Welding on towers and monopoles

Discussion in 'Tower, Rooftop and Antenna Installation' started by Chas Wagner, Jan 9, 2008.

  1. Chas  Wagner

    Chas Wagner Industry Observer

    I hope I can offer some comfort and insight. I wish I could do so in just a few words but this really is a complex problem that requires a serious commitment from all that are involved. So please, stay with me.

    I agree that many of the modifications we see are in need of critical review. We've seen a trend come into the industry that went mostly unchecked for too long. How many contractors do you know who own an A.W.S.- D1.1 code book? If they don't and are performing work that is expected to be in compliance with it they most likely are not and you'll get a lot of what you've mentioned.

    How did we end up here?

    Very few Municipalities or Building Departments require a "Certified" welding inspection. The welding inspection has mostly consisted of a P.M. or C.M looking at newly installed welded plates and confirming that they are on the tower and no more. Add to this that very few people really know what proper welding should look like. These facts unfortunately allow unskilled workers to perform the job.
    So, the owners have been working on a what's required basis with many of them unaware of what's being done to the sites or more appropriately how it is being done.

    What should be done?

    There are, however, large movements by the major tower owners to correct this and it will take some time to come full circle.
    "Methods of Procedure" and "Modifications Operating Procedures" are being written and rolled out mostly to employees and contractors who do not know how to follow them.

    Again, it will take time to get everyone educated. There are also new requirements for the GC to have the work inspected by a CWI and this is bringing the much needed change. The CWI inspection can remove these quality issues entirely if he/she is involved and utilized properly by both the A&E and the tower owners. The down side to this is that many good tower GC's will be excluded for reasons of non compliance.

    While this action is needed, new groups will need to be added and the educating period extended for each one added.

    The long and short of it - the changes are coming, and current projects are getting a quality boost. The older mod sites will start the costly rehab trend and you'll see people paying attention then!

    Chas Wagner
    American Welding Society
    Certified Welding Inspector
  2. Patrick  Barr

    Patrick Barr Friend of the Community

    I certainly agree with you, Chas. Finding a certified welder, with climbing and rigging skills, as well as wireless knowledge, is difficult and many General Contractors try to perform a lot of these tasks in house. The extra complications with the introduction of galvanized products, and the need to properly remove this coating to the original base material challenges even certified welders.
  3. Tim Kearns

    Tim Kearns Guest

    I have had inspectors fail me for undercut in about a 1" section of weld on a port hole install. I am all for full out inspections, I have had several good friends hurt by shoddy fabrication, and sub standard welding jobs.

    Perhaps it's time we focus more on a governing body that can supply inspectors, trainers, and law makers who possess the necessary experience and skills required to bring about the changes this industry needs.
  4. pat barr

    pat barr Friend of the Community

    In my opinion it is the tower owners that should be monitoring this. It is their structure, and in most cases they have a good design, and then the lowest bidder gets the work and if this lowest bidder is allowed to perform this service and not meet the minimum requirements of the design then they will prosper and continue resulting in questionable structures. If the tower owners required third party inspections by a certified AWS weld inspector or had an in house quality control team this would eliminate the corner cutting.
  5. Dave Swainger

    Dave Swainger Industry Observer

    Some of the towers I've seen that have had reinforcement welds on them look like they were done by a first month technical school student. They're terrible. Don't the owners inspect the towers or don't they want to climb? Of don't they care just as long as they get that new carrier on board?
  6. From my perspective it appears that there is some change for the better regarding tower owners stepping up and requiring AWS D1.1 to be adhered to and inspected (pre, during and post welding) by AWS CWIs. At least with the GC I just hired on with. One of my primary goals (since I will be the only guy in the company with any knowledge of code-quality structural welding) is to ensure that all the aspects of D1.1 are met during these mods. Although a "rookie" to the tower business, after reviewing the backlog of mods, it appears to me that owners are not awarding mods to lowest bidder but to the few GCs that can actually meet the welding certification criteria.
  7. KLB Welding

    KLB Welding Industry Observer

    The GC's need to have a knowledgeable person in place to interpret the code. I have found thru the years running my own business that 95% of the people I deal with call and ask, "are you certified" like it is an all encompassing card that qualifies you to weld everything from broken lawn furniture to inconel pipe in a nuclear facility.

