Industrial Machinery Mechanics and Maintenance Workers
Highly skilled mechanics usually learn their trade through
a 4-year apprenticeship program, while lower skilled maintenance
workers receive short-term on-the-job training.
Employment is projected to grow more slowly than average,
but applicants with broad skills in machine repair and maintenance
should have favorable job prospects.
Unlike some manufacturing occupations, these workers usually
are not affected by changes in production.
Nature of the Work
A wide range of employees is required to keep sophisticated
industrial machinery running smoothly—from highly skilled
industrial machinery mechanics to lower skilled machinery
maintenance workers who perform routine tasks. Their work
is vital to the success of industrial facilities, not only
because an idle machine will delay production, but also because
a machine that is not properly repaired and maintained may
damage the machine, the final product or injure an operator.
The most basic tasks in this process are performed by machinery
maintenance workers. These employees are responsible for
cleaning and lubricating machinery, performing basic diagnostic
tests, checking performance, and testing damaged machine parts
to determine whether major repairs are necessary. In carrying
out these tasks, maintenance workers must follow machine specifications
and adhere to maintenance schedules. Maintenance workers may
perform minor repairs, but major repairs are generally left
to machinery mechanics.
Industrial machinery mechanics, also called industrial
machinery repairers or maintenance machinists, are highly
skilled workers who maintain and repair machinery in a plant
or factory. To do this effectively, they must be able to detect
minor problems and correct them before they become major problems.
Machinery mechanics use their understanding of the equipment,
technical manuals, and careful observation to discover the
cause. For example, after hearing a vibration from a machine,
the mechanic must decide whether it is due to worn belts,
weak motor bearings, or some other problem. Computerized diagnostic
systems and vibration analysis techniques are aiding in determining
the problem, but mechanics still need years of training and
After diagnosing the problem, the industrial machinery mechanic
disassembles the equipment to repair or replace the necessary
parts. When repairing electronically controlled machinery,
mechanics may work closely with electronic repairers or electricians
who maintain the machine's electronic parts. (Statements on
electrical and electronic installers and repairers, as well
as electricians, appear elsewhere in the Handbook.)
Increasingly, mechanics need electronic and computer skills
in order to repair sophisticated equipment on their own. Once
a repair is made, mechanics perform tests to ensure that the
machine is running smoothly.
Primary responsibilities of industrial machinery mechanics
include repair, preventive maintenance, and installation of
new machinery. For example, they adjust and calibrate automated
manufacturing equipment, such as industrial robots. As plants
retool and invest in new equipment, they increasingly rely
on mechanics to properly situate and install the machinery.
In many plants, this has traditionally been the job of millwrights,
but mechanics are increasingly called upon to carry out this
task. (See the statement on millwrights elsewhere in the Handbook.)
Industrial machinery mechanics and machinery maintenance
workers use a variety of tools to perform repairs and preventive
maintenance. They may use a screwdriver and wrench to adjust
a motor, or a hoist to lift a printing press off the ground.
When replacements for broken or defective parts are not readily
available, or when a machine must be quickly returned to production,
mechanics may sketch a part to be fabricated by the plant's
machine shop. Mechanics use catalogs to order replacement
parts and often follow blueprints, technical manuals, and
engineering specifications to maintain and fix equipment.
By keeping complete and up-to-date records, mechanics try
to anticipate trouble and service equipment before factory
production is interrupted.
In production facilities, these workers are subject to common
shop injuries such as cuts, bruises, and strains. They also
may work in awkward positions, including on top of ladders
or in cramped conditions under large machinery, which exposes
them to additional hazards. They often use protective equipment
such as hardhats, safety glasses, steel-tipped shoes, hearing
protectors, and belts.
Because factories and other facilities cannot afford to have
industrial machinery out of service for long periods, mechanics
may be called to the plant at night or on weekends for emergency
repairs. Overtime is common among industrial machinery mechanics;
about 30 percent work over 40 hours a week.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Machinery maintenance workers typically receive short-term
on-the-job training in order to perform routine tasks, such
as setting up, cleaning, lubricating, and starting machinery.
This training may be offered by experienced workers, professional
trainers, or product representatives.
Industrial machinery mechanics, on the other hand, often
learn their trade through 4-year apprenticeship programs that
combine classroom instruction with on-the-job-training. These
programs usually are sponsored by a local trade union. Other
mechanics start as helpers and learn the skills of the trade
informally or by taking courses offered by machinery manufacturers
and community colleges.
