Occupation Profile for Machinists

Set up and operate a variety of machine tools to produce precision parts and instruments. Includes precision instrument makers who fabricate, modify, or repair mechanical instruments. May also fabricate and modify parts to make or repair machine tools or maintain industrial machines, applying knowledge of mechanics, shop mathematics, metal properties, layout, and machining procedures.

 
 

Significant Points

  • Machinists learn in apprenticeship programs, informally on the job, in vocational high schools, and in community or technical colleges.
  • Many entrants previously have worked as machine setters, operators, or tenders.
  • Although employment is projected to decline, job opportunities are expected to be good.

 

 
 
Overview
$34,770.00 Median Annual Wage 6,000 Average Job Openings Per Year
3.6 Average Unemployment Percentage 59.5 Percentage That Completed High School
397,000 Employment Numbers in 2006 37.3 Percentage That Had Some College
384,000 Employment Numbers in 2016 (est.) 3.2 Percentage That Went Beyond College Degree

Sample Job Titles
Aircraft Machinist
Auto Machinist
Automotive Machinist
Bench Hand
Carbide Operator
CNC Machine Operator (Computer Numerically Controlled Machine Operator)
CNC Machinist (Computer Numerically Controlled Machinist)
CNC Operator and Programmer (Computer Numerically Controlled Operator and Programmer)
Deck Engineer
Development Mechanic
Electrical Machinist
Experimental Mechanic, Electrical
Fitter
Fitter, Machine
Fixture Maker
Fluid-Power Mechanic
Instrument Maker
Instrument Maker and Repairer
Instrument Maker Apprentice
Instrument Maker, Electrical
Jobber
Laboratory Machinist
Lathe Machinist
Machine Fitter
Machine Operator
Machinist
Machinist Apprentice
Machinist Apprentice, Automotive
Machinist Apprentice, Outside
Machinist Mate
Machinist Tool and Die
Machinist, Experimental
Machinist, Metal
Machinist, Outside
Maintenance Machinist
Maintenance Specialist
Maintenance Technician
Manual Machinist
Master Machinist
Mechanic, Experimental
Mechanist
Mold Tooling Designer (MTD)
Precision Instrument Maker
Precision Machine Operator
Precision Machinist
Printing Press Machinist
Production Machinist
Rocket Motor Mechanic
Set-Up Machinist
Technician, Mechanical Laboratory
Test Technician
Thermometer Maker
Tool Machinist
Tool Maker
Toolroom Machinist
Trouble Shooter
Turret Lathe Machinist
Utility Operator

Training
  • These occupations usually involve using communication and organizational skills to coordinate, supervise, manage, or train others to accomplish goals. Examples include funeral directors, electricians, forest and conservation technicians, legal secretaries, interviewers, and insurance sales agents.
  • Most occupations in this zone require training in vocational schools, related on-the-job experience, or an associate's degree. Some may require a bachelor's degree.
  • Previous work-related skill, knowledge, or experience is required for these occupations. For example, an electrician must have completed three or four years of apprenticeship or several years of vocational training, and often must have passed a licensing exam, in order to perform the job.
  • Employees in these occupations usually need one or two years of training involving both on-the-job experience and informal training with experienced workers.

Machinists train in apprenticeship programs, vocational schools, or community or technical colleges, or informally on the job. Many entrants previously have worked as machine setters, operators, or tenders.

Education and training. There are many different ways to become a skilled machinist. Many entrants previously have worked as machine setters, operators, or tenders. In high school, students should take math courses, especially trigonometry, and, if available, courses in blueprint reading, metalworking, and drafting. After high school, some machinists learn entirely on the job, but most acquire their skills in a mix of classroom and on-the-job training. Formal apprenticeship programs, typically sponsored by a union or manufacturer, are an excellent way to learn the job of machinist, but are often hard to get into. Apprentices usually must have a high school diploma, GED, or the equivalent, and most have taken algebra and trigonometry classes.

