What does a CNC Machinist do?

Most modern machinist shops and mass production facilities use computer numerically controlled (CNC) machines to increase accuracy and efficiency when forming metal parts. A CNC machinist is a skilled worker who is trained to program, operate, and maintain CNC machines. He or she sets up machines capable of cutting, bending, forming, and polishing raw metal into finished parts and tools using expert knowledge.

The nature of a machinist’s job has changed as a result of modern technological advances in the design and implementation of CNC machines. Today’s machinists can program and monitor the work of a fully automated machine, where a professional used to cut and mold metal parts hand. A few skilled CNC machinists can perform the same amount of work as several dozen manual machinists in some shops. Professionals read and interpret blueprints, enter data into a computer system, and check for machine accuracy. Machinists are in charge of making fine adjustments and performing routine maintenance on delicate components.

A CNC machinist is frequently involved in the design of new equipment, providing an expert opinion on product efficiency. He or she might collaborate with engineers and programmers to create more advanced machines, such as those that use lasers or water cutting tools. The CNC machinist uses his or her firsthand knowledge to advise designers and engineers on the proper sizes and speeds for various types of equipment, as well as to test prototypes for accuracy.

A person who wants to work as a CNC machinist should have at least a high school diploma and previous experience working with machinery and computers. Some employers require new machinists to complete a trade school or community college program, an apprenticeship, or both. Prospective machinists can enroll in training programs that last anywhere from six months to two years and include both classroom and hands-on training. Students are taught about various CNC machines and cutting-edge technology, as well as safety procedures and workplace guidelines. Apprenticeships are paid on-the-job training under the supervision of experienced CNC machinists that can take up to four years to complete.

In the United States, a new CNC machinist can choose to become certified passing the National Institute of Metalworking Skills’ written exam. Similar nationally recognized organizations accredit skilled CNC machinists in most other industrialized countries. Although certification is not usually required for employment, it can help machinists improve their credentials and open up more job opportunities.