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Drawing a bead on the cost of welding.

Welders with the ability to make quality welds for all types of piping are highly sought for mechanical construction projects nationwide. But great welding skills take time and education to develop, and welders who will make the various types of welds must all be tested and certified for the work they will do-creating additional expense for the end-user. Fortunately, there is an organization called the National Certified Pipe Welding Bureau (NCPWB) that streamlines that process, minimizing costs and maximizing quality for all involved. They've been providing this service to their members for more than 50 years.

The National Certified Pipe Welding Bureau, associated with the Mechanical Contractor's Association of America (MCAA), oversees more than 600 Contractor members in 45 chapters. NCPWB members jointly develop welding procedures as well as lay down quality control procedures which allow contractors to hire welders from a common pool. The bureau can easily link contractors and welders with appropriate credentials to construction projects that have highly specific needs. "The owners save money because our welder pool is highly diversified and our quality assurance umbrella eliminates unnecessary retests," said Daniel R. Bulley, Executive Vice President, Certified Welding Bureau (CWB) of Chicago, a chapter of the NCPWB.

The NCPWB members represent a pool of more than 11,000 union pipe fitter welders across the nation. In recent years the NCPWB has teamed up with the United Association (UA), which runs a similar program. Since both were running programs for union pipe fitter welders, it was only natural for them to get together. To achieve further savings, many tests are given jointly, with both NCPWB contractors and UA quality-assurance people attending. The UA also has an extensive quality-assurance program developed with Hartford Insurance.

The NCPWB and its members jointly develop Welding Procedure Specifications (WPS) that conform to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Boiler and Pressure Vessels Code, as well as to other nationally recognized codes for welding. They provide a means, recognized by the national codes and standards, to make quality welding available at an economical price. Bureau members gain a collective working advantage with the following benefits:

WPSs: The NCPWB has more than 100 WPSs that have been developed and qualified in accordance with ASME code requirements. They include procedures for welding carbon, low-alloy and stainless steels, aluminum alloys, nickel alloys and titanium using all the common are welding processes. These WPSs, which have been reviewed and found acceptable by Hartford Steam Boiler Insurance, may be used on piping by member contractors without additional qualification.

Walter Sperko, P.E., NCPWB Technical Consultant, observed, "These WPSs would cost a contractor in excess of $500,000 to duplicate, and they are available for use without the three-to four-week lead time normally needed if a contractor were to qualify them on his own." The ready availability of these WPSs is a clear and significant benefit to the contractor and the customer.

Qualification of Welders and Welder Interchange: ASME piping codes provide for interchange of welders between NCPWB contractors. To assist in this interchange, the NCPWB has established a national welder database. This database contains the names of more than 11,000 welders and it shows the date, location and processes for which welders are qualified. The savings achieved are significant when a welder can go to work immediately at a new jobsite without time-consuming and costly re-qualification.

UA Welder Certification Program: The NCPWB and the UA have teamed up to make the welder qualification process more cost-effective to the construction user. Welders are tested at the UA's authorized test facilities under the supervision of an NCPWB contractor representative and a UA Authorized Test Representative (ATR). An independent testing laboratory x-rays or mechanically tests each welder's test coupon, and the results determine which welders are qualified. Test records are completed by the contractor and the ATR and made available to contractors through the NCPWB. Once qualified, the welder must weld with each process once every six months to remain qualified. The NCPWB and UA maintain these records. Accurate records of a welder's history must be kept-otherwise, every time a welder moved to a new employer, he or she would need to retest.

"The primary savings are a collection of WPSs 'ready to use' and a pool of welders who have been trained and qualified to Code," said Mr. Sperko. "All that saves the ultimate customer money and gives the UA contractor significant benefits over non-union competition."

What kind of savings can a builder expect, in addition to the savings on procedures? "When you figure $250 per test, plus hall a day's pay for the welder, the cost to qualify a welder is about $500. So for a ten-welder job, a savings of $5,000 is realized right off the bat. When you figure we have 10,000 certified welders in the local, the potential savings to the industry is more than $5,000,000," said Mr. Bulley. "There are many jobs where you might use 100 or more welders, so there is potential to save a great deal of money."

The process of tracking and maintaining the welding labor pool is not an easy one, but NCPWB chapters handle the task efficiently. For more information on the National Certified Pipe Welding Bureau, visit their website at To find out more about the United Association Welder Certification Program, visit

Having a large pool of highly trained and Code-qualified welders to assure quality construction is just one of many promises that MCAA affiliates make regarding their commitment to providing state-of-the-art service. For more information on MCA contractors and their workforce, visit
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Author:McLaughlin, Mark
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 18, 2004
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