a modern society, essentials such as driving to work, keeping yourself warm in the winter, or cooking your next meal, would simply not be possible without pipelines. In many ways, pipelines are the veins of our infrastructure, distributing the water, oil, and natural gas that is the life force of our society. Pipeline Welders make this possible by using their skills to build, repair, and maintain these integral conduits in an effective, safe, and efficient manner.
What Career Opportunities Are Available to Pipeline Welders?
A considerable portion of pipeline welders work on the oil rigs, pipelines, and refineries that make up the oil and gas industry. However, pipeline welders are also needed in the shipbuilding, automotive, construction, nuclear energy, fabrication, and aerospace industries, as well as the United States Armed Forces. Because pipelines can be found just about everywhere that people work and live (and in plenty of places where they don’t) Pipeline Welders can find opportunities in many different fields and locations, from a city water and sewage facility to a remote arctic crude oil pipeline.
How Do I Get Started?
To be successful in the challenging world of pipeline welding, Pipeline Welders must be proficient at welding with several different processes, positions, and materials. For most, the process begins with training at a technical or welding school that features programs tailored to specifically cover the processes and concepts used for pipe welding. In addition, many employers and local unions sponsor apprenticeship programs (see EDUCATION section below).
Depending on the location and nature of the job, a pipeline welder may initially require a Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) card and/or a Confined Spaces certification. This is because certain jobs may require access to secure facilities that are regulated and secured by the TSA/MTSA, and/or need to be performed in uncomfortable, or potentially dangerous, narrow spaces. Additionally, some states will require you to be a Certified Welder before you can be hired for any welding job, pipeline or otherwise.
It’s important to know that most employers require job candidates to perform a 6G or 6GR weld test to pipe. This relatively challenging test is necessary because pipe welding jobs sometimes require the welder to alternate hands, use mirrors, and weld in dark or cramped spaces in all positions.
Pipeline Welders are responsible for a full range of structural welding processes required for the construction, maintenance, and repair of pipeline systems and assemblies. While projects may vary, pipe welders are generally required to handle the following responsibilities before a project begins, when it’s in progress, and when it’s complete.
Before: A pipeline welder may be required to assist in the preparation of the initial work site, reducing or eliminating obstructions as needed. They must also read and understand project specifications and blueprints, analyze the metallurgical qualities of the metals in use, and select, setup, and calibrate all necessary tools and equipment. This can include welding equipment, hand tools, and power tools used for cutting, dismantling, straightening, or reshaping pipe sections and components. Before the work begins, a pipeline welder may need to physically haul piping sections to their intended location, and may have to cut, bend, or otherwise alter them for size.
During: Depending on the type of project, a pipeline welder will need to dismantle, straighten, reshape, reassemble, and fuse piping sections. They may also need to develop and construct support structures (such as clamps or brackets), templates, and other work-aids to hold, align, and otherwise ensure stability of all components during and after welding.
After: In addition to the fusion of piping components, a pipeline welder may also be responsible for routine maintenance and upkeep. This may include coating pipelines to prevent corrosion, and performing routine inspections for leaks, damage, or other issues.
The duties of a Pipeline Welder may also include:
- Verify welder and welding procedure qualification compliance
- Verify safety requirements compliance
- Maintain records of materials used and work performed
- Conducting inspections and preparing reports
- Detail-oriented and focused
- Highly motivated and self-directed
- Able to adapt to changes quickly and seamlessly
- Able to work independently and as part of a team
- Manual dexterity
- Mechanical aptitude
- Physical fitness, hand-eye coordination, and balance
IMPORTANT KNOWLEDGE & SKILLS
- Knowledge and experience in common pipe welding processes (SMAW, GTAW, FCAW) and positions (1G, 2G, 5G, 6G)
- Ability to set up and utilize pipewelding equipment and tools
- Ability to interpret drawings, blueprints, and detail specifications
- Knowledge of standard welding and cutting symbols
- Knowledge of welder and welding qualification procedures and standards
- Knowledge of welder and welding safety standards
- Knowledge of materials and their weldability characteristics
- Strong analytical thinking and problem solving skills
The educational requirements for a Pipeline Welder will depend on the employer and the nature of the work. Some institutions, like the National Center for Construction Education and Research (http://www.nccer.org/training-and-certifications) offer a range of training courses and certifications for pipefitters and pipe welders. However, in pipewelding more emphasis is placed on experience. Many employers require a High School diploma or GED and previous work experience, sometimes as much as 5 years or more. Others may require that the welder be a Journeyman. In order to obtain this experience, candidates will have to complete an apprenticeship, or similar program, detailed in the Training and Development section.
Due to the wide range of piping systems and assemblies, Pipe Welders will benefit from having an educational or professional background in any of the following: boilermaking, heating and cooling systems, electrical engineering, structural engineering, plumbing, and hydraulic and pneumatic systems.
TRAINING & DEVELOPMENT
Prospective Pipe Welders can follow several avenues to further develop their skills. However, an apprenticeship is the most common way for pipeline welders to obtain the required experience and find employment in the field. An apprenticeship usually lasts between four and five years. This entails working for an employer, usually in a limited capacity, while also having the opportunity to undergo employer-funded training. It is typically a blend of on-the-job training and relevant classroom instruction. In many cases, these employer courses allow participants to earn college credits that can be applied toward an Associate of Applied Science or an Associate of Science degree.
After a formal apprecenticeship is completed, a Pipe Welder will earn the title of Journeyman. This demonstrates a Pipe Welder’s ability to work to a certain standard, and work independently, which apprentices are typically not allowed to do. Journeymen status provides many job opportunities that are not available to apprentices and helpers. Every state has different licensing boards for Journeymen across various disciplines, so be sure to check your state’s guidelines carefully.
A pipeline welder will likely be required to be familiar with the American Petroleum Institute’s Welding of Pipelines and Related Facilities standard (API 1104) or the American Society of Mechanical Engineers’ B31 series of standards for pipe welding, depending on the process or project they are working on.
- American Petroleum Institute – Welding of Pipelines and Related Facilities
- American Society of Mechanical Engineers – Standards of Pressure Piping - American Welding Society Certified Welder Program
- Bureau of Labor Statistics – Pipeline Transportation
- Bureau of Labor Statistics – Pipeline Transportation of Natural Gas
- Department of Homeland Security – TWIC Information
- NCCER Pipeline Certification
- OSHA – American Pipeline Contractors Association -
- Pipeline Information and Safety -
- UA – Union of Plumbers, Fitters, Welders, and Service Techs
- US DOT Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration