- Machinists learn in apprenticeship programs, informally on
the job, and in vocational schools or community or technical
- Many entrants previously have worked as machine setters, operators,
- Job opportunities are expected to be good.
Machinists use machine tools, such as lathes, milling machines,
and machining centers, to produce precision metal parts. Although
they may produce large quantities of one part, precision machinists
often produce small batches or one-of-a-kind items. They use their
knowledge of the working properties of metals and their skill
with machine tools to plan and carry out the operations needed
to make machined products that meet precise specifications.
Before they machine a part, machinists must carefully plan and
prepare the operation. These workers first review electronic or
written blueprints or specifications for a job. Next, they calculate
where to cut or bore into the workpiece (the piece of steel, aluminum,
titanium, plastic, silicon or any other material that is being
shaped), how fast to feed the workpiece into the machine, and
how much material to remove. They then select tools and materials
for the job, plan the sequence of cutting and finishing operations,
and mark the workpiece to show where cuts should be made.
After this layout work is completed, machinists perform the necessary
machining operations. They position the workpiece on the machine
tool—drill press, lathe, milling machine, or other type of machine—set
the controls, and make the cuts. During the machining process,
they must constantly monitor the feed rate and speed of the machine.
Machinists also ensure that the workpiece is being properly lubricated
and cooled, because the machining of metal products generates
a significant amount of heat. The temperature of the workpiece
is a key concern because most metals expand when heated; machinists
must adjust the size of their cuts relative to the temperature.
Some rare but increasingly popular metals, such as titanium, are
machined at extremely high temperatures.
Machinists detect some problems by listening for specific sounds—for
example, a dull cutting tool or excessive vibration. Dull cutting
tools are removed and replaced. Cutting speeds are adjusted to
compensate for harmonic vibrations, which can decrease the accuracy
of cuts, particularly on newer high-speed spindles and lathes.
After the work is completed, machinists use both simple and highly
sophisticated measuring tools to check the accuracy of their work
Some machinists, often called production machinists, may produce
large quantities of one part, especially parts requiring the use
of complex operations and great precision. Many modern machine
tools are computer numerically controlled (CNC). CNC machines,
following a computer program, control the cutting tool speed,
change dull tools, and perform all of the necessary cuts to create
a part. Frequently, machinists work with computer control programmers
to determine how the automated equipment will cut a part. The
programmer may determine the path of the cut, while the machinist
determines the type of cutting tool, the speed of the cutting
tool, and the feed rate. Because most machinists train in CNC
programming, they may write basic programs themselves and often
set offsets (modify programs) in response to problems encountered
during test runs. After the production process is designed, relatively
simple and repetitive operations normally are performed by machine
setters, operators, and tenders.
Some manufacturing techniques employ automated parts loaders,
automatic tool changers, and computer controls, allowing machine
tools to operate without anyone present. One production machinist,
working 8 hours a day, might monitor equipment, replace worn cutting
tools, check the accuracy of parts being produced, adjust offsets,
and perform other tasks on several CNC machines that operate 24
hours a day (lights-out manufacturing). During lights-out manufacturing,
a factory may need only a few machinists to monitor the entire
Other machinists do maintenance work—repairing or making new
parts for existing machinery. To repair a broken part, maintenance
machinists may refer to blueprints and perform the same machining
operations that were needed to create the original part.
Because the technology of machining is changing rapidly, machinists
must learn to operate a wide range of machines. Along with operating
machines that use metal cutting tools to shape workpieces, machinists
operate machines that cut with lasers, water jets, or electrified
wires. While some of the computer controls may be similar, machinists
must understand the unique cutting properties of these different
machines. As engineers create new types of machine tools and new
materials to machine, machinists must constantly learn new machining
properties and techniques.
Today, most machine shops are relatively clean, well lit, and
ventilated. Many computer-controlled machines are partially or
totally enclosed, minimizing the exposure of workers to noise,
debris, and the lubricants used to cool workpieces during machining.
Nevertheless, working around machine tools presents certain dangers,
and workers must follow safety precautions. Machinists wear protective
equipment, such as safety glasses to shield against bits of flying
metal and earplugs to dampen machinery noise. They also must exercise
caution when handling hazardous coolants and lubricants, although
many common water-based lubricants present little hazard. The
job requires stamina, because machinists stand most of the day
and, at times, may need to lift moderately heavy workpieces. Modern
factories extensively employ autoloaders and overhead cranes,
reducing heavy lifting.
Many machinists work a 40-hour week. Evening and weekend shifts
are becoming more common as companies justify investments in more
expensive machinery by extending hours of operation. However,
this trend is somewhat offset by the increasing use of lights-out
manufacturing and the use of machine operators for less desirable
shifts. Overtime is common during peak production periods.
|Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Machinists train in apprenticeship programs, informally on the
job, and in vocational schools, or community or technical colleges.
Experience with machine tools is helpful. In fact, many entrants
previously have worked as machine setters, operators, or tenders.
