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Are you tech savvy, detail-oriented and always up for a new challenge? A career as a CNC machinist may be perfect for you. The world of CNC machining is exciting. As a technician, you can apply your knowledge and skills to a variety of different environments as you pursue your passion.
Keep reading to learn all about the computer numerical control industry, what CNC machinists do, job opportunities, average salary and more.
First things first. You might be asking yourself, “What does CNC stand for?” and “What is a CNC machine?"
Computer numerical control (CNC) machining is a process in which pre-programmed computer software dictates the movement of factory tools and machinery.
This manufacturing process is used to control a wide variety of complex machinery, from mills and routers to grinders and lathes. For example, three-dimensional cutting can be completed with one set of prompts.
CNC machining makes it possible for a live operator to guide the commands of machining tools using buttons, levers and wheels. A common misconception is that CNC systems are similar to a regular set of computer components. However, CNC machining is unique in its software programs and consoles.
CNC machinists work with CNC heavy machinery to produce parts and tools from plastic, metal and other materials. They may work on a variety of different machines or specialize in one type of machine.
CNC equipment cuts, drills and grinds into material with great precision as machinists adjust the machine to control speed, material feed and path of the cut. Machinists are responsible for ensuring machines are set up properly, running smoothly and creating quality product.
This often involves stocking their machines with needed materials and performing regular checks on output. They ensure the final product is free of defects and ready to move to the next step in the production process.
CNC machines are able to create complex parts rapidly with high levels of accuracy. Computerized processes convert designs into physical end products, which saves both money and time in the development process. Every finished part is identical, whether 10 or 10,000 of them are produced.
CNC machining plays an important role in the manufacturing process for many industries, including:
The aerospace industry requires great attention to detail, as engineers must precisely construct every component to avoid damage to the aircraft.
Devices in this industry encounter fast air currents, high speed and extreme pressures, and it’s the job of a CNC machinist to ensure every part of the aircraft they work on meets high precision requirements.
CNC machining makes it possible to craft custom parts with precision, and is also a great method for manufacturing and making tweaks to prototype parts.
Creating automotive and diesel parts with CNC machining and testing makes it faster to create prototypes to exact specifications.
The transportation industry uses CNC machines to construct parts used on various vehicles, including passenger vehicles, transport trucks, freight trains, shipping vessels and more. CNC machines can create everything from brakes to engine parts.
Defense applications such as parts for tanks and communication equipment can be sourced from CNC machining suppliers. Similar to other industries, there is no room for error when it comes to these devices.
CNC machines conduct their own quality assurance, which ensures parts are reproduced identically, no matter how large the quantity.
Accuracy and precision are also important when it comes to the manufacturing of firearms. For tracking purposes, for example, CNC machines record important information such as serial numbers on every part produced.
CNC also plays an important role in the manufacturing of commercial products. In new product development, for example, the use of CNC machines can ensure there are no design flaws by producing a prototype that can be tested and approved before going into production.
CNC machines can produce a wide variety of parts for the electronics industry. As technology advances, consumer electronics are becoming smaller yet more complex and powerful, which is where CNC machining comes in. CNC micromachining can handle specialized materials that meet specifications for even the smallest component.
From medical instruments to orthotics and surgical implants, CNC machines play an important role in the manufacturing of devices for the medical field. When a new product is developed, CNC machines’ fast prototyping capability can reduce the amount of time it takes to get to market.
CNC machining plays an important role in the optical industry, where multiple trials are performed in the product development phase. The use of CNC machines can shorten lead times and help with quality control to ensure profitability.
CNC machining can produce a variety of components used in the oil and gas industry, including parts for pipelines, refineries and rigs such as pins, rods, pistons, valves, cylinders and drill bits.
CNC machining keeps the marine industry running by creating various elements of watercraft such as propellers, engine components, boat parts, prototype molds and insulating cases.
There’s a wide variety of CNC job opportunities for those who have a passion for this industry. Careers commonly pursued by those trained in computer numerical control include:
Machine operators produce machined parts by programming, setting up and operating CNC machines. Job duties typically include studying work orders, creating blueprints and engineering plans, doing stock inventory, programming and setting up mills and lathes, maintaining specifications in the production process, troubleshooting and keeping records.
Mill machinists operate equipment such as milling machines, revolving lathe tools, drill presses and end mills to create manufacturing parts from metal, steel, plastic or aluminum.
They use provided blueprints to program machines to produce batches of parts that meet the outlined specifications. Mill machinists often work in the aerospace industry, which requires precision, attention to detail and a strong technical background.
