Occupation Profile for Lay-Out Workers, Metal and Plastic

Lay out reference points and dimensions on metal or plastic stock or workpieces, such as sheets, plates, tubes, structural shapes, castings, or machine parts, for further processing. Includes shipfitters.

 
 

Significant Points

  • Manufacturing industries employ more than 90 percent of workers.
  • A few weeks of on-the-job training is sufficient for most workers to learn basic machine operations, but a year or more is required to become a highly skilled operator or setter.
  • Overall employment of machine setters, operators, and tenders is projected to decline rapidly over the 2006-16 period as a result of productivity improvements and competition for jobs from abroad.
  • Those who can operate multiple machines will have the best opportunities for advancement and for gaining jobs with more long-term potential.

 

 
 
Overview
$33,600.00 Median Annual Wage 0 Average Job Openings Per Year
6.5 Average Unemployment Percentage 72.6 Percentage That Completed High School
10,000 Employment Numbers in 2006 24.0 Percentage That Had Some College
8,000 Employment Numbers in 2016 (est.) 3.4 Percentage That Went Beyond College Degree

Sample Job Titles
Aircraft Lay Out Worker
Bellmaker
Coordinate Measuring Machine Technician (CMM Technician)
Development Mechanic
Duplicator
Fabricator
Fitter
Fitter Up
Hangersmith
Layer Out
Layout Inspector
Layout Man
Layout Mechanic
Layout Technician
Layout Worker
Machine Lay Out Worker
Marine Fitter
Pattern Layout Worker
Pattern Setter
Plate Fitter
Plate Hanger
Precision Layout Worker
Propeller Layout Worker
Quality Technician
Rigger
Sheet Metal Worker
Ship Erector
Ship Fitter
Shipfitter
Shipfitter Apprentice
Steel Fabricator
Technician, Location and Measurement
Welder
Welder-Fitter

Training
  • These occupations often involve using your knowledge and skills to help others. Examples include sheet metal workers, forest fire fighters, customer service representatives, pharmacy technicians, salespersons (retail), and tellers.
  • These occupations usually require a high school diploma and may require some vocational training or job-related course work. In some cases, an associate's or bachelor's degree could be needed.
  • Some previous work-related skill, knowledge, or experience may be helpful in these occupations, but usually is not needed. For example, a teller might benefit from experience working directly with the public, but an inexperienced person could still learn to be a teller with little difficulty.
  • Employees in these occupations need anywhere from a few months to one year of working with experienced employees.

A few weeks of on-the-job training is sufficient for most workers to learn basic machine operations, but a year or more is required to become a highly skilled operator or setter.

Education and training. Employers generally prefer workers who have a high school diploma or equivalent for jobs as machine setters, operators, and tenders. Being able to read, write, and speak English is important. Those interested in this occupation can improve their employment opportunities by completing high school courses in shop and blueprint reading and by gaining a working knowledge of the properties of metals and plastics. A solid math background, including courses in algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and basic statistics, also is useful, along with experience working with computers.

Trainees begin by observing and assisting experienced workers, sometimes in formal training programs or apprenticeships. Under supervision, they may start as tenders, supplying materials, starting and stopping the machine, or removing finished products from it. Then they advance to the more difficult tasks performed by operators, such as adjusting feed speeds, changing cutting tools, or inspecting a finished product for defects. Eventually, they develop the skills and experience to setup machines and assist newer operators.

The complexity of the equipment largely determines the time required to become an operator. Most operators learn the basic machine operations and functions in a few weeks, but a year or more may be needed to become skilled operators or to advance to the more highly skilled job of setter. Although many operators learn on the job, some community colleges and other educational institutions offer courses and certifications in operating metal and plastics machines. In addition to providing on-the-job training, some employers send promising machine tenders to classes. Other employers prefer to hire workers who have completed, or currently are enrolled in, a training program.

Setters or technicians often plan the sequence of work, make the first production run, and determine which adjustments need to be made. As a result, these workers need a thorough knowledge of the machinery and of the products being manufactured. Strong analytical abilities are particularly important for this job. Some companies have formal training programs for operators and setters, which often combine classroom instruction with on-the-job training. For some positions, such as grinders and rolling or pressing setup workers, formal apprenticeships are available. These programs require 300-600 hours of classroom training, and 2000-4000 hours of on-the-job experience. Workers complete these programs in about 2 to 4 years, depending upon the program.

Other qualifications. As the machinery in manufacturing plants becomes more complex and with changes to shop-floor organization that require more teamwork among employees, employers increasingly look for persons with good communication and interpersonal skills. Mechanical aptitude, manual dexterity, and experience working with machinery also are helpful.

