No two welds are exactly the same, and this is something that Garrett Borrow, QA Inspector, has learned throughout his career in the welding and inspection industry. As every weld is different, he must be diligent and detail-oriented to make sure that all welds are done properly and to the project’s specifications.
In Part 1 of this interview, Valve World Americas had the opportunity to speak with Borrow about his experiences as an inspector, the typical welding discrepancies he has seen in his work, and the projects he has worked on.
By Brittani Schroeder
Upon graduating high school, Garrett Borrow had many education options to choose from, but he ultimately decided to enter the Welding Engineering Technology program at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT). “I decided on welding because I thought it was interesting, and it was something I had never done before. The program gave us thought-provoking learning materials and provided the ‘ideal situation’ for the industry,” said Borrow. “After I graduated, I was sent out into the world with the knowledge I had gained, ready to start working.”
Borrow soon started working for a small, ‘Mom and Pop’ shop in Calgary, Alberta, as a Quality Control (QC) Inspector. He worked within a team of 40 people for almost three years and had worked up to the Acting Manager position before he joined another company.
Borrow began to work for a boiler and pressure vessel shop, and soon the company was acquired by Alstar Oilfield Contractors, who took over Borrow’s employment. For the last two years, Borrow has worked for Alstar as a Senior Quality Assurance (QA) Inspector, and is a Level Two Visual Inspector, accredited under the C.W.B. (Canadian Welding Bureau). “In short, my job is to check other peoples’ work and make sure everything is correct before it goes out the door,” he said.
A Fast-paced Environment
Borrow’s days are very fast-paced. He is part of a team of three to five inspectors that look after all the pressure piping being produced by the welders on the shop floor. Each section of piping requires an inspection before being sent out to the yard for nondestructive testing (NDT), painting, and installation. As Senior QA Inspector, Borrow works with approximately 12 welders, and is also responsible for training new inspectors as they join his team.
For Borrow, the best part of the job is being social with the other inspectors and welders. “Working in a shop environment, you get very close with the people you work with. As the QA Inspector, you are often telling people that their work is incorrect. It is important to develop the skills to be professional about it, while at the same time you need to be able to walk away from that conversation without the welder hating your guts. It is a very fine line,” said Borrow.
When thinking about the most challenging aspects of the job, Borrow said that it is the stop in workflow. “As a QA Inspector, you are the reason that the workflow is slowing down, or fully stopping. If something is wrong, you have to go back and tell the welder to fix it, which extends deadlines and pushes back the project schedule a bit,” he explains. Borrow stresses that even when the shop is trying to meet a short deadline, it is crucial that the inspector still takes their time and ensures that the work is done correctly.
When Garrett Borrow arrives at work, the first thing he does is set up his tools for the day; this includes his flashlight, cam gauge, a measuring tape, a level, and some other tools that he might need for the day. “I usually have a few drawings in my inbox from the day before, and I will grab the first one on the top of the pile and head out to the floor to find the spool, which is a section of pipe. I tag it with a control number, and this identifies the spool for everyone who works on it for the rest of the process, all the way up to installation.”
Once the spool has been tagged, Borrow walks around and checks all of the materials to ensure they are the correct metal grades and ratings. From there, he moves on to levels and dimensions. Borrow must make sure that each of the fittings are sitting square and level, and he dimensions and measures the spool to ensure that it meets the requirements of the drawing. “If everything checks out, I will move on to make sure the welds are up to par with no visual defects,” Borrow explains. After assessing the pipeline spec, he sends it out for the required NDT. The spool may be x-ray or magnetic particle tested, and may undergo many other tests before it moves back into the shop for hydro testing.
The Art of Welding
As Borrow would say, “Welding is an art form.” Welding is different for every person who is doing it; depending on the welder, there can be big changes in the finished weld. Most often, Borrow sees issues caused by the environment, rather than the material or consumables. “For example, welders may be lined up in a booth, and the booth may be near a big shop door. If that shop door is opened when the welders are doing their job, a big gust of air could come through and blow away the protective gases on top of the weld, which could cause porosity. If there are loud noises in the shop and the welder looks up from his work, that could be another cause of potential defects.”
Another possible issue for welders comes from switching between companies that provide consumables. Borrow stresses that it is crucial to find a company that provides good quality consumables, and to stick with them. “Switching between companies would be the same as a painter changing from their regular brand of paint to a new one they have never used. They have to get used to the new materials, as a welder would need to get used to new consumables,” said Borrow. “There is a rhythm to welding, just as there is with painting and being a musician. Their work is like a metronome on a piano: tick, tock, tick, tock. The welders have the muscle memory, and they are going to do it perfectly because they know what is happening. If they fall out of that sequence, they will stop, sit back, and look at their work. If they have made a mistake, they will take out their grinder – which is basically their eraser – and zip it out. Then they will fall back into their rhythm. It is really awesome to see.”
Projects and Challenges
Borrow and his team typically have five to seven large projects on-the-go at all times. As they are located in Alberta, their projects are primarily for the oil and gas industry, and typically consist of oil field equipment to be used throughout the province. “We are also making modular units that we ship internationally – New Zealand and Romania, just as examples,” said Borrow.
There are many challenges Borrow and his team face while working on their various projects. “My biggest challenge is being a stop in flow, but there are a ton of other challenges we encounter every day,” he relayed. For Borrow, the biggest challenge he and his team frequently come up against is obtaining materials and the supply chain. This problem has become increasingly worse since the COVID-19 pandemic caused mill and manufacturer closures.
As an inspector, Garrett Borrow works within a three-millimeter tolerance. What does this mean? “Even if the pipe is 17 meters long, it needs to be within three millimeters (mm) of the dimension on my drawings, or else it is unacceptable,” he explained. “This can get tricky, because when you connect 30 17-meter-long pipes together, and if I accept three millimeters on one section, another three-millimeters, and another and so on, suddenly we are out half-an-inch, and it becomes a problem.” For Borrow, running into a problem like this is a big challenge as it requires for the team to go out to the site and perform repairs that could have been avoided if they were caught in the shop. “But sometimes it is not feasible to catch right away,” Borrow stated.
Read Part 2 of this interview on Monday, September 28th!