Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machines are a fusion of the physical and the digital. Tools such as Turning Centers and Milling Centers shape raw materials like metals and plastics into parts to exact specifications. Computers provide the instructions and precise control of these instruments. In fact, computers are at every step of the CNC machining process. Engineers come up with the concepts that are then represented as 3-D CAD models and related 2D drawings. CAM programming software turns these 3-D digital representations into G-code, which controls the speed, movement and other variables that each tool must follow. A CNC machinist must understand what’s going on at each step and troubleshoot any problems that may come up. Having computer skills and the drive to understand them further are essential for any CNC machinist.
To build everything, manufacturers around the country rely on the handiwork of machinists, and tool and die makers. Starting from engineering drawings, sketches, or computer-aided design files, they set up the machines that produce parts. Once products are made, they may deburr them to meet project specifications, giving them a final smoothing and polish to finish. Machinists run computer numerically controlled or CNC—machines… that produce precision metal parts and tools. They may produce a large number of one part– such as automobile pistons… or many small batches— like screws for medical implants… or even one-of-a-kind items. They need to be skilled with a wide range of machines and techniques. Toolmakers craft precision tools for cutting and forming metal, and create different gauges and other measuring devices. Die makers construct metal forms used to shape metal, and make molds for shaping plastics, ceramics, and composite materials. Tool and die makers are trained to write CNC programs as well as operate the machines. Workers wear safety glasses, earplugs, and masks when needed to protect themselves during hazardous phases of their work. Schedules are generally full time, with some shifts on evenings and weekends to keep production running around the clock. A high school diploma or equivalent is necessary, and skills in math and problem-solving are important. Machinists may train in on the job, apprenticeship, or at technical colleges. Becoming a tool or die maker takes several years of instruction and on-the-job training.
Typical Work Tasks
People who work in this career often:
- Lift materials or workpieces using cranes or other lifting equipment.
- Study engineering drawings or other instructions to determine equipment setup requirements.
- Calculate specific material, equipment, or labor requirements for production.
- Confer with others to resolve production problems or equipment malfunctions.
- Test electrical equipment or systems to ensure proper functioning.
- Adjust equipment controls to regulate coolant flow.
- Adjust equipment controls to regulate flow of production materials or products.
- Draw guide lines or markings on materials or workpieces using patterns or other references.
- Install mechanical components in production equipment.
- Mount attachments or tools onto production equipment.
Typical Working Conditions
- Wear hearing protection to minimize exposure to louder sounds or noise levels sometimes generated.
- Using your hands to handle, control, or feel objects, tools, or controls.
- Wearing common protective or safety equipment such as safety shoes, safety glasses, gloves, hearing protection, or hard hats.
- The importance of being accurate or exact.
- Having face-to-face discussions.
- Meeting strict deadlines.
- A work pace that is determined by the speed of equipment.
- Exposure to hazardous equipment.
- Freedom to make decisions without supervision.
- Serious consequences if mistakes are made.
- Working with a group or team.
Source: Minnesota CAREERwise
Most Important Skills for CNC Machinists
- Monitoring Equipment—Watching gauges, dials, or other indicators to make sure a machine is working properly.
- Thinking Critically—Using logic and reasoning to identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions or approaches to problems.
- Monitoring Performance—Monitoring/Assessing performance of yourself, other individuals, or organizations to make improvements or take corrective action.
- Controlling Quality—Conducting tests and inspections of products, services, or processes to evaluate quality or performance.
- Operating Equipment—Controlling operations of equipment or systems.
- Reading—Understanding written sentences and paragraphs in work related documents.
- Listening—Giving full attention to what other people are saying, taking time to understand the points being made, asking questions as appropriate, and not interrupting at inappropriate times.
- Troubleshooting—Determining causes of operating errors and deciding what to do about it.
- Choosing Equipment or Tools—Determining the kind of tools and equipment needed to do a job.
- Learning New Things—Understanding the implications of new information for both current and future problem-solving and decision-making.
Most Important Knowledge Areas for CNC Machinists
- Mechanical—Knowledge of machines and tools, including their designs, uses, repair, and maintenance.
- Mathematics—Knowledge of arithmetic, algebra, geometry, calculus, statistics, and their applications.
- Engineering and Technology—Knowledge of the practical application of engineering science and technology. This includes applying principles, techniques, procedures, and equipment to the design and production of various goods and services.
- Physics—Knowledge and prediction of physical principles, laws, their interrelationships, and applications to understanding fluid, material, and atmospheric dynamics, and mechanical, electrical, atomic and sub- atomic structures and processes.
- Chemistry—Knowledge of the chemical composition, structure, and properties of substances and of the chemical processes and transformations that they undergo. This includes uses of chemicals and their interactions, danger signs, production techniques, and disposal m
- Production and Processing—Knowledge of raw materials, production processes, quality control, costs, and other techniques for maximizing the effective manufacture and distribution of goods.
- Computers and Electronics—Knowledge of circuit boards, processors, chips, electronic equipment, and computer hardware and software, including applications and programming.
- Design—Knowledge of design techniques, tools, and principles involved in production of precision technical plans, blueprints, drawings, and models.
- Education and Training—Knowledge of principles and methods for curriculum and training design, teaching and instruction for individuals and groups, and the measurement of training effects.
- English Language—Knowledge of the structure and content of the English language including the meaning and spelling of words, rules of composition, and grammar.
Different careers may be a good fit for your personality or interests. This career is:
- Realistic—Realistic occupations frequently involve work activities that include practical, hands-on problems and solutions. They often deal with plants, animals, and real-world materials like wood, tools, and machinery. Many of the occupations require working outside, and do not involve a lot of paperwork or working closely with others.
- Conventional—Conventional occupations frequently involve following set procedures and routines. These occupations can include working with data and details more than with ideas. Usually there is a clear line of authority to follow.
Source: Minnesota CAREERwise
|Wages Per Hour For CNC Machinist (MN Region 5)|
Low indicates 25% of workers earn less and 75% earn more. Median indicates 50% of workers earn less and 50% earn more. High indicates 75% of workers earn less and 25% earn more.
This career is seeing very high growth compared to other careers. There will be a 12.9% growth for CNC Machinists to meet market demand between 2018-2028. This includes the demand due to replacement (workers leaving the occupation or retiring) as well as growth.
Source: Minnesota CAREERwise
This career requires at least a high school degree, and many professionals have some college. This career does not require a license but there are certifications are helpful for growth.
View the local post-secondary education options for this career from Central Lakes College.
Spotlight on Central Lakes College
- Why consider CLC?
- Virtual Campus Tours: Brainerd Campus, Staples Campus
- Learn more about the CLC Honors Program.
- Attend CLC, and you may never need to buy a textbook.
If you have a physical, mental, developmental, or cognitive condition that requires educational support, learn about support options at CLC.
Helpful High School Courses
Examples of helpful classes that help you prepare for this career:
- Applied Math
- Blueprint Reading
- Computer Applications
- Industrial Technology
- Introduction to Business
- Technical Writing
Source: Minnesota CAREERwise
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