Apprenticeship programs consist of paid 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 colleges or vocational-technical schools. A growing number of machinists are learning 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.

Certification and other qualifications. People 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 50/1,000,000ths of an inch) that requires concentration and physical effort. Experience working with machine tools is helpful. In fact, many entrants have worked as machine setters, operators, or tenders.

To boost the skill level of machinists and to create a more uniform standard of competency, a number of training facilities, State apprenticeship boards, 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 practical and written exams, trainees are granted a NIMS credential. Completing a recognized certification program provides a machinist with better career opportunities and helps employers better judge the abilities of new hires. Journeyworker certification can be obtained from State apprenticeship boards after completing an apprenticeship.

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.

Advancement. 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 machine shops.

Nature of Work

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.

Machinists first review electronic or written blueprints or specifications for a job before they machine a part. 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. They determine 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 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.

During the cutting process, machinists detect problems by listening for specific sounds—for example, that of 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 against blueprints.

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 machinist determines the cutting path, speed of the cut and the feed rate, and the programmer converts path, speed, and feed information into a set of instructions for the CNC machine tool.

Because most machinists train in CNC programming, they may write basic programs themselves and often modify programs in response to problems encountered during test runs. Modifications, called offsets, not only fix problems, but they also improve efficiency by reducing manufacturing time and tool wear. After the production process is designed, computer control operators implement it by performing relatively simple and repetitive operations.

Some manufacturing techniques employ automated parts loaders, automatic tool changers, and computer controls, allowing machines 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. In the off-hours, during what is known as lights-out manufacturing, a factory may need only a few machinists to monitor the entire factory.

Maintenance machinists repair or make new parts for existing machinery. After an industrial machinery mechanic or maintenance worker discovers the broken part of a machine, they give the broken part to the machinist. To replace broken parts, maintenance machinists refer to blueprints and perform the same machining operations that were needed to create the original part. While production machinists are concentrated in a few industries, maintenance machinists work in many manufacturing industries.

Because the technology of machining is changing rapidly, machinists must learn to operate a wide range of machines. Some newer machines use lasers, water jets, or electrified wires to cut the workpiece. While some of the computer controls are similar to other machine tools, 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.

Work environment. 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 use autoloaders and overhead cranes to reduce heavy lifting.

Many machinists work a 40-hour week. Evening and weekend shifts are becoming more common as companies extend hours of operation to make better use of expensive machines. However, this trend is somewhat offset by lights-out manufacturing that uses fewer machinists and the use of machine operators for less desirable shifts. Overtime is common during peak production periods.

Related Occupations

Sources: Career Guide to Industries (CGI), Occupational Information Network (O*Net), Occupation Outlook Handbook (OOH)
Earnings

Median hourly wage-and-salary earnings of machinists were $16.71 in May 2006. The middle 50 percent earned between $13.14 and $20.82. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $10.29, while the top 10 percent earned more than $25.31. Median hourly wage-and-salary earnings in the manufacturing industries employing the largest number of machinists were:

Aerospace product and parts manufacturing $18.46
Motor vehicle parts manufacturing 18.27
Metalworking machinery manufacturing 17.36
Machine shops; turned product; and screw, nut, and bolt manufacturing 16.24
Employment services 11.98

Apprentices earn much less than experienced machinists, but earnings increase quickly as they improve their skills. Also most employers pay for apprentices’ training classes.

For the latest wage information:

The above wage data are from the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey program, unless otherwise noted. For the latest National, State, and local earnings data, visit the following pages:

  • Machinists
  • Job Outlook

    Although employment of machinists is projected to decline slowly, job prospects are expected to be good.

    Employment change. Employment of machinists is projected to decline slowly by 3 percent over the 2006-16 decade because of rising productivity among these workers and strong foreign competition in the manufacture of goods. 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. Technology is not expected to affect the employment of machinists as significantly as that of some other production workers, 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.