Certification and advancement. Job opportunities and advancement can be enhanced by becoming certified in a particular machining skill. The National Institute for Metalworking Skills has developed standards for machine setters, operators, and tenders—metal. After taking an approved course and passing a written exam and performance requirement, the worker is issued a credential that signifies competence in a specific machining operation. The Society of Plastics Industry, the national trade association representing plastics manufacturers, also certifies workers in that industry. Certifications vary greatly depending upon the skill level involved. Both organizations offer multiple levels of operator and setter certifications. Certifications allow operators and setters to switch jobs more easily because they can prove their skills to a potential employer.

Advancement for operators usually takes the form of higher pay and a wider range of responsibilities, eventually than can advance to be setup workers. With experience and training they can become multiple-machine operators, or trainees for more highly skilled positions, such as, machinists, tool and die makers, or computer-control programmers. Some setup workers may advance to supervisory positions.

Nature of Work

Consider the parts of a toaster, such as the metal or plastic housing or the lever that lowers the toast. These parts, and many other metal and plastic products, are produced by machine setters, operators, and tenders—metal and plastic. In fact, machine operators in the metalworking and plastics industries play a major role in producing most of the consumer products on which we rely daily.

In general, these workers can be separated into two groups—those who set up machines for operation and those who operate the machines during production. Setup workers prepare the machines prior to production, perform initial test runs producing a part, and may adjust and make minor repairs to the machinery during its operation. Operators and tenders primarily monitor the machinery during its operation; sometimes they load or unload the machine or make minor adjustments to the controls. Many workers both set up and operate equipment. Because the setup process requires an understanding of the entire production process, setters usually have more training and are more highly skilled than those who simply operate or tend machinery. As new automation simplifies the setup process, however, less skilled workers also are increasingly able to set up machines for operation.

Setters, operators, and tenders usually are identified by the type of machine with which they work. Some examples of specific titles are drilling- and boring-machine toolsetters, milling- and planing-machine tenders, and lathe- and turning-machine tool operators. Job duties usually vary with the size of the firm and the type of machine being operated. Although some workers specialize in one or two types of machinery, many are trained to set up or operate a variety of machines. Increasing automation allows machine setters to operate multiple machines simultaneously. In addition, newer production techniques, such as team-oriented lean manufacturing, require machine operators to rotate between different machines. Rotating assignments results in more varied work, but also requires workers to have a wider range of skills.

Machine setters, operators, and tenders—metal set up and tend machines that cut and form all types of metal parts. Setup workers plan and set up the sequence of operations according to blueprints, layouts, or other instructions. Often this involves loading a computer program with instructions into the machine’s computer controls. On all machines, including those with computer controls, setup workers respond to problems during operation by adjusting the speed, feed and other variables. They also choose the proper coolants and lubricants and select the instruments or tools for each operation. Using micrometers, gauges, and other precision measuring instruments, setup workers compare the completed work within the required tolerances.

Although there are many different types of metalworking machine tools that require specific knowledge and skills, most operators perform similar tasks. Whether tending grinding machines that remove excess material from the surface of solid piece of metal or presses that extrude molten metal through a die to form wire, operators usually perform simple, repetitive operations that can be learned quickly. Typically, these workers place metal stock in a machine on which the operating specifications have already been set. They watch one or more machines and make adjustments to the machines based on either reading from computers and gauges or measuring the resulting product. Regardless of the type of machine they operate, machine operators usually depend on more skilled and experienced setup workers for major adjustments when the machines are not functioning properly.

Machine setters, operators, and tenders—plastic set up and tend machines that transform plastic compounds—chemical-based products that can be produced in powder, pellet, or syrup form—into a wide variety of consumer goods such as toys, tubing, and auto parts. These products are manufactured by various methods, of which injection molding is the most common. The injection-molding machine heats and liquefies a plastic compound and forces it into a mold. After the part has cooled and hardened, the mold opens and the part is released. Many common kitchen products are produced with this method. To produce long parts, such as pipes or window frames, an extruding machine usually is used. These machines force a plastic compound through a die that contains an opening with the desired shape of the final product. Blow molding is another common plasticsworking technique. Blow-molding machines force hot air into a mold that contains a plastic tube. As the air moves into the mold, the tube is inflated to the shape of the mold, and a plastic container is formed. The familiar 2-liter soft-drink bottles are produced by this method.

Work environment. Most machine setters, operators, and tenders—metal and plastic work in areas that are clean, well lit, and well ventilated. Nevertheless, many operators require stamina, because they are on their feet much of the day and may do moderately heavy lifting. Also, these workers operate powerful, high-speed machines that can be dangerous if strict safety rules are not observed. Most operators wear protective equipment, such as safety glasses and earplugs, to protect against flying particles of metal or plastic and against noise from the machines. However, many modern machines are enclosed, minimizing the exposure of workers to noise, dust, and lubricants used during machining. Other required safety equipment varies by work setting and machine. For example, those in the plastics industry who work near materials that emit dangerous fumes or dust must wear face masks or self-contained breathing apparatus.

