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Assemblers and Fabricators

Significant Points
  • More than half of all assemblers are team assemblers.
  • Work areas may be noisy, and many assemblers may have to sit or stand for long periods.
  • A high school diploma is preferred for most positions, but specialized training is required for some assembly jobs.

Nature of the Work

Assemblers and fabricators play an important role in the manufacturing process. They are responsible for putting together finished and semifinished goods, assembling the pieces of components of a product and then joining the components into a whole product. The products they produce range from entire airplanes to intricate timing devices. They fabricate and assemble household appliances, automobiles and automobile engines and parts, as well as computers and other electronic devices.

Assemblers begin by reading detailed schematics or blue prints that show how to assemble complex machines. After determining how parts should connect, they often need to use hand or power tools to trim, shim, cut, and make other adjustments to make components fit together and align properly. Once the parts are properly aligned, they connect parts with bolts and screws or by welding or soldering pieces together. Careful quality control is important throughout the assembly process, so assemblers look for both mistakes in the assembly process and faulty components. They try to help fix problems before more defective products are produced.

Changes in technology have transformed the manufacturing and assembly process. Automated manufacturing systems now use robots, computers, programmable motion control devices, and various sensing technologies. These systems change the way in which goods are made and affect the jobs of those who make them. The more advanced assemblers must be able to work with these new technologies and be comfortable using them to produce goods.

Manufacturing techniques are evolving away from traditional assembly line systems towards “lean” manufacturing systems, which is causing the nature of assemblers’ work to change. Lean manufacturing involves using teams of workers within “cells” to produce entire products or components. Team assemblers perform all of the assembly tasks assigned to their teams, rotating through the different tasks, rather than specializing in a single task as would be done on an assembly line. The team also may decide how the work is to be assigned and how different tasks are to be performed. This worker flexibility helps companies to cover for absent workers, improves productivity, and increases their ability to respond to changes in demand by shifting labor from one product line to another. For example, if demand for a product drops, companies may reduce the number of workers involved, while individual workers perform more stages of the assembly process. Some aspects of lean production, such as rotating tasks and seeking worker input on improving the assembly process, are common to all assembly and fabrication occupations.

Although more than half of all assemblers and fabricators are classified as “team assemblers,” others specialize in producing one type of product or perform the same or similar functions throughout the assembly process. These workers are classified according to the type of products they assemble or produce. Electrical and electronic equipment assemblers build products such as electric motors, batteries, computers, electronic control devices and sensing equipment. Electromechanical equipment assemblers assemble and modify electromechanical devices such as household appliances, dynamometers, actuators, or vending machines. Coil winders, tapers, and finishers wind wire coil used in resistors, transformers, generators, and electric motors. Engine and other machine assemblers construct, assemble, or rebuild engines and turbines, and machines used in almost all manufacturing industries, including agriculture, construction, mining, rolling mills, and textile, paper, and food processing. Aircraft structure, surfaces, rigging, and systems assemblers assemble, fit, fasten and install parts of airplanes, space vehicles, or missiles, such as the tails and wings, landing gear, and heating and ventilation systems. Structural metal fabricators and fitters cut, align, and fit together structural metal parts according to detailed specifications prior to welding or riveting. Fiberglass laminators and fabricators create products made of fiberglass, mainly boat decks and hulls and automobile body parts. Timing device assemblers, adjusters, and calibrators perform precision assembling or adjusting of timing devices within very narrow tolerances.

Involving assemblers and fabricators in product development has become more common. Designers and engineers consult manufacturing workers during the design stage to improve product reliability and manufacturing efficiency. For example, an assembler may tell a designer that the dash of a new car design will be too difficult to install quickly and consistently. The designer could then redesign the dash to make it easier to install.

Some experienced assemblers work with designers and engineers to build prototypes or test products. These assemblers read and interpret complex engineering specifications from text, drawings, and computer-aided drafting systems. They also may use a variety of tools and precision measuring instruments.