    Doing simple mod's on a tower such as adding structure to a leg with a simple fillet weld is different than cutting a port hole in a monopole and having to do an open root weld with a low hydrogen rod. Your basic prequalified procedures in 3G and 4G will cover your fillets on your leg beef ups but will not cover the open root weld on the monopole. I can call any welding outfit and ask, "are you certified" and he will most likely say yes. Asking what they are qualified to do is what is relevant.

    On my adventures in tower land I have found old 6010 rods on the tower, seen welds that would make me puke. A first year tech student? More like a 13 year old armed with a dirt dobber on a skewer. I've seen better looking piles of bird poop. Joint design by the engineers open root versus plates with a backing or fillet welds are two different creatures. Change the parameters from something other than what is prequalified by your procedures and you are no longer "certified".

    Although, like everything else I have done over the years the GC's are uneducated in this field, want me to come out and blast in some metal because they asked if I am "certified". I like to ask back, certified to what? Tell me what code and I can tell you yes or no. Then tell me what type of joint, opening, material grade, thickness and I can tell you yes or no. Because I am certified to weld carbon steel I am not certified to weld stainless steels. Because I am certified to weld to API1104 downhill does not mean I am certified to weld uphill.

    The GC's need to either have a competent person employed who knows the code or hire a welding outfit that is knowledgeable in the code and can look at a set of prints and say, we're not qualified to weld this joint design but give me a few days and we can get what we need, of course this cost will be passed on to the GC. There is a ton of money involved in being a "certified" welder but there are plenty of hacks out there employed and contracted that will say, "yes, I'm certified" and do your project for you.
  8. meisner22

    meisner22 Friend of the Community

    Excellent points. Ideally a tower owner such as ATC or Crown should check the contractors out more thoroughly such as asking the contractor to provide the number of projects they've welded in the past year as well as customer references. Tower owners are competitive but they talk to each other because their main concern is making sure that a jackleg isn't ruining their structure.

    They may do this in their pre qualification scrub but then again they might not know the expertise of the person recently hired or if they're a pickup welder because the contractor was busy.

    From what I understand Crown is probably the toughest on their welding requirements and third party inspections.
  9. KLB Welding

    KLB Welding Industry Observer

    I looked into doing work for Crown about 6 months ago, they have an extensive pile of paperwork! With the type of work being done and namely what it is being done on the tower, all of them should be inspected. Towers around homes, businesses, schools and all manner of things and I'd want to know that the guy out there welding it was top notch and the paperwork/testing was in order as well as their experience on galvanized. Not some hack out there welding over the galvanized because he says, "it'll be alright".
  10. Tired Tech

    Tired Tech Friend of the Community

    In the early 1970's, some of my friends went north to Alaska to work on the pipeline.
    The average salary was starting out around $25.00 an hour, some welders were making almost $50.00 an hour. This was good money!

    The guys working at Armco near Ambridge PA that made the pipe were making on average about $25.00 an hour - Union Contract, were working 24/7 - along with the other manufacturer that made the materials that went inside of the pipe, the mounts, the monitoring equipment etc..

    This resulted in a shortage of gas patch workers.
    In Pennsylvania drillers were brought from New York to drill local shallow gas wells - 3600' on average.. The prevailing rate was $18 for floor hands and $24.00 an hour for drillers. GASOLINE WAS $.39 cents a gallon in 1973 before all this energy crap took effect. After the oil embargo - which made the oil companies rich, the price was raised to $.69 cents a gallon and magically there was more oil on the American market then what we could ever use.

