Do you like making things? Are you a stickler for accuracy? Do you have a good handle on computers? Do you want to work with powerful machines? Have you ever considered a career as a machinist?
Machinists go by lots of names – fitter, mill hand, grinder, toolmaker, or manufacturer. Whatever you want to call them, they operate machines and computers that create precision parts used in the manufacturing industry.
Technology has changed this industry drastically, but in the United States, over 400,000 humans are still needed every day to program the computers, monitor the process, ensure safety, and check the exactness of the final products.
Machinists take large chunks of steel, aluminum, copper, brass and other materials and turn them into precise metal pieces. A machinist worked on many of the things that you own. They create things like simple bolts, metal tools, pistons, and specialized cylinders for aircraft engines. The key to success in this job is accuracy. Precision metal pieces often need to be accurate to within hundredths of a millimeter or 50/1,000,000ths of an inch!
In order to perform this precisely, machinists use high-powered tools. They use lathes, grinders, lasers, millers, drill presses, and planers outfitted with sharp diamonds, borazon, tungsten carbide, and high speed steel to cut with proficiency and accuracy. This cutting process must be closely monitored. Protective goggles, clothing, and ear plugs are an absolute necessity.
When machinists show up for work in the morning they are given a blueprint of what needs to be made. It may be a single, unique piece or it may be a large volume of identical pieces. They review the plans and create a strategy to accomplish it. Specific tolerances, or the amount of precision, are established first. Measurements are calculated, machines are set up, tools are selected, the proper metal is picked, pieces are marked, and the process begins. The machinist uses a variety of machines to cut the metal down to size and must constantly monitor the feed rate, speed, temperatures, lubrication, and cooling processes.
In the past, it took 50 people to make and modify precision parts. Now computers do most of the work, especially for pieces that must be mass-produced. After a machinist figures out the creation process, a computer can take over. Machinists train in computer programming where they learn to write programs that control the computerized numerical control, or CNC machines. Machinists must also be able to modify computer programs to prevent problems.
At the end of the day, every piece produced must meet exact specifications.
The CNC machines are able to efficiently and economically produce every piece to the finest detail. CNC machines can work around the clock and only a few machinists are needed to monitor the process. To be a part of this career, machinists need to be willing to adapt with technology, learn new programming skills, and work with new computers on a regular basis.
Working as a machinist is a highly specialized field. A background in science, math, and computers is important. Apply to factories, unions, and manufacturers for jobs. Most employers will require either a 4-year apprenticeship with both shop time and class time or 2 years of vocational school plus on-the-job training. Some employers even help pay for training.
Machinists typically make $12 to $19 per hour or about $40,000 per year to program CNC computers and monitor the precise creation of metal parts. It’s an interesting job that affects many of the things we use in our every day lives. Is it the ideal career for you?
Glassdoor.com lists the latest machinist salary information here:
Quick Facts About Machinist Work
Job Title: Machinist
Office: Machine Shops
Description: Operate machines to create precision metal pieces
Certifications/Education: Apprenticeships are important
Necessary Skills: Math, Chemistry, Computer Science, Accuracy, Knowledge of metals
Potential Employers: Industrial Manufacturers
Pay: $12 to $19 per hour, $16 per hour is average or $40,000 per year
Fabricators and Manufacturers Association
National Institute of Metalworking Skills
International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers
National Tooling and Machining Association