Working Conditions

The working conditions for assemblers and fabricators vary from plant to plant and from industry to industry. They may even vary within a plant. One consistent trend is increasingly improving working conditions. Many physically difficult tasks, such as manually tightening massive bolts or moving heavy parts in position, have been made much easier through the use hydraulic and electromechanical equipment. Most factories today are generally clean, well-lit, and well-ventilated, and depending on what type of work is being performed, they may also need to be dirt and dust-free. Electronic and electromechanical assemblers particularly must work in environments free of dust that could affect the operation of the products they build. Some assemblers may also come into contact with potentially harmful chemicals or fumes, but ventilation systems and other safety precautions normally minimize any harmful effects. Other assemblers may come in contact with oil and grease, and their working areas may be quite noisy.

Most full-time assemblers work a 40-hour week, although overtime and shift work is fairly common in some industries. Work schedules of assemblers may vary at plants with more than one shift.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

New assemblers and fabricators are normally considered entry-level employees. The ability to do accurate work at a rapid pace and to follow detailed instructions are key job requirements. A high school diploma is preferred for most positions. Following detailed assembly instructions requires basic reading skills, although many instructions rely on pictures and diagrams.

Applicants need specialized training for some assembly jobs. For example, employers may require that applicants for electrical, electronic, or aircraft assembler jobs be technical school graduates or have equivalent military training. Other positions require only on-the-job training, sometimes including employer-sponsored classroom instruction, in the broad range of assembly duties that employees may be required to perform. Many new assemblers are hired as temporary workers, often through employment services firms.

Good eyesight, with or without glasses, is required for assemblers and fabricators who work with small parts. Plants that make electrical and electronic products may test applicants for color vision, because many of their products contain many differently colored wires. Manual dexterity and the ability to carry out complex, repetitive tasks quickly and methodically also are important.

As assemblers and fabricators become more experienced, they may progress to jobs that require greater skill and be given more responsibility. Experienced assemblers may become product repairers if they have learned the many assembly operations and understand the construction of a product. These workers fix assembled articles that operators or inspectors have identified as defective. Assemblers also can advance to quality control jobs or be promoted to supervisor. Experienced assemblers and fabricators also may become members of research and development teams, working with engineers and other project designers to design, develop, and build prototypes, and test new product models. In some companies, assemblers can become trainees for one of the skilled trades, such as machinist. Those with a background in math, science, and computers may advance to become programmers or operators of more highly automated production equipment.


Assemblers and fabricators held nearly 2 million jobs in 2004. They were found in almost every industry, but the vast majority, nearly 3 out of 4, were found in manufacturing. In addition, 9 percent of workers were employed by employment services firms, mostly as temporary workers. In all likelihood, many of these temporary workers were assigned to manufacturing plants. Wholesale and retail trade firms employed the next highest number of assemblers and fabricators. Team assemblers, the largest specialty, accounted for 62 percent of assembler and fabricator jobs. The distribution of employment among the various types of assemblers was as follows:

Team assemblers 1,200,000
All other assemblers and fabricators 268,000
Electrical and electronic equipment assemblers 221,000
Structural metal fabricators and fitters 90,000
Electromechanical equipment assemblers 52,000
Engine and other machine assemblers 46,000
Fiberglass laminators and fabricators 31,000
Coil winders, tapers, and finishers 28,000
Aircraft structure, surfaces, rigging, and systems assemblers 19,000
Timing device assemblers, adjusters, and calibrators 3,300

Within the manufacturing sector, assembly of transportation equipment, such as aircraft, autos, trucks, and buses, accounted for 19 percent of all jobs. Assembly of computers and electronic products accounted for another 11 percent of all jobs. Other industries that employ many assemblers and fabricators were machinery manufacturing (heating and air-conditioning equipment; agriculture, construction, and mining machinery; and engine, turbine, and power transmission equipment); electrical equipment, appliance, and component manufacturing (lighting, household appliances, and electrical equipment); and fabricated metal products.

The following tabulation shows wage and salary employment in manufacturing industries employing the most assemblers and fabricators in 2004.