Mechanics learn from experienced repairers how to operate,
disassemble, repair, and assemble machinery. Classroom instruction
focuses on subjects such as shop mathematics, blueprint reading,
welding, electronics, and computer training.
Employers prefer to hire those who have completed high school
or technical school, and have taken courses in mechanical
drawing, mathematics, blueprint reading, computers, and electronics.
Mechanical aptitude and manual dexterity are important characteristics
for workers in this trade. Good reading comprehension is also
necessary to understand the technical manuals of a wide range
of machines. And, in general, good physical conditioning and
agility are necessary because repairers sometimes have to
lift heavy objects or climb to reach equipment.
Opportunities for advancement vary by specialty. Machinery
maintenance workers may gain additional skills to make more
complex repairs to machinery or work as supervisors. Industrial
machinery mechanics also may advance either by working with
more complicated equipment or by becoming supervisors. The
most highly skilled repairers can be promoted to master mechanic
or can become millwrights.
Industrial machinery mechanics and maintenance workers held
about 306,000 jobs in 2004. Of these, 220,000 were held by
the more highly skilled industrial machinery mechanics, while
machinery maintenance workers accounted for 86,000 jobs. Two
out of three workers were employed in the manufacturing sector,
in industries such as food processing, textile mills, chemicals,
fabricated metal products, motor vehicles, and primary metals.
Others worked for government agencies, public utilities, mining
companies, and other establishments in which industrial machinery
Employment of industrial machinery mechanics and maintenance
workers is projected to grow more slowly than the average
for all occupations through 2014. Nevertheless, applicants
with broad skills in machine repair and maintenance should
have favorable job prospects. Many mechanics are expected
to retire in coming years, and employers have reported difficulty
in recruiting young workers with the necessary skills to be
industrial machinery mechanics. Most job openings will stem
from the need to replace workers who transfer to other occupations
or who retire or leave the labor force for other reasons.
As more firms introduce automated production equipment, these
workers will be needed to ensure that these machines are properly
maintained and consistently in operation. However, many new
machines are capable of self-diagnosis, increasing their reliability
and somewhat reducing the need for repairers.
Industrial machinery mechanics and maintenance workers are
not usually affected by changes in production. During slack
periods, when some plant workers are laid off, mechanics often
are retained to do major overhaul jobs and to keep expensive
machinery in working order. Although these workers may face
layoffs or a reduced workweek when economic conditions are
particularly severe, they usually are less affected than other
workers because machines have to be maintained regardless
of production level.
Median hourly earnings of industrial machinery mechanics
were $18.78 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between
$15.09 and $22.95. The lowest 10 percent earned less than
$12.14, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $27.59.
Machinery maintenance workers earned less than the higher
skilled industrial machinery mechanics. Median hourly earnings
of machinery maintenance workers were $15.79 in May 2004.
The middle 50 percent earned between $12.21 and $20.18. The
lowest 10 percent earned less than $9.60, and the highest
10 percent earned more than $24.59.
Earnings vary by industry and geographic region. Median hourly
earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers of
industrial machinery mechanics in May 2004 are:
Electric power generation, transmission
Motor vehicle parts manufacturing
Plastics product manufacturing
Machinery, equipment, and supplies merchant
Commercial and industrial machinery
and equipment (except automotive and electronic) repair
About 25 percent of industrial machinery mechanics and maintenance
workers are union members. Labor unions that represent these
workers include the United Steelworkers of America; the United
Auto Workers; the International Association of Machinists
and Aerospace Workers; the United Brotherhood of Carpenters
and Joiners of America; and the International Union of Electronic,
Electrical, Salaried, Machine, and Furniture Workers-Communications
Workers of America.
Other occupations that involve repairing and maintaining
machinery include aircraft and avionics equipment mechanics
and service technicians; automotive service technicians and
mechanics; diesel service technicians and mechanics; elevator
installers and repairers; heating, air-conditioning, and refrigeration
mechanics and installers; heavy vehicle and mobile equipment
service technicians and mechanics; machinists; maintenance
and repair workers, general; millwrights; and small engine
Sources of Additional Information
Information about employment and apprenticeship opportunities
may be obtained from local employers, from local offices of
the State employment service, or from:
United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America,
6801 Placid St., Las Vegas, NV 89119. Internet: http://www.carpenters.org/
National Tooling and Machining Association, 9300 Livingston
Rd., Fort Washington, MD 20744. Internet: http://www.ntma.org/
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics,
U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook,