What is a Pipelayer?

Also known as: Journeyman Pipelayer, Apprentice Pipelayer, Pipe Layer.

Pipelayers have played a large role in creating the infrastructure of modern civilization. Modern plumbing and much of the world's energy all depend on pipes that these workers have laid.

Pipelayers are often confused with pipefitters, and while they are in the same class of work, they are not technically the same job. Pipelayers are the tradesmen who perform the initial groundwork for construction by laying down pipes that provide sewage disposal, drainage or water. Apart from construction, some of the other industries in which a pipelayer may work include natural gas distribution, where pipelines are used to carry the gas to be used as fuel, and the building of utility systems.

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What does a Pipelayer do?

One aspect of the pipelayer's job involves cutting lengths of pipe to form sewer systems, or the infrastructure for carrying natural gas or water. The pipe has to be cut very precisely to conform to specifications and aligned perfectly before being connected by welding, or with the use of cement or glue. They may also be responsible for digging trenches for the pipes they install. The trenches must also be dug to requirements that are often very specific and thus require skill and knowledge to excavate.

Pipelayers must use multiple skills in their work, from heavy equipment operation in some cases, to blueprint reading. For example, pipelaying will often involve a lot of welding as it is one of the main ways of connecting pipes; many pipelayers are also skilled welders. It should be pointed out that the welding methods used in connecting pipelines are different from other types of welding. Pipelayers may be required to weld manually, or to use automatic welding equipment, depending on the job.

The work of pipelaying may include any of the following skills:

  • Welding with both manual and automatic welding equipment
  • Training less-experienced pipelayers in essentials of the trade
  • Operating heavy equipment such as backhoes and front end loaders
  • Digging trenches by hand
  • Using lasers and grade rods
  • The ability to read blueprints

The goal of the pipelayer is to make sure that the pipes are laid correctly and welded properly the first time so that they will be reliable and not need repair for a long time. In the event that pipes need to be repaired, this may also be a part of a pipelayer's job description. They may be required to inspect and perform maintenance on already-installed pipelines and also to tap existing pipelines to connect devices or new, secondary pipelines.

How to become a Pipelayer

While many pipelayers pursue their training on the job with only a secondary school education, there are also vocational and technical schools that can provide a basic education and certification in pipelaying. More and more employers are looking for candidates with some form of training.

Like others in the various construction trades, a pipelayer will have to spend several years working as an apprentice under a more experienced journeyman pipelayer before being able to work on their own or train apprentice pipelayers.

Pipelayers must be in good physical condition. Pipelaying often requires the lifting of heavy materials and tools as well as long hours of work. In addition to the physical requirements of the job, the ability to work under pressure is also important. Work must often be completed quickly and accurately, as owners and contractors have deadlines to meet.

This job requires teamwork, as well as the ability to communicate effectively. Pipelayers will need to communicate with the operators of equipment as they guide pipeline segments into place, and during the crucial process of connecting a segment to the rest of the pipeline.

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