Welding on a pipeline
Critical pipeline welding projects demand highly skilled operators capable of sticking to strict quality and timeline standards. Failing to be a consistent performer can be detrimental, especially in a next-man-up environment.
Hear from three pipeline welders about the issues they face on the right-of-way and what helps them be more productive. Klay Chesham, owner of Chesham Welding in Australia; Tyler Sasse, a 798 pipeliner and owner of Western Welding Academy in Gillette, Wyoming; and Jake Schofield, owner of Schofield Welding in Shelley, Idaho, discuss how they tackle challenges and optimize field welding performance.
What does a typical day look like for you as a pipeliner?
Tyler: I get to the yard and pick up my helper about 6:30 a.m., drink some coffee and attend the safety meeting at 7 a.m. After the safety meeting, the welder foreman tells us where we are going for the day and what we are welding. We load our ice chests with fresh ice, grab any welding rod, grinding wheels or consumables we used from the day before, and hit the right-of-way.
Jake: My day starts at about 5 a.m., usually six days a week. We have a safety meeting at 7 a.m. and then from there we all disperse. They'll string pipe the day before and then one of us will bead and hot pass it, and the other one will fill and cap it. Usually in the morning we’re told “Hey, we need to get this many joints done today.” You're required to do a lot in a day.
Tyler: The pipeline is a lean, mean operation and there's not a lot of fat, so there's no messing around. I normally work as a bullpen welder, moving around the job as needed — making tie-in welds, repairing welds, welding in the fab yard or helping out the firing line. I normally work 10–12 hours a day.
Klay: I do a lot of street work around Sydney, New Castle and Canberra, the east coast of Australia. We'll do anywhere from a 2-inch gas line to a 22-inch primary pipe. It’s either natural gas or water — a lot of big diameter water pipes. On a typical day I get to work for a 6:30 a.m. pre-start meeting, so you go over what's to be done for the day and if there were any issues safety-wise or production-wise the day before. I work on a day rate based on a 10-hour day.
What are your biggest challenges or needs?
Jake: Reliable equipment is the most important. Always having welders that start and perform and you don’t have to mess with them all the time. If that thing does not start, I'm in trouble. Arc characteristics and weld consistency are important when it comes to putting in a bead or a hot pass. If it'll just stay the same all day, it's way less of a headache.
Tyler: It is critically important that my machine fires up every single day and is consistent and welds good. If it’s inconsistent and all over the place, or if I’m always guessing about where to set it before I strike the arc, that’s a problem. There's so much riding on the line for us. In an average year, you'll put about 1,000 hours on your machine, so it’s super important that there are no hiccups. Hiccups cost money.
Jake: Everybody's looking for a better puddle. Everybody's looking for something that is going to speed up what they’ve got going to be able to move faster.
Klay: Reliability is number one. You show up as a contractor, you supply everything, and if your machine goes down when there's a tie-in, that's pretty embarrassing and detrimental to the job.
How important are productivity expectations? What things slow you down and keep you from welding?
Jake: On a pipeline job, we’re usually told in the morning "We need to get this many joints done." You're required to do a lot in a day. When I’m working in facilities, the productivity is measured in inches. We're usually required to get about 200 inches a day. It depends on the job and the deadline. If you're really getting crunched on time and guys aren't making their inches, they'll just get rid of you. If the deadline is more lenient, you’ll get a couple of warnings.
Tyler: There’s a constant comparison between the repair rate and how many weld joints were laid that day. People are keenly aware of what we're getting done or what we're not getting done. You’ve got to be able to keep up, and you’ve got to throw clean welds. Welders take a lot of pride in their work. A pipeline is built with many repetitive movements. The productivity depends on your ability to get in the groove with the other welders and stay there. It’s always better to have a machine that helps you stay just a hair ahead of the other guys instead of a machine that holds you back and has you struggling to keep up.
Klay: Productivity is paramount because a lot of my pipelines are branches or bypasses or house connections, so they have to be hot tapped by a drilling team. If we miss that date, to get the drilling team back is another couple of months, so it's very important to make dates that are set out.
Jake: Probably the biggest thing that's going to slow me down is machines not functioning correctly. If I've got to walk back and forth to the machine and change things, that's not going to fly.
Explain what adjustments you make as you’re progressing through the stages of a weld joint.
Jake: I want a bead that’s crisp but soft at the same time, that just butters on the inside. I don't want it to undercut the inside. If it undercuts anywhere, X-ray is going to see it. After the bead is my hot pass, and I want the hot pass to be really aggressive and pushing the whole time so it eats all the trash out of that weld. It takes care of all the slag and whatever else. After that you have your filler passes, and I want it to stack and put as much metal in it as I can, but at the same time still have enough push on that hot pass and cleaning the whole time. On the cap, I want the puddle to freeze where I put it because if it doesn't, it starts to concave. I tell the helper as I’m doing the bead if things need to be adjusted and he’s going to control the heat for me.
Klay: For a 6- to 10-inch pipe, I can leave it on the same amps for the whole weld. Welding up a big spherical T, the root uses a 7016 low hydrogen rod specifically developed for open-root welds. You have to be on the remote for that, because it makes it a lot easier to go up and down. I put it all the way full dig for 7010, 6010, and I find I like a bit more aggressive puddle for downhill. It lets me manipulate my arc length. Your arc length has more influence on the puddle the higher your dig setting is. People might drop the dig down a little bit for fill passes, but I like it all the way up.
Tyler: Generally, we use a 6010 rod for the root pass, and for the hot pass it’s 7010 and 8010. When you start that root pass you start at the top. You need a little bit less heat at the top, generally, so you have your helper turn you up or turn you down as you’re putting in the root pass. Once you get the root done, the hot pass, the fill and the cap are pretty consistent, in that we're going to need more heat on the top and the bottom and less for the sides, and so it's really important that you have someone to make those adjustments. That’s the beauty of a wireless remote. I like a little more dig when I'm putting my root pass in than in my fill and cap.