Pipefitter Job Description
Pipefitters are tradespeople responsible for the construction, maintenance, fabrication, and installation of mechanical piping systems. They focus on commercial and industrial piping systems which include HVAC systems in commercial spaces, as well as the piping systems in power plants, laboratories, and factories. Pipefitters work in any industry that relies on the transfer of liquids or gases. The work environment is fast-paced and requires the ability to focus, as some work environments involve exposure to dangerous chemicals. A slip in focus could mean a serious injury. This position requires a certain level of manual dexterity and physical mobility. Pipefitters typically work during regular business hours, but some are on-call and may work evening and overnight shifts.
Pipefitters are usually hired as apprentices, performing pipefitter duties under the guidance of a journeyman pipefitter. Both apprentice and journeymen pipefitters answer to the project foreman. Union pipefitters answer to the shop steward of the project. According to the National Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters is set to rise 16 percent through 2026.
Pipefitter Duties and Responsibilities
Fabricating, installing, and maintaining piping systems, pipefitters have many responsibilities. In performing this important work, they perform a variety of core tasks, such as the following:
Fabricate Piping System Components Based on Blueprints
Pipefitters use CAD and CAM software, as well as computer-controlled machinery, to fabricate the components of piping systems using various types of metal.
Inspect the Quality of Piping System Components
Before installing a piping system or components crafted for a repair, pipefitters examine the quality of all components.
Repair Existing Piping Systems
When a piping system malfunctions, pipefitters diagnose the cause of the problem. They use their knowledge of piping systems and problem-solving ability to find and address issues with a minimal sacrifice of efficiency.
Install New Piping Systems
Sometimes a piping system is beyond repair. Pipefitters disassemble existing piping systems and install new systems.
Perform Regular Maintenance Examinations on Piping Systems
When not working on repairs or installations, pipefitters perform regular maintenance check-ups on existing piping systems. Journeymen pipefitters are responsible for creating standard operating procedures for maintenance check-ups and ensuring they are followed by apprentice pipefitters.
Comply with Industry and Government Safety Standards
Pipefitters work on piping systems carrying dangerous chemicals and gases. They are responsible for internalizing all safety regulations and following them to the letter.
Pipefitters need a working knowledge of computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) software to interpret piping system blueprints and fabricate piping system components as well as of different types of metals and their individual properties. They have to be dexterous with basic hand and power tools, as well as welding tools, to assemble piping systems. Pipefitters need to be experts in the particular types of systems they work with most, for example, those who work in the HVAC industry must be experts in HVAC piping systems. Other qualities that hiring managers like to see when interviewing for pipefitter positions include:
- Interpreting blueprints using CAD and CAM software
- Fabricating piping system components using knowledge of metals and threading and bending machinery
- Analyzing and diagnosing the root cause of malfunctioning piping systems
- Repairing malfunctioning piping systems using hand and welding tools
- Performing regular preventative maintenance check-ups to keep piping systems operating at maximum efficiency
- Using strong focus and a keen attention to detail to maintain safety
Pipefitter Tools of the Trade
- Welding tools – used to attach piping system components together
- Threading and bending tools -used to thread and bend pipes according to the blueprints
- CAD and CAM software -used to create and interpret the blueprints of piping systems
Pipefitter Education and Training
Pipefitters usually only need a high school diploma to find employment, as they learn most of what they need to know through on-the-job-training. Some employers prefer candidates who have a vocational degree in pipefitting. On-the-job-apprenticeships typically last 3 to 5 years. In most states, pipefitters have to be licensed.
According to Payscale, the national median hourly wage for pipefitters is $24.82. Those who are in the top 10 percent make above $37.89, while those in the bottom 10 percent make below $14.83.
United Association – The United Association, the national trade union for pipefitters, steamfitters and plumbers, was founded in 1889, serving its members for more than 125 years. It has an apprenticeship program that is one of the most respected in the industry. It also provides employment opportunities for members.
Mechanical Contractors Association of America – This is another organization for pipefitters that focuses on professional development. It holds both national and regional seminars on a regular basis.
Pipefitter.com – This is the go-to digital resource for pipefitters to order the tools and accessories they need to do their job.
The Pipe Fitter’s and Pipe Welder’s Handbook – This book covers all of the problems pipefitters and pipe welders are most likely to encounter out in the field. It provides detailed instructions and calculations for solving these problems.
The Ultimate Template Layout Pattern Book for Pipefitters and Welders – This book contains more than 10,000 formulas that help the reader create any of the more than 1,600 pipe templates contained within its pages.
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