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Ever wondered what a computer numerical control (CNC) machinist does on a typical day?
This complex career requires a diverse skill set, including use of math, ability to interpret drawings and utilize programs, mechanical design, precision and an eye for detail. Essentially, a career in the CNC industry merges hands-on work with cutting-edge
If you’re curious about what a day in the life of a CNC machinist entails, this article is for you. Keep reading to learn what a CNC machinist is, what they do, how to become one, salary and more.
Before getting into the role of a CNC machinist, it’s important to first understand what a CNC machine is and what it does.
Computer numerical control (CNC) machines are precision tools that shape, cut, turn, grind, drill and mill metals and a variety of other materials, including wood and plastic. They combine mechanics and technology to produce durable pieces as tiny as
computer parts and as large as car frames.
A CNC machine is composed of a machine such as a lathe, grinder or mill combined with a computer system operated by a trained machinist. The machinist refers to blueprints or computer files, and uses the computer to set parameters for the machine. From
there, the machine takes the digital designs, or code, and uses it as a guide to produce 3D physical products.
When creating a new part, a machinist simply loads a new program or adds a new prompt to an existing program by revising the code. Once the program is verified after going through testing, it can be used in the future whenever the same part needs to be
produced. This reduces the likelihood of human error and makes producing large quantities of parts a breeze.
The CNC machining process is incredibly precise. If you’re working on a job that requires you to get within one-tenth of a millimeter in accuracy, CNC machining is the best choice. Some examples of things CNC machines can create include:
As you can see, CNC machines make a wide variety of products and support many different industries, from health care to technology to construction. These components are vital to our society, as they power all different types of machinery and help to keep
So what does a CNC machinist do on a day-to-day basis?
Commonly referred to as “set-up operators,” machinists are responsible for loading the program, selecting and setting up tools, testing the program, and ensuring everything works correctly. They step in and fix things when they break or go
wrong, and test completed products to ensure they’re perfect and meet all required specifications.
There are many different fields CNC machinists can work in, including manufacturing, automotive, computer part production, aerospace, dental, tool and die making, motorsports, and medical industries, just to name a few.
Successful CNC machinists possess a certain set of traits. They must have knowledge of mathematics, production, processing and design. They also must be coordinated,
detail-oriented and able to think critically; have excellent problem-solving skills; and understand equipment operation and control.
Analytical, mechanical and technical skills are all essential for this career. Physical stamina is also important because of the work environment, which often requires machinists to stand for long periods of time and work with their hands.
According to Craig Hibdon, an instructor at Universal Technical Institute’s (UTI) NASCAR Technical Institute, “Machinists are a little OCD. They like to be in control and like to seek perfection. We live in a world of small tolerances.”
While specific job duties can vary depending on the industry, some basic responsibilities of CNC machinists include:
When it comes to the different roles that exist in a CNC environment, it’s important to note that a machinist is not the same as an operator or a programmer.
CNC operators load stock materials and run parts, and this position is typically taken on by beginners and those who are brand new to the industry. They’re the so-called “button-pushers.”
CNC programmers, on the other hand, are the ones who take a blueprint and figure out how to make the part. This involves picking out tools, determining the speeds
and fees, and writing the program. To learn more about the differences, check out this guide.
Some CNC machinists advance to leadership roles where they manage other machinists and processes. Other CNC machinists decide to take the entrepreneurial route and start their own companies. In either case, it’s important for machinists to have strong management and business skills.
Becoming a CNC machinist requires proper education and training. Typically, you will need a high school diploma or GED. While some employers will hire inexperienced candidates and train them on the job, many prefer those who have prior training from a trade school like UTI.1
UTI’s CNC Machining Technology program, which is offered at the NASCAR Technical Institute campus in Mooresville, North Carolina, is designed to provide the hands-on training and high-tech skills needed to prepare for a career as a CNC machinist.
Created in conjunction with industry leader Roush Yates, this 36-week program will teach you everything from reading blueprints and interpreting geometric dimensioning to the setup and operation of CNC mills and lathes.
While training, students use industry-preferred tools and technologies from companies such as Mastercam, Mitsubishi Materials and Mitee-Bite Products LLC. This gives them hands-on experience as they practice what they learn in class.
Graduates of NASCAR Tech’s program have gone on to accomplish incredible things in their careers, from working in manufacturing to even building racing engines for NASCAR!24
In the CNC industry, the types of certifications you can earn vary. There are voluntary CNC machinist certifications available, such as the National Institute for Metalworking Skills’ Certified CNC Lathe Programming Setup & Operations certification. In addition, formal training from a reputable school can help candidates stand out to employers.
Craig Brown is an example of a graduate who used his CNC training to build a career in the manufacturing industry. Find out how he went from NASCAR Tech grad to becoming a CNC machinist for Carolina Precision Manufacturing:
If you’ve ever considered a career in the CNC industry, you’ve probably wondered about the job outlook and salary of machinists.
CNC machining is here to stay. As workers retire or leave the industry, there will continue to be openings for machinists around the country. Since CNC machining supports so many different industries, job opportunities for trained machinists are vast.
To learn more about the different types of careers you may be able to pursue, check out our CNC career guide.
This fast-paced industry is continuously evolving, so the best thing you can do to increase your chances for success are to really immerse yourself in the trade and continue learning.
According to Todd English, vice president of Business Development and Partner Relations for Roush Yates Engines, automation has become a buzzword in the CNC industry. While we are seeing more automation because of technology, machinists are still needed.
This is one of the many reasons it’s so important to stay up to date with the latest technologies. “I think it’s going to become more and more technical in the years to come,” Todd shares.
So, what about salary? According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for computer numerically controlled tool operators was $46,640 in May 2021.34 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.
Overall, CNC machining is a great career choice for those who love working with their hands to create things and have an interest in modern technology. This is a promising career path with exciting opportunities for advancement!
The CNC Machining Technology training program at NASCAR Tech begins every six weeks, giving students the opportunity to get going and start training for their career sooner.
To learn more, visit our program page and request information to get in touch with one of our Admissions
Representatives. We’re here to support you in achieving your career goals!
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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.
24) NASCAR Technical Institute prepares graduates to work as entry-level automotive service technicians. Graduates who take NASCAR-specific electives also may have job opportunities in racing-related industries. Of those 2019 graduates who took electives, approximately 20% found racing-related opportunities. NASCAR Tech’s overall employment rate for 2019 was 84%.
34) UTI’s CNC Machining Technology Program prepares graduates for entry-level positions using the provided training, primarily as CNC machinists. Estimated annual salary shown above is for Computer Numerically Controlled Tool Operators as published in the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ May 2021 Occupational Employment and Wages. Entry-level salaries are lower for UTI graduates. UTI is an educational institution and cannot guarantee employment or salary. UTI graduates’ achievements may vary. Individual circumstances and wages depend on economic factors, personal credentials, work experience, industry certifications, the location of the employer, and their compensation programs. Some UTI graduates get jobs within their field of study in positions other than as a CNC 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 $35,140 (Massachusetts Labor and Workforce Development, May 2020 data https://lmi.dua.eol.mass.gov/lmi/OccupationalEmploymentAndWageSpecificOccupations#). Salary information for North Carolina: The U.S. Department of Labor estimates the hourly median wage for skilled CNC machinists in North Carolina is $19.04 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, May 2021 Occupational Employment and Wages, Computer Numerically Controlled Tool Operators). 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 $16.49 and $14.19, respectively.
Universal Technical Institute of Illinois, Inc. is approved by the Division of Private Business and Vocational Schools of the Illinois Board of Higher Education.