What is a Pipe Fitter?
A pipe fitter, also known as a steam fitter, is a tradesman trained in the art of organizing, assembling, creating and maintaining mechanical piping systems that must withstand high pressure. These types of systems are usually industrial and include heating and cooling systems, and involve work with steam, ventilation, hydraulics, chemicals and fuel.
This occupation is often overlooked and sometimes confused with the occupation of a plumber. However, a steam fitter and a plumber differ in the fact that plumbers work with low-pressure piping systems, such as utility systems. Pipe fitters work more in welding, and not very much in the fields of water or water sanitation.
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What does a Pipe Fitter do?
Steam fitters work with metals such as carbon and stainless steel, as well as other alloy metals. These metals are shaped through welding and bending to fit specifications for industrial use. Fitters are involved in the process from planning to installation, and will work with tools such as levels, grinders, dies and welding torches.
A steam fitter will typically create a sketch or a blueprint of a pipe installation, or be called upon to interpret existing blueprints. During this process, the fitter is also responsible for selecting the type and size of the pipe, as well as determining other related materials and equipment that are required for the project. From there, the fitter will manipulate metal to form the pipes to according to the specifications.
Types of manipulation that a fitter will perform on pipes and metal include but are not limited to:
When the pipes are ready, the fitter will transport them on location and install them. The installation is very important and workers must take care to avoid obstructions and also interference with work currently going on in the building. After installation is complete, several tests are performed to check for any leaks, support issues and performance against high-pressure environments. Adjustments are made to ensure the system will run smoothly until the next maintenance, which is usually performed by a steam fitter. They can also be called upon to repair existing systems or replace pipes as needed.
What does it take to be a Pipe Fitter?
Entering this occupation requires a mixture of apprentice and trade school training. Typically, apprenticeship training lasts about 3-5 years, with a 1500-hour minimum of on-the-job training, as well as 8 weeks’ technical training in the classroom. High school students can become apprentices and attend technical school in order to earn credits towards their training. During the apprenticeship, pipe fitters will learn all the necessary skills, such as threading, grinding, welding, soldering, and working with metal in general.
Classes can be taken at most local vocational school or technical school. Other option is to take a diploma program offered by a community college. Following training, prospective fitters will have to pass a certification exam, often delivered by the training program itself. Upon successfully completing the exam, pipe fitters will receive a license and are able to work independently.
Being pipe fitters requires patience and physical strength. Workers are required to lift heavy objects and climb ladders often. Steam fitters should be able to read and interpret blueprints, as well as create their own sketches of pipe fabrication and installation plans. Pipe fitters may also need to work with other workers when it comes to installation of the piping system itself and should be able to take charge in the situation as they hold the most information on the project.
What is the workplace of a Pipe Fitter like?
Many different employers have a need for pipe fitters. Employers include utility companies, gas plants, hospitals, chemical plants, and oil refineries, building companies, heating and air ventilation companies, and construction firms. Work is done both indoors and outdoors, depending on the project itself. Pipe fitters may spend some time at the installation location but will spend far more time manipulating and creating the pipes than at the actual installation location.
There is a risk of injury in this occupation, as fitters work with power tools and heavy equipment frequently. Working conditions may vary, but this occupation involves a lot of standing and sometimes working in tight quarters for long periods of time. There is also occasional exposure to potentially harmful gases. In this situation, workers are asked to wear a respirator or mask. Work hours are often extended beyond typical office hours, calling for as long as a 12-hour workday period. Pipe fitters often receive emergency calls because the systems that they work with are often essential for the building to properly function.
How much does a Pipe Fitter earn?
The average salary for a steam fitter is $46,000, which is around $22 an hour. Salary can also vary based on work location. For instance, a fitter working for a private firm may make a different salary than a fitter working for a larger company. Experienced pipe fitters can advance to positions like foreman, subcontractor, and superintendent for increased pay. In addition, some pipe fitters may additionally want to pursue plumbing or even an engineering position in pipe fitting and plumbing.
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