A quality control inspector analyzes products and materials, looking for defects that would result in parts not meeting specifications.
A typical day on the job may involve reading blueprints, monitoring operations, making adjustments to the production process, testing products once produced, sending products for repair and reporting data. A great inspector has an eye for detail and is able to spot defects that most people would miss.
A CNC programmer interprets project blueprints, designs programs and sets up machines to produce the component outlined in the program. Programmers complete test runs, and make tweaks and adjustments until the final product meets the specifications listed in the blueprint.
They are also often in charge of performing routine maintenance and cleaning to ensure machinery is functioning properly.
Mechanical assemblers put together or fabricate mechanical parts, pieces and products. Using a variety of tools and equipment, they are responsible for ensuring required specifications are met and often work in a specific area of a production line in a manufacturing facility.
Duties and responsibilities often include following blueprints, maintaining inventory of product, performing quality checks, identifying product defects, repairing assembled equipment and following established safety procedures.
The role of a design engineer is to bring ideas to life by turning them into products. This career is great for someone who wants to combine creativity with their engineering knowledge.
These engineers work on a variety of products, from car engines to medical equipment to kitchen appliances. They’re responsible for ensuring the products they dream up will be cost-effective and efficient to produce.
Maintenance technicians typically oversee the upkeep of a facility such as a business office or apartment complex. These technicians have a wide variety of skills, which may include painting, plumbing, carpentry and CNC machining.
Their tasks often include performing routine preventative maintenance and repairing building fixtures such as lights, windows, locks, walls and drains. It’s their job to ensure everything in the building is working properly.
Those who pursue careers in CNC machining often share similar characteristics. Here are some signs you might enjoy working as a CNC machinist:
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for computer numerically controlled tool operators 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. Skilled CNC machinists are in demand across a wide variety of industries, which could open doors to exciting job opportunities to those who decide to train in this field.
Becoming a CNC machinist requires proper education and training. After earning your high school diploma or GED, you will most likely need to complete a CNC machinist training program as the one offered by Universal Technical Institute at its NASCAR Technical Institute campus.
UTI’s 36-week CNC Machining Technology program provides the hands-on training and high-tech skills needed to prepare for a career as a CNC machinist.1
Created in conjunction with Roush Yates, a leading brand in the performance industry, you will learn how to read blueprints, interpret geometric dimensioning and tolerancing and the programming, setup and operation
of CNC lathes and mills. Along the way, you’ll learn from passionate instructorsv and train using industry-preferred tools and technology.
NASCAR Tech’s aftermarket relationships mean you’ll be exposed to the brands used in the field, including Mastercam, Mitsubishi Materials and Mitee-Bite Products
The CNC Machining Technology program is offered at NASCAR Tech’s Mooresville, North Carolina campus.
Classes start every six weeks, so you’re able to get going and prepare for your career sooner.
If you're interested in learning how you can register for the CNC Machining Technology program Just click the link below or call (800) 834-7308 to speak with one of our friendly Admissions Representatives.
1) UTI is an educational institution and cannot guarantee employment or salary.
2) For program outcome information and other disclosures, visit www.uti.edu/disclosures.
34) Estimated annual median salary for Computer Numerically Controlled Tool Operators in the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2020. UTI is an educational institution and cannot guarantee employment or salary. UTI graduates’ achievements may vary. Individual circumstances and wages depend on personal credentials and economic factors. Work experience, industry certifications, the location of the employer and their compensation programs affect wages. Entry-level salaries may be lower. UTI programs prepare graduates for careers in industries using the provided training, primarily as CNC machining technicians. Some UTI graduates get jobs within their field of study in positions other than as a technician, such as CNC operator, apprentice machinist, and machined parts inspector. Salary information for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts: The average annual entry-level salary for persons employed as Computer-Controlled Machine Tool Operators, Metal and Plastic (51-4011) in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is $37,638 (Massachusetts Labor and Workforce Development, May 2019 data, viewed June 2, 2021, https://lmi.dua.eol.mass.gov/lmi/OccupationalEmploymentAndWageSpecificOccupations#). North Carolina salary information: The U.S. Department of Labor estimate of hourly earnings of the middle 50% for skilled CNC machinists in North Carolina, published May 2021, is $20.24. The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not publish entry-level salary data. However, the 25th and 10th percentile of hourly earnings in North Carolina are $16.56 and $13.97, respectively. (Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2020. Computer Numerically Controlled Tool Operators, viewed June 2, 2021.)
Universal Technical Institute of Illinois, Inc. is approved by the Division of Private Business and Vocational Schools of the Illinois Board of Higher Education.