Boiler Engineer Job Description: Requirements, Duties and Careers
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What Does a Boiler Engineer Do?
Boiler engineers carry out the installation and maintenance of boilers. A boiler engineer may also be referred to as a boiler mechanic or boiler operator.
In a heating system, a boiler is a closed vessel in which a liquid (usually water) is heated to generate thermal energy. Boilers are used in a great variety of locations, including industrial and commercial facilities and public and domestic buildings. They are usually made of steel, iron or copper and can run on a range of fuels. Common types of boiler include gas boilers (methane, butane and LPG), wood-fired boilers, coal-fired boilers and electric boilers. Even the steam generators used in nuclear power plants are essentially a form of boiler.
The heated liquid or gas (in the case of steam generators) passes out of the boiler into a system of pipes and ducts, where it can then be used for a variety of applications, e.g.:
- Hot water production for domestic use (cooking, washing and cleaning)
- Heating, within a central heating, cooling and conditioning system
- Power generation (via turbines driven by high pressure steam)
- Various industrial processes, e.g. in the textiles sector (dyeing and washing) or the paper industry
So what do boiler engineers do, exactly?
Boiler engineers are responsible for the erection/assembly, installation and testing of boilers. In addition to dealing with the actual boiler itself, boiler engineers also carry out work on tubes, ducts and related equipment, such as hydraulic pumps, valves, turbines, fittings, level indicators, water softeners, manometers, thermometers, thermostats. They may also work on other plants and systems, such as heat exchangers and air conditioning systems.
A boiler engineer who specializes specifically in the operation of industrial boilers and heating plants (e.g. making sure that there is sufficient fuel for the boiler to burn) is also known as a boiler operator or boiler fireman.
Boiler engineers are also responsible for keeping boilers in good working order and performing routine maintenance. This includes checking heating systems are running efficiently, cleaning tubes, pipes and ducts, removing any deposits that may have formed (e.g. scale and corrosion products), leak testing valves and gaskets, ensuring thermostats and all measurement and control devices are functioning properly, and measuring combustion emissions.
They also carry out unplanned maintenance in the event of a failure or malfunction, with the objective of restoring normal operations as quickly as possible. This entails analyzing the malfunctioning system using diagnostic tools to identify the source of the problem, replacing any damaged or worn parts and, finally, performing tests to check that the problem has been effectively resolved.
To carry out their work effectively, boilers engineers need to be capable of using a wide range of tools and equipment, including soldering and welding tools, pipe cutters and benders, pipe wrenches, riveting machines and pipe threaders. A boiler engineer’s duties and place of work may at times be hazardous, particularly due to the high temperatures that may be present. To ensure they work in safety, boiler engineers should therefore always wear personal protective equipment (PPE), such as gloves, masks, helmets and safety boots and follow all the relevant procedures and regulations concerning workplace safety.
Boiler engineers may find employment with various kinds of company, including boiler installation and maintenance companies, boiler manufacturers, and firms specialising in construction and renovation work. They may also work as a boiler maintenance engineer at a thermal power station or industrial heating plant or, alternatively, choose to set up their own business providing technical assistance and emergency call-out services for boilers and water heaters to private customers (similar in some respects to those provided by a plumber or pipefitter).
Boiler engineers in the industrial sector and the domestic boiler market are both frequently required to travel to clients’ premises to carry out boiler installation and maintenance work.
The working hours of a boiler engineer can vary widely. Industrial sector employees are often required to work on a rotating 2 or 3 shift pattern, which will include nights and weekends in the case of continuous production plants, while boiler engineers working for private customers tend on the whole to have fixed working hours. In both cases, however, given the need to respond to emergency call-outs for boiler breakdowns and repairs, a certain degree of flexibility and willingness to work overtime is required.
Boiler Engineer Responsibilities and Tasks
The typical duties of a boiler engineer include:
- Installing and testing boilers and heating/hot water systems
- Performing maintenance on heating/hot water systems
- Responding to breakdowns and malfunctions
- Performing failure diagnosis on systems to locate the cause of a problem
- Carrying out repairs to restore system functionality
- Testing repaired systems to verify that functionality has been restored
How to Become a Boiler Engineer - Education and Training
Boiler engineers require an in-depth knowledge of hydraulics, thermodynamics, fluid dynamics, mechanics and electrical engineering, and also need to be familiar with the materials, methods and tools used for boiler construction and maintenance. To acquire the skills and expertise they need for the role, prospective boiler engineers should obtain a technical/vocational diploma or a degree in an engineering field (especially hydraulic engineering).
The manual skills a boiler engineer
needs to be able to work with heating plants and systems tend to be acquired on the job, as the result of training and mentoring provided by more experienced colleagues.
The law in some countries requires boiler engineers to obtain a boiler operator license before they can practice. Getting licensed typically involves completing a period of apprenticeship or training program and then passing a written and practical exam. Under some licensing schemes, there are various license classes corresponding to the size and kind of equipment that the licensed engineer is legally entitled to operate. Boiler engineers may also be required to obtain a special certification or permit to work in certain environments or circumstances, e.g. in chemical plants, in locations where toxic substances are present, or for jobs in which they are required to work at height.
Boiler Engineer Skills and Qualifications
Job advertisements for boiler engineers typically request the following skills:
- Knowledge of hydraulics, mechanics and thermal engineering
- Ability to read and understand hydraulic, electrical and mechanical drawings and schematics
- Boiler operator/engineer license (where required by law)
- Ability to perform analysis and diagnosis of heating and hot water systems
- Manual dexterity and practical intelligence
- Strength and physical stamina
- Problem-solving skills
Boiler Engineer Careers
Typically, boiler engineers begin their career with some form of apprenticeship or training programme, during which they learn all about the installation, maintenance and testing of boilers and heating systems.
Once a boiler engineer has acquired some experience in the field, they may decide to pursue a career in the heavy duty commercial and industrial boiler sector, or else to concentrate on the domestic boiler market. Boiler engineers who choose to work with domestic boilers may decide to work in a self-employed capacity, carrying out inspections and providing technical assistance and emergency call-out services for boilers and water heaters to private customers (similar in some respects to those provided by a plumber).
Industrial boiler engineers, on the other hand, can choose to focus on the maintenance sector, where opportunities for career advancement include positions such as plant maintenance manager. Alternatively, they may prefer to specialize in boiler inspection (i.e. becoming a boiler inspector), boiler installation (as a boiler installer) or boiler operation (as a boiler operator/boiler fireman). In large companies where a shift-based system is in operation, another possible career advancement is to become a shift manager.
Boiler engineers with some form of university education in an engineering field also have the option of specialising in the design of boilers and heating systems.
A further career option for boiler engineers is to move into sales (as a boiler sales agent or representative) and use their technical knowledge of heating and hot water systems to sell boilers to private customers and companies.
Top Reasons to Work as a Boiler Engineer
Boiler engineers are skilled technicians who carry out an important job, ensuring that boilers and heating systems are installed and maintained properly and in accordance with applicable legislation on energy efficiency, safety and environmental protection. Their services (installing boilers and complex heating systems and performing maintenance, inspections and repairs) are required in a wide variety of settings, including private homes, commercial buildings and industrial facilities.
The job itself has many rewarding and stimulating aspects, not least among them the opportunity to test oneself in challenging circumstances - say, a complicated heating system failure or a boiler breakdown - as well as the satisfaction that comes from applying ones technical skills and expertise to find the correct solution to a problem.