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CNC Machinist Career Guide: What They Do, How Much They Make & More

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CNC Machinist Career Guide: What They Do, How Much They Make & More

To create precise objects and parts made out of metal, wood and plastic, a computer numerical control (CNC) machine is one of the best tools for the job. That’s because CNC machines can use computer files and blueprints to shape raw materials into whatever the maker wants while coming within one-tenth of a thousandth in accuracy.

CNC machines produce all types of products, from tiny smartphone and computer components to implants that go into people’s bodies, like knee replacements. To control CNC machines and ensure the product creation process goes smoothly, CNC machinists are in charge of the operations and output.

If you enjoy working with your hands, have a passion for building things and are interested in computers and topics like math, a career as a CNC machinist might be ideal for you. In this guide, learn what a CNC machinist is, what a CNC machinist's typical job duties are, how to become a CNC machinist, and what CNC machinist salary and job outlook figures are.

What Is a CNC Machinist?

A CNC machinist operates a CNC machine that creates, modifies and repairs products through material shaping. The CNC machinist must determine the path the machine takes, the cut speed and the feed rate by inputting programming instructions. The CNC machinist gives the machine sketches, blueprints or computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) files to get the job done.

Using the code from the input, the machine then controls the cutting speed to shape materials like wood, plastic or metal to create the desired product. The CNC machine can be a mill, router, grinder, lathe or other form of machinery.

CNC machinists work in environments like factories, machine shops and tool rooms for industries, including racing, aerospace, transportation, defense, commercial, electronics, optical, marine, oil and gas, firearms, medical, technology, and die making.

Some CNC machinists go on to pursue careers in metrology, workholding, quality control inspection, programming, mechanical assembly, maintenance and machine tool building, as well as work as service technicians in the field. Experienced CNC machinists may also pursue careers as managers or business owners.

CNC machinists may produce large quantities of a single part or smaller quantities of unique items. Sometimes CNC machinists create an entire object or a tiny component of a larger object.

CNC machinists create items like:

  • Antilock brakes
  • Computer parts
  • Furniture
  • Hydraulic parts
  • Marine, aerospace and aviation parts
  • Military equipment
  • Robots
  • Screws for orthopedic implants and medical devices
  • Steel bolts
  • Trophies and plaques
  • Vehicle frames, parts and pistons

CNC machinists can also use their machines to create parts for existing machinery or repair parts or objects. Using the same blueprints or computer files, the same part or object can be replicated in the future.

CNC Machinist Job Description

CNC machinists are detail-oriented, tech-savvy creators who enjoy solving problems and have excellent time-management skills. They have knowledge in design, mathematics, mechanics, processing and production, and are critical thinkers. They also have hand-eye coordination and are able to work in a physically demanding environment where standing is the norm.

The work of a CNC machinist can differ each day, depending on the parts or objects the CNC machinist is building. Typically, CNC machinists must:

  • Read blueprints and sketches
  • Create work procedures
  • Interpret geometric dimensioning
  • Properly set up, program, operate and disassemble CNC mills and lathes, as well as manual mills and lathes
  • Use CNC software, like CAM software
  • Use precision measuring tools
  • Monitor machine speed
  • Analyze products for quality and defects
  • Smooth part or product surfaces
  • Make part modifications as required

CNC machinists may specialize in a certain type of machine, or they may work with a variety of machines. In addition to ensuring the parts or products are correct, CNC machinists are responsible for ensuring the machine is set up properly. That requires stocking machines with the appropriate materials and doing regular machine and product checks.

How to Become a CNC Machinist

The training available in the CNC Machining Technology program at NASCAR Technical Institute (NASCAR Tech) can equip aspiring CNC machinists with the skills they need for today’s evolving industries.1 The 36-week program, which was designed in cooperation with CNC machining industry leader Roush Yates Engines, gives students hands-on experience. Students learn about setting up, programming and operating CNC mills and lathes.

In the CNC program at NASCAR Tech, students get to work on machines from CNC industry leaders, including brands like Mastercam, Mitsubishi Materials and Mitee-Bite Products LLC. Instructors have real-world experience in CNC machining that they pass down to students.

There are also credentialing opportunities available in CNC machining. For example, the National Institute for Metalworking Skills is one organization offering credentials employers might expect from machinists. Connect with our Career Services team to learn about the credentials that may benefit you for your desired career path.

CNC Machinist Salary & Job Outlook

A CNC machinist’s salary depends on experience and the industry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for computer numerically controlled tool operators in the United States was $46,760 in May 2022.34 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.

Get CNC Machinist Training at UTI

If being responsible for the creation of in-demand parts and products, including ones that are potentially lifesaving, sounds interesting to you, learn more about the CNC Technology program at NASCAR Tech in Mooresville, North Carolina. Programs start every six weeks, so you can quickly begin learning the skills you need to succeed as a CNC machinist.

Call 1-800-834-7308 for course information or request info online.

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