There are many reasons to take up a career in machining. You can have a read of our guide on whether you’re cut out to be a CNC machinist. Many people will have many questions about their career before taking any further steps in training etc.
So how do you go about starting a career in machining?
What exactly is a Machinist?
Quite simply, a machinist has the task of operating CNC machine tools, or Computer Numerically Controlled machines. These CNC machines can be lathes and milling machines, basically, a machine used to produce precision machined parts for other machines. The machinist will start by receiving computer files or blueprints/sketches from which they will use their skills and knowledge to create the correct file type to feed the CNC machine, in effect they produce digital instructions for the CNC machine to produce the part.
The machinist uses their skill to make sure that the machine is set up correctly, with the right tools for the part to be machined. Then they monitor the machining process to make sure that the part is produced to specifications specified by the designs.
As a machinist, your skills will constantly evolve as technology and new methods and techniques in machining change.
What a machinist does
Each day, a CNC machinist must ensure that equipment is set up properly, working well and producing quality, usable materials. They must keep an eye on capacity, materials stock, and maintenance. They may also be tasked with doing quality control checks on output and reporting any issues to CNC programmers who write the code that tells the machine what to do, so they can make real-time adjustments as necessary. Depending on the job, a CNC machinist may work on many different machines on the floor or they may be responsible for a single, complex machine.
CNC machinists typically work in a factory setting. Although many work full time during regular business hours, overtime may be common, as are evening and weekend work. Job responsibilities also vary depending on where a machinist is in his or her career. Junior machinists typically work under close supervision, while senior and supervisory CNC machinists are often responsible for an entire team and must work closely with CNC programmers and other members of the industrial engineering staff.
Some basics for machinists
You will need a High School Diploma as a minimum
To start your career in machining we recommend an apprenticeship as a minimum. From there, they gain specific CNC sills through technical schools or community colleges. Some machinists hold associate degrees, but a degree is not necessarily required. Educational programs cover a wide range of subjects from math and engineering to computer and technology. They also typically include classes on CAD/CAM operation, design technology and more. National Institute of Metalworking Skills (NIMS) credentials recommended.
Key Skills you’ll need
Math and computer skills, ability to read blueprints, manual dexterity, accuracy and attention to detail. Problem-solving is a very important skill as you’ll need to be alert at all times and solve any problems during the machining process without hesitation. Also, you must remember that you are going into a career that requires physical fitness and stamina, the hours are long and the work involves standing and walking during the day.
Median Salary (as of 2018)
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for CNC machinists is around $45,000. Keep in mind that these are averages – senior CNC machinists can make much more than these figures and entry-level machinists may make much less.
Job Growth (2018-2028)
The BLS is predicting the job outlook for CNC machinists to grow by 3% through 2028. The biggest impact on job openings could be future investment in American manufacturing as well as mass retirements by Baby Boomers over the next several years.
The 5 Steps to a career in machining
1: Research the Career Duties of a Machinist
Your duties as a machinist will depend on your specific job title. For example, as a production machinist, you might mass-produce pieces in units of up to thousands for a unique part. Whereas as a maintenance machinist you would be replacing parts for machinery which already exists.
Your job involves setting up machinery and tools, cutting and adjusting workpieces, monitoring the heating and cooling temperatures of metal parts and testing for defects. Replacing defective cutting tools and monitoring machine performance are among your other job responsibilities.
2: Take Preparatory Courses
As an absolute minimum, you’ll need to have a high school diploma for a career as a machinist. While it’s possible to learn the skills of a machinist through on-the-job training, the vast majority of machinists learn through structured classroom and practical training. A manufacturer or union-sponsored apprenticeships do exist and are an ideal way of getting the necessary training, but admission to such a program can be difficult to manage and are rare.
Other than this you can also be proactive by taking courses in a metal shop, drafting and blueprint reading. A good understanding of computing is also and important skill to have. Math classes are essential and algebra and trigonometry will be used in the day to day performance of your duties.
Step 3: Complete an Apprenticeship in machining
If you take up and apprenticeship be ready to work as the program will normally take up to 4 years to complete. During the program, you’ll learn various aspects of machining. Machine safety will become second nature. You’ll learn the basics of operation such as metallurgy, CAD and CNC programming.
Some technical and community colleges offer 2-year associate’s degree programs but you’ll still need a good amount of on-the-job training.
Step 4: Obtain the NIMS Credential
Once your apprenticeship program is completed you will be a credentialed worker. We highly recommend a NIMS credential as a bonus to increase your likelihood of securing employment. The NIMS (National Institute of Metalworking Skills) administers performance-based examinations for metalworkers which consist of both practical and written components.
Step 5: Advance your Career
The longer your experience the better your prospects. With the right experience and further training, you could move into a supervisory role. Depending on your own preferences you could also move into quality inspection or become an engineering technician.
If you believe you’re ready for a career in machining but have some questions then get in contact with us.