Persons interested in becoming machinists should be mechanically
inclined, have good problem-solving abilities, be able to work
independently, and be able to do highly accurate work (tolerances
may reach 1/10,000th of an inch) that requires concentration and
High school or vocational school courses in mathematics (especially
trigonometry), blueprint reading, metalworking, and drafting are
highly recommended. Apprenticeship programs consist of shop training
and related classroom instruction lasting up to 4 years. In shop
training, apprentices work almost full time, and are supervised
by an experienced machinist while learning to operate various
machine tools. Classroom instruction includes math, physics, materials
science, blueprint reading, mechanical drawing, and quality and
safety practices. In addition, as machine shops have increased
their use of computer-controlled equipment, training in the operation
and programming of CNC machine tools has become essential. Apprenticeship
classes are often taught in cooperation with local community or
vocational colleges. A growing number of machinists learn the
trade through 2-year associate degree programs at community or
technical colleges. Graduates of these programs still need significant
on-the-job experience before they are fully qualified.
To boost the skill level of machinists and to create a more uniform
standard of competency, a number of training facilities and colleges
are implementing curriculums that incorporate national skills
standards developed by the National Institute of Metalworking
Skills (NIMS). After completing such a curriculum and passing
a performance requirement and written exam, trainees are granted
a NIMS credential, which provides formal recognition of competency
in a metalworking field. Completing a recognized certification
program provides a machinist with better career opportunities.
As new automation is introduced, machinists normally receive
additional training to update their skills. This training usually
is provided by a representative of the equipment manufacturer
or a local technical school. Some employers offer tuition reimbursement
for job-related courses.
Machinists can advance in several ways. Experienced machinists
may become CNC programmers, tool and die makers, or mold makers,
or be promoted to supervisory or administrative positions in their
firms. A few open their own shops.
Machinists held about 370,000 jobs in 2004. Most machinists work
in small machining shops or in manufacturing industries, such
as machinery manufacturing and transportation equipment manufacturing
(motor vehicle parts and aerospace products and parts). Maintenance
machinists work in most industries that use production machinery.
Despite relatively slow employment growth, job opportunities
for machinists should continue to be good. Many young people with
the necessary educational and personal qualifications needed to
obtain machining skills often prefer to attend college or may
not wish to enter production occupations. Therefore, the number
of workers obtaining the skills and knowledge necessary to fill
machinist jobs is expected to be less than the number of job openings
arising each year from the need to replace experienced machinists
who transfer to other occupations or retire, and from job growth.
Employment of machinists is projected to grow more slowly than
average for all occupations over the 2004-14 period because of
rising productivity among these workers and strong foreign competition.
Machinists will become more efficient as a result of the expanded
use of and improvements in technologies such as CNC machine tools,
autoloaders, and high-speed machining. This allows fewer machinists
to accomplish the same amount of work previously performed by
more workers. Technology is not expected to affect the employment
of machinists as significantly as that of most other production
occupations, however, because machinists monitor and maintain
many automated systems. Due to modern production techniques, employers
prefer workers, such as machinists, who have a wide range of skills
and are capable of performing almost any task in a machine shop.
Employment levels in this occupation are influenced by economic
cycles—as the demand for machined goods falls, machinists involved
in production may be laid off or forced to work fewer hours. Employment
of machinists involved in plant maintenance, however, often is
more stable because proper maintenance and repair of costly equipment
remain critical to manufacturing operations, even when production
Median hourly earnings of machinists were $16.33 in May 2004.
The middle 50 percent earned between $12.84 and $20.33. The lowest
10 percent earned less than $10.08, while the top 10 percent earned
more than $24.34. Median hourly earnings in the manufacturing
industries employing the largest number of machinists in May 2004
|Aerospace product and parts manufacturing
|Motor vehicle parts manufacturing
|Metalworking machinery manufacturing
|Machine shops; turned product; and screw,
nut, and bolt manufacturing
Apprentices earn much less than machinists, but earnings increase
quickly as they improve their skills. Also most employers pay
for apprentices’ training classes.
Occupations most closely related to that of machinist are other
machining occupations, which include tool and die makers; machine
setters, operators, and tenders—metal and plastic; and computer
control programmers and operators. Another occupation that requires
precision and skill in working with metal is welding, soldering,
and brazing workers.
|Sources of Additional Information
For general information about machinists, contact:
- Precision Machine Products Association, 6700 West Snowville
Rd., Brecksville, OH 44141-3292. Internet: http://www.pmpa.org/
For a list of training centers and apprenticeship programs, contact:
- National Tooling and Machining Association, 9300 Livingston
Rd., Fort Washington, MD 20744. Internet: http://www.ntma.org/
For general occupational information and a list of training programs,
of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational
Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition
- Precision Metalforming Association Educational Foundation,
6363 Oak Tree Blvd., Independence, OH 44131-2500. Internet: