What Does a CNC Machinist Do?

Jan 8, 2021 ·
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Some objects are impossible to create manually. When you're talking about getting within one-tenth of a thousandth in accuracy, a computer numerical control (CNC) machine is the way to go.

Those with CNC machinist jobs look at blueprints or computer files and translate product or object designs into code. A machine then precisely transforms material into the desired object. Materials can range from metal to plastic.

Those with CNC machinist jobs work on critical parts and components that help other machines operate and keep people safe. Some examples of items produced by CNC machines include:

  • Body part replacements, like artificial knees and hips
  • Computer parts
  • Automobile frames and parts
  • Robots
  • Medical device components
  • Aviation, marine and aerospace parts
  • Wooden furniture
  • Metal plaques and trophies
  • Military equipment

CNC machinists may fabricate, modify or repair precise mechanical instruments. They may also create the parts needed to maintain industrial machines and machine tools.

“My favorite part of CNC machining is the challenge of it,” says Andrew Collier, a CNC instructor at NASCAR Technical Institute. “Every part is different and presents different challenges. This makes it so you always have to be thinking and challenging yourself, which ultimately makes it so I am never bored.”

CNC job opportunities are available in just about any industry that produces physical products through manufacturing. If you’ve ever wondered what a CNC machinist does, read on for more information.

CNC Machinist Skills and Duties

CNC machinists must have a knowledge of mathematics, mechanics, production, processing and design. They need to be coordinated, think critically, and have an understanding of equipment operation and control.

Analytical, mechanical and technical skills are essential. Physical stamina is also important due to the work environment, which requires CNC machinists to often be standing and using their hands.

CNC machinists use knowledge and related skills to carry out tasks, including:

  • Calculating dimensions
  • Using machine tools like lathes, grinders, milling machines and shapers
  • Securing and monitoring cutting tools and other machine materials
  • Measuring and testing completed products to check for defects
  • Maintaining machine tools and operating equipment
  • Establishing work procedures

Students program a CNC machine in a UTI lab.

Some CNC machinists advance to leadership roles, where they manage other CNC machinists and processes. Others open their own businesses. CNC machinists who go on to roles like these must also have management and business skills to succeed.

Types of CNC Job Opportunities

CNC machinists take on many different titles in the workplace. CNC machinery is used across a wide variety of industries, which creates exciting opportunities for those skilled in the trade. Potential jobs for CNC machinists may include:

  • Machine operator
  • Mill machinist
  • Quality control inspector
  • Design engineer
  • Mechanical assembler
  • Maintenance technician

Depending on your background, experience and level of education, you may be able to advance to new roles in the workplace. For example, many machinists start out working as machine operators on the floor and eventually move into programmer roles, where they interpret project blueprints, oversee operations and set up machines.

In addition to the various types of careers, CNC machinists can also take their skill set to a variety of locations. CNC machinery is used worldwide, so there are opportunities on the West Coast, East Coast or even other countries.

Common work environments for machinists include factories, machine shops and tool rooms. Many CNC machinists work full-time jobs during regular business hours. Some work environments are open 24/7, so some CNC machinists work weekends and evening hours.

CNC Machinist Salary

If you’ve considered a career in this industry, you’ve probably wondered how much CNC machinists make. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for computer numerically controlled tool operators in the United States was $42,260 in May 2020.34 This means half of CNC machinists earned more and half earned less. Keep in mind that salary depends on several factors, including experience, employer, demand and cost of living in the area.

How to Become a CNC Machinist

Many CNC machinist employers require their job candidates to have gone through CNC machinist training. CNC Machining Technology training, like the program offered at NASCAR Tech, teaches students skills ranging from how to read blueprints to how to set up, program and operate CNC machine lathes and mills.

In 36 weeks, students gain the knowledge needed to succeed in the industry.1 Many CNC machinist grads from NASCAR Tech have gone to work for Roush Yates Engines while others have gone on to work in aerospace, tool and die making, medical, and material testing industries.2

Learn more about the CNC Machining Technology program at NASCAR Technical Institute.

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