    It was all a ploy to make rich people richer.
    There was never a shortage of oil, just a reluctance to sell it at a couple of dollars a barrel.

    When I started working in the gas patch - 18 years later, using the same equipment, doing the same job, my rate of pay was only $8.50 an hour.
    The reason was pure and simple - greed!
    It wasn't that the natural gas our wells produced was worth less money, it was that our company that bid the job to drill the well was the lowest bidder - hence were the ones that got the contract to drill the wells.

    With gasoline near $2.00 a gallon at the time, I wasn't making 1/6th what the drillers were making 10 years before.

    Being a welder in a steel mill - with very little risk involved, a person can still make $30.00 an hour today.
    Working in a nuclear power plant as a pipe fitter for the Boilermakers union, the prevailing rate is near $60.00 an hour - depending upon the level of competence.

    These same people can get $40 - $60.00 an hour working field service using their own tools, truck and equipment, and that is just being on call, or sitting on site, living in a camp shack and only working maybe 2 hours a day and being paid for 24!

    There is no enticement for any trade school tech with a two year degree in welding to want to work as a tower tech.
    School enrollment is at a all time low, with most kids wanting to go to college - but that bubble has burst also.

    The Marcellus Gas drillers are paying $18.00 an hour for WORMS, $22.00 an hour for floor hands and $28.00 an hour for drillers.. Some tool pushers are averaging 80 hours a week and only making $125,000.00 a year.. Almost as much as what a floor hand is making working two weeks on and one week off.

    If you want to attract welders to the cell tower industry it only makes sense that you would need to pay them an attractive wage - more then what they can make standing on the ground and a benefits package that would entice them to stay!

    Its sad that the turfing crews that builds the towers aren't making any real money and that the people in the home office - what we call OverHead - is raping the budget = taking a majority of the profit while the man that has to climb the tower doesn't make enough money to keep his family in a lifestyle for which they had become accustomed to.

    In all honesty, the lifespan of an average tower worker is only about 10 to 15 years. By 15 years the man will either be worn out from all the climbing, will be too hurt or injured or killed, or was given a ground crew job by the company for all his / her hard years of service.

    Cellular is a relatively new industry.
    The first cell phones only being deployed 30 some years ago, and most mobile phones being just a little over 20 years old in my area.
    The cities were the first to get a tower followed by the build out into the country.

    Unfortunately the lessons learned by these people in the past has not been translated to the people working in the cell tower industry today.

    If you want good people, and you want safe people and you want quality work, you have to be willing to pay a quality wage with an attractive benefits package - including health care for their entire family - free, and some sort of retirement package with benefits..

    Unfortunately the cell tower industry is driven by profits only and the bottom line which is to cater to the customer and offer the cheapest rates possible so you can entice as many new customers as possible at the expense at the people that are building your system.

    Why is someone at the corporate level worth millions of dollars a year in salary while the man that puts his life on the line every day is making peanuts?
    This makes no sense to me what so ever!
  11. KLB Welding

    KLB Welding Industry Observer

    Excellent points Tired Tech! I agree with you 100%. Guy I worked with started at $11.00 an hour, was gone from home for almost two months, off for 7 days then gone again. Risking life and limb in snow, sleet, rain, lightning, ice covered towers, sub zero temperatures, wind chills that would freeze flesh in a matter of minutes. There is a manufacturing plant near me starting people on 3rd shift for $11.25 an hour. Who wants to freeze, fall, get struck by lightning and live away from home 10 months out of the year and make what they could make just down the street? It's like the welding profession as you most likely know. I've seen plenty of adds wanting the ultimate welder, Tig, Mig, stick, aluminum, stainless experience, read prints and start you out at $11/hour in the shop.

    I'm with you, if you want to keep good people you need to come off the money.
  12. Tired Tech

    Tired Tech Friend of the Community

    A sub standard job, affords you the luxury of being able to sleep in your own bed at night.