    Job prospects. Despite the projected decline in employment, job opportunities for machinists should continue to be good as employers value the wide-ranging skills of these workers. Also, many young people with the necessary educational and personal qualifications needed to become machinists prefer to attend college or may not wish to enter production occupations. Therefore, the number of workers learning to be machinists is expected to be less than the number of job openings arising each year from the need to replace experienced machinists who retire or transfer to other occupations.

    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 remains critical to manufacturing operations, even when production levels fall.

    Employment

    Machinists held about 397,000 jobs in 2006. About 78 percent of machinists work in manufacturing industries, such as machine shops and machinery, motor vehicle and parts, aerospace products and parts, and other transportation equipment manufacturing. Maintenance machinists work in most industries that use production machinery.

    Knowledge
    • Mathematics — Knowledge of arithmetic, algebra, geometry, calculus, statistics, and their applications.
    • Engineering and Technology — Knowledge of the practical application of engineering science and technology. This includes applying principles, techniques, procedures, and equipment to the design and production of various goods and services.
    • Sales and Marketing — Knowledge of principles and methods for showing, promoting, and selling products or services. This includes marketing strategy and tactics, product demonstration, sales techniques, and sales control systems.
    • Medicine and Dentistry — Knowledge of the information and techniques needed to diagnose and treat human injuries, diseases, and deformities. This includes symptoms, treatment alternatives, drug properties and interactions, and preventive health-care measures.
    • Physics — Knowledge and prediction of physical principles, laws, their interrelationships, and applications to understanding fluid, material, and atmospheric dynamics, and mechanical, electrical, atomic and sub- atomic structures and processes.
    Skills
    • Equipment Maintenance — Performing routine maintenance on equipment and determining when and what kind of maintenance is needed.
    • Coordination — Adjusting actions in relation to others' actions.
    • Active Learning — Understanding the implications of new information for both current and future problem-solving and decision-making.
    • Writing — Communicating effectively in writing as appropriate for the needs of the audience.
    • Troubleshooting — Determining causes of operating errors and deciding what to do about it.
    Abilities
    • Near Vision — The ability to see details at close range (within a few feet of the observer).
    • Stamina — The ability to exert yourself physically over long periods of time without getting winded or out of breath.
    • Explosive Strength — The ability to use short bursts of muscle force to propel oneself (as in jumping or sprinting), or to throw an object.
    • Oral Comprehension — The ability to listen to and understand information and ideas presented through spoken words and sentences.
    • Hearing Sensitivity — The ability to detect or tell the differences between sounds that vary in pitch and loudness.
    Tasks
    • Supplemental — Dismantle machines or equipment, using hand tools and power tools, to examine parts for defects and replace defective parts where needed.
    • Core — Observe and listen to operating machines or equipment to diagnose machine malfunctions and to determine need for adjustments or repairs.
    • Supplemental — Establish work procedures for fabricating new structural products, using a variety of metalworking machines.
    • Core — Check work pieces to ensure that they are properly lubricated and cooled.
    • Core — Calculate dimensions and tolerances using knowledge of mathematics and instruments such as micrometers and vernier calipers.
    Activities
    • Monitoring and Controlling Resources — Monitoring and controlling resources and overseeing the spending of money.
    • Guiding, Directing, and Motivating Subordinates — Providing guidance and direction to subordinates, including setting performance standards and monitoring performance.
    • Assisting and Caring for Others — Providing personal assistance, medical attention, emotional support, or other personal care to others such as coworkers, customers, or patients.
    • Repairing and Maintaining Electronic Equipment — Servicing, repairing, calibrating, regulating, fine-tuning, or testing machines, devices, and equipment that operate primarily on the basis of electrical or electronic (not mechanical) principles.
    • Getting Information — Observing, receiving, and otherwise obtaining information from all relevant sources.
    Related College Curriculum
     
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