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What is a Pipefitter?

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  • Written By: T. L. Childree
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 07 September 2016
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A pipefitter is a worker who is responsible for the installation and maintenance of high pressure mechanical piping systems. These systems are typically used for moving liquids and gases in buildings, marine vessels, aircraft, and industrial process plants. A pipefitter has an understanding of the theory, application, and installation of complex piping systems and is able to read and follow detailed blueprints. Pipefitters are also responsible for the installation and maintenance of automated control devices used in various types of mechanical piping assemblies. A pipefitter is sometimes referred to as a steamfitter to avoid being confused with a plumber.

The high pressures and extreme temperatures used in industrial and commercial piping systems require precision engineering and construction processes. In order to properly construct these highly complex systems, a pipefitter must have a good working knowledge of engineering and mathematics. Pipefitters are also educated in the various types of metal alloys and their applications for different pressures, temperatures, and substances. A pipefitter has usually completed several years of education and training before becoming professionally employed.

Pipefitters are generally used to assemble pipes and pipe fittings by methods such as brazing, welding, soldering, cementing, and threading. In addition to assembling pipes, a pipefitter must also attach them to supports and hangers as well. Pipefitters construct piping systems used for boilers, refrigeration systems, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning, and hydraulics. They also assemble and maintain piping systems utilized in chemical and food processing facilities.

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Those workers pursuing a pipefitting career must be highly skilled in the layout, cutting, threading, and bending of metals such as stainless steel, carbon steel, and various types of alloys used in mechanical piping assemblies. They must also be able to read and understand diagrams, shop drawings and blueprints of large, high pressure, industrial piping systems used in many different applications. These professionals receive extensive training in the use of all types of welding, soldering and cutting tools and techniques prior to employment. Pipefitters are also skilled in installing, troubleshooting, and repairing the gas piping and valves used in medical facilities.

Pulp and paper mills, utility companies, steel mills, and shipbuilding facilities typically employ pipefitters. Some pipefitters are employed by mechanical construction companies that are contracted by various types of industries. Other pipefitters may work for chemical process facilities, oil and gas refineries, and nuclear, coal burning, or hydroelectric power generating plants. Pipefitters are sometimes employed in facilities such as distilleries, breweries, pharmaceutical companies, and healthcare centers.

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