    Most big machine shops already have enough people for the first two shifts - hence you have to pay your dues, 10 or more years working night shift before you manage to get on first or second shift job.

    But if attended a trade school on your own dollar, $$11.00 an hour is unacceptable for someone that spent $30,000.00 to get an education and walks in the door with their certifications in hand.

    Uncle SAMMY OBAMMIE is going to make minimum wage more then $10.00 an hour, so why go to school and spend all that money just to make an additional $.50 an hour?

    A certified welder has to choose carefully which job to take and which skills to learn along the way.. A good shop with some type of Journeyman / Apprentice program is nearly impossible to find today - which is what is necessary to make these jobs more viable.

    If you read the story I wrote previously about the Oil Embargo of '73, the same thing has to happen in the tower industry in order for our techs to be properly compensated.
    Right off the bat - everyone should have a 100% raise followed by another 100% raise in four years just to get everyone at a liveable wage.

    The Cellular Industry needs to get off it's lazy corporate azz and take a cut in pay for themselves and properly pay the people that makes it possible for them to sell cell phones and data plans.. This might sound a lot like Communism to some, but it isn't fair for people sitting in an office making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, and corporate executives making millions of dollars a year, and yet the tower crews living on near minimum wage and little benefits other then workmans compensation.

    Microeconomics teaches us that if the salary of one group of people goes up, the other groups in the industry would have to follow / else loose vital people to attrition.

    The worst speech I ever heard was a corporate manager at a Christmas party that told us that they could not afford to give us a raise this year because they were not making money. Anyone that understands Microeconomics understands that they hire people until they can no longer show a profit - since all corporations in industry operates at the break even point in the short run and either breaks even, shows a profit or goes out of business in the long run. In the short run, a business cannot go out of business because it has contracts to fulfill, bills to pay, rents and insurances, and overhead.

    The company can close - but it can't go out of business in the short run - because it has infrastructure that has to be sold or auctioned off and there is always the prospect that tomorrow might be a better day - some big contract might come in that makes the company millions of dollars.

    If the company does not want to operate at the break even point, it needs to bid the jobs a little more progressively towards making more money and working less hours and giving raises and bonuses to all of its workers on an annual basis.

    This time and materials crap and just breaking even has to stop!
  13. robert carl crawford jr

    robert carl crawford jr Friend of the Community

  14. robert carl crawford jr

    robert carl crawford jr Friend of the Community

  15. robert carl crawford jr

    robert carl crawford jr Friend of the Community

    I am new to the tower industry. I recently finished a job and was just informed that all 24 welds I made were failed,no reason for failure was given. This came as a big letdown to me [completed 1600hr course at trade school and one semester short of a AAS in welding technologies]especially knowing that these welds{fillet} are welds that a welder is not given when hiring on to work a shutdown{usually 3g & 4g}. I am curious about something: the welds called for in the blueprints stated 3/16 fillet welds 3 inches long both arrow and other side. It also stated all welds to be made with 70xx series electrode. Well...these fillets I was required to make had between 1/8-3/16 gaps in effect making them open root. Would using a 60xx series electrode to fill this gap be allowable. I was nervous of using 1/8 7018 because footnotes said existing metal was extremely thin.these welds were on stiffeners bolted to the legs. how would I get ALL of the old weld metal out because welds were made next to flanges being that it was not allowed to be flame-cut and bottom inch was hell to get out Do you run stringers? I ran a vertical up with a weave and the welds looked good to me{my teachers used micrometers and gauges,explaining that if we could pass one of their tests we could pass any field test, my advisor being a CWI so I am VERY familiar with a good weld:the better part of 16 weeks and much frustration before I passed my first 1g weld}. Also prints did not call for welds on top and bottom of stiffener. I am not an idiot but I have only 13 days experience as a tower hand and any help would be tremendously appreciated. I take great pride in my work and do not want any welds I make to fail and cause injury or death,and I want to become the best tower welder/hand out there.Thank you in advance for advise

Share This Page