Transportation equipment manufacturing 387,000
Computer and electronic product manufacturing 225,000
Machinery manufacturing 193,000
Fabricated metal product manufacturing 143,000
Electrical equipment, appliance, and component manufacturing 139,000

Job Outlook

Employment of assemblers and fabricators is expected to grow more slowly than average through the year 2014, reflecting growth in mainly nonmanufacturing industries. The largest increase in the number of assemblers and fabricators is projected to be in the employment services industry, which supplies temporary workers to the various industries. Temporary workers are gaining in importance in the manufacturing sector and elsewhere as companies strive for a more flexible workforce to meet the fluctuations in the market. There will also be more jobs for assemblers and fabricators in the wholesale and retail sectors of the economy. As more goods come unassembled from foreign countries to save on shipping costs, it is increasingly up to wholesalers and retailers to provide assembly of products to their customers.

Within the manufacturing sector, employment of assemblers and fabricators is expected to grow mainly in motor vehicle and motor vehicle parts manufacturing, furniture manufacturing, and food processing due to increasing sales of these products. In many other manufacturing industries, assemblers and fabricators have been negatively affected by increasing automation, improving productivity, and the shift of assembly to countries with lower labor costs. In addition to new jobs stemming from growth in this occupation, many job openings will result from the need to replace workers leaving this large occupational group.

The effects of automation will be felt more among some types of assemblers and fabricators than among others. Automated manufacturing systems are expensive, and a large volume of repetitive work is required to justify their purchase. Also, where the assembly parts involved are irregular in size or location, new technology only now is beginning to make inroads. For example, much assembly in the aerospace industry is done in hard-to-reach locations—inside airplane fuselages or gear boxes, for example—which are unsuited to robots; as a result, aircraft assemblers will not be easily replaced by automated processes.

The use of team production techniques has been a success in the manufacturing sector, boosting productivity and improving the quality of goods. Workers collaborate to decide how to best perform assembly tasks. Team assemblers are often consulted during the design phase of production, to make sure that the product is easy to assemble. Through continued efforts to improve the assembly process, most manufacturing companies have significantly reduced the amount of labor needed to assemble a product. By boosting productivity, companies are better able to compete with low wage companies. Thus, while the number of assemblers overall will decline in manufacturing, the number of team assemblers will remain stable.

Many producers have sent their assembly functions to countries where labor costs are lower. Decisions by American corporations to move assembly to other nations should limit employment growth for assemblers in some industries, but a free trade environment also may lead to growth in the export of goods assembled in the United States.


Earnings vary by industry, geographic region, skill, educational level, and complexity of the machinery operated. Median hourly earnings of team assemblers were $11.42 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $9.12 and $14.60. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $7.56, and the highest 10 percent earned $18.80. Median hourly earnings in the manufacturing industries employing the largest numbers of team assemblers in May 2004 are shown below:

Motor vehicle manufacturing $22.45
Motor vehicle parts manufacturing 12.91
Other wood product manufacturing 10.90
Plastics product manufacturing 10.54
Employment services 8.66

Median hourly earnings of electrical and electronic equipment assemblers were $11.68 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $9.54 and $14.84. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $8.01, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $18.64. Median hourly earnings in the manufacturing industries employing the largest numbers of electrical and electronic equipment assemblers in May 2004 are shown below:

Computer and peripheral equipment manufacturing $12.80
Navigational, measuring, electromedical, and control instruments manufacturing 12.61
Electrical equipment manufacturing 12.55
Communications equipment manufacturing 11.61
Semiconductor and other electronic component manufacturing 11.02

In May 2004, other assemblers and fabricators had the following median hourly earnings:

Aircraft structure, surfaces, rigging, and systems assemblers $17.79
Engine and other machine assemblers 16.73
Structural metal fabricators and fitters 14.34
Timing device assemblers, adjusters, and calibrators 13.76
Electromechanical equipment assemblers 12.71
Coil winders, tapers, and finishers 12.24
Fiberglass laminators and fabricators 12.18
Assemblers and fabricators, all other 11.90

Many assemblers and fabricators are members of labor unions. These unions include the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers; the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America; the United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America; the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; and the United Steelworkers of America.

Related Occupations

Other occupations that involve operating machines and tools and assembling products include welding, soldering, and brazing workers; and machine setters, operators, and tenders—metal and plastic. Assemblers and fabricators also are responsible for some quality control and product testing, as is the case for inspectors, testers, sorters, samplers, and weighers.

Sources of Additional Information

Information about employment opportunities for assemblers is available from local offices of the State employment service and from locals of the unions mentioned earlier.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition

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