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Boiler Maker Career and Job Information

Boiler Maker Career and Job Highlights

Though few new jobs will be created in coming years, there will still be many good opportunities for those entering the field. An apprenticeship is the fastest and most effective way to become a boiler maker.

Boiler Maker Career Overview

The typical workday of a boiler maker mechanic consists of constructing and maintaining large containers for liquids or gases. Their work is varied and may involve building, repairing, or installing. They work on different types of containers. They may work on boilers, which create steam to supply power to turbines in electrical plants or provide central heating for residences; or they might work on vessels used in processing or storage of chemicals, alcohol products, and many other substances.

These containers are manufactured one piece at a time. Each section is crafted by melting iron or steel into the shape needed. Much of this work that used to be done manually is now being automated to ensure quality control. The individual pieces are then soldered together. This process is being automated as well as many manufacturers use orbital welding machines. Most boilers are too large to be transported from a factory and so the assembling phase takes place at the site.

The procedure for assembling boilers is as follows: Blueprints, followed scrupulously using rulers, tape measures, transits, and squares, help them pinpoint points of reference on the foundation of the boiler. They then life the pieces and frame using a crane and fit them together with levels, wedges, plumb bobs, and turnbuckles. Any imperfections are filed out or smoothed over with hammers or torches. Next hoses, gauges, stacks, valves, and other paraphernalia are fitted on. Finally, heat insulators like refractory brick are installed. The finished boiler is thoroughly tested for any flaws. Though most boilers are assembled on-site, manufacturers often do a test assembly in a fabrication shop to make sure that everything is in order.

Boilers are expected to function over a long period of time. Many boilers last up to thirty-five or forty years, and so they need a lot of maintenance to make sure they last that long. Mechanics are often called in to perform routine maintenance, like replacing burners and hoses, and to make inspections of the various components or oversee cleanings. When they find faulty parts or the boiler breaks down, they install new parts or repair the old using power tools, hand tools, equipment for soldering, torches, or other metalworking tools. They may also disassemble boilers that leak, reinforce weak places, replace entire sections, and tighten seams.

This work is often hazardous, as it might take place inside the vat or boiler where it is stuffy and confined, or at places with high elevations like on a ladder at the top of the vat. In addition, many of the tools boiler manufacturers use are very hazardous, like power tools, acetylene torches, and grinders. As a result, manufactures have to take lots of safety precautions like protective glasses and clothing, harnesses, hardhats, or breathing apparatuses. Boiler manufacturers often have to work long hours, as equipment can only be shut down for maintenance for a certain amount of time, or to meet construction schedules.

Career Training and Job Qualifications

The most important element in becoming a boiler maker is on-the-job experience. This can be gained through either formal schooling at a technical school combined with training provided by an employer, or through a formal apprenticeship. Apprenticeships generally involve four years of training, 114 hours each in year of courses such us assembly preparation, methods of assembly, welding, and reading blueprints. These classes also provide continuing education for boiler makers to learn about new technology. Hopeful apprentices can learn about available positions from their local union, which announces them to training programs.

There is little room for advancement in boiler making, though some become supervisors. Those positions will generally go to individuals who have completed apprenticeships because they will have better training.

Job and Employment Opportunities

Forecasts predict few to no new jobs being created for boilermakers; however, there will be many openings. Most of those will a result of retirements and career changes. The physical demands of boilermaking lead to many early retirements. In fact, there may even be high demand for boilermakers in spite of the lack of growth because there is little competition.
The lack of growth is a result of many factors. An increasing number of boiler or vat owners would rather retrofit or repair their vessels than replace them. Also, more people are using small boilers which don’t need to be assembled on-site. Furthermore, much of the work of boilermakers is being automated. Demand might be increased, however, by new federal legislation like the Clean Air Act which require the work of boilermakers to make everything more environmentally-friendly.

The work of boilermakers is also sensitive to economic conditions. Recessions may cause less manufacturing work, though maintenance work must continue.

Historical Earnings Information

Boiler manufacturers are usually paid by the hour. The range of income for boilermakers in 2002 was about $12/h to $29/h. The majority of manufacturers made between $16/h and $25, with a median of $20/hour.

The majority, about 65%, of boiler manufacturers are members of a labor union. The largest union is the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers. Other major unions are the International Association of Machinists, the United Steelworkers of America, and the United Automobile Workers.