Overtime is common during periods of increased production for most machine setters, operators, and tenders—metal and plastic, but they usually work a 40-hour week. Because many metalworking and plastics working shops operate more than one shift daily, some operators work nights and weekends.

Related Occupations

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

Earnings for machine operators can vary by size of the company, union status, industry, and skill level and experience of the operator. Also, temporary employees, who are being hired in greater numbers, usually get paid less than permanently employed workers. The median hourly earnings in May 2006 for a variety of machine setters, operators, and tenders—metal and plastic were:

Model makers, metal and plastic $20.22
Patternmakers, metal and plastic 17.01
Lay-out workers, metal and plastic 16.15
Metal-refining furnace operators and tenders 15.69
Lathe and turning machine tool setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 15.46
Milling and planing machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 15.18
Rolling machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 14.93
Heat treating equipment setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 14.83
Tool grinders, filers, and sharpeners 14.73
Multiple machine tool setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 14.68
Drilling and boring machine tool setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 14.36
Pourers and casters, metal 14.22
Forging machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 13.94
Foundry mold and coremakers 13.82
Extruding and drawing machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 13.58
Grinding, lapping, polishing, and buffing machine tool setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 13.50
Plating and coating machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 13.21
Cutting, punching, and press machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 12.66
Molding, coremaking, and casting machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 12.29
Metal workers and plastic workers, all other 16.69

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:

  • Extruding and drawing machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic
  • Forging machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic
  • Rolling machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic
  • Cutting, punching, and press machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic
  • Drilling and boring machine tool setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic
  • Grinding, lapping, polishing, and buffing machine tool setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic
  • Lathe and turning machine tool setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic
  • Milling and planing machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic
  • Metal-refining furnace operators and tenders
  • Pourers and casters, metal
  • Model makers, metal and plastic
  • Patternmakers, metal and plastic
  • Foundry mold and coremakers
  • Molding, coremaking, and casting machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic
  • Multiple machine tool setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic
  • Heat treating equipment setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic
  • Lay-out workers, metal and plastic
  • Plating and coating machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic
  • Tool grinders, filers, and sharpeners
  • Metal workers and plastic workers, all other
  • Job Outlook

    Overall employment in the various machine setter, operator, and tender occupations is expected to decline rapidly during the projection period. Those who can operate multiple machines will have the best opportunities for advancement and for gaining jobs with more long-term potential.

    Employment change. Overall employment in the various machine setter, operator, and tender occupations is expected to decline rapidly by 15 percent from 2006 to 2016. In general, employment growth of these workers will be affected by technological advances, changing demand for the goods they produce, foreign competition, and the reorganization of production processes.

    One of the most important factors influencing employment change in this occupation is the implementation of labor-saving machinery. Many firms are adopting new technologies, such as computer-controlled machine tools and robots in order to improve quality, lower production costs, and remain competitive. Computer-controlled equipment allows operators to tend a greater number of machines simultaneously and often makes setup easier, thereby reducing the amount of time setup workers spend on each machine. Robots are being used to load and unload parts from machines. The lower-skilled manual machine tool operators and tenders jobs are more likely to be eliminated by these new technologies, because the functions they perform are more easily automated.

    The demand for machine setters, operators, and tenders—metal and plastic largely mirrors the demand for the parts they produce. The consumption of plastic products has grown as they have been substituted for metal goods in many products in recent years. The process is likely to continue and should result in stronger demand for machine operators in plastics than in metal.

    Both the plastics and metal industries, however, face stiff foreign competition that is limiting the demand for domestically produced parts. One way in which larger U.S. producers have responded to this competition is by moving production operations to other countries where labor costs are lower. These moves are likely to continue and will further reduce employment growth for machine operators, setters, and tenders—metal and plastic in the United States. Another way domestic manufacturers compete with low-wage foreign competition is by increasing their use of automated systems, which can make manufacturing establishments more competitive by improving their productivity. However, increased automation also limits employment growth.

    Job prospects. Despite the overall rapid employment decline, a large number of machine setter, operator, and tender jobs will become available because of an expected surge in retirements, primarily baby boomers, by the end of the decade. Workers with a thorough background in machine operations, certifications from industry associations, exposure to a variety of machines, and a good working knowledge of the properties of metals and plastics will be better able to adjust to the changing environment. In addition, new shop-floor arrangements will reward workers with good basic mathematics and reading skills, good communication skills, and the ability and willingness to learn new tasks. As workers adapt to team-oriented production methods, those who can operate multiple machines will have the best opportunities for advancement and for gaining jobs with more long-term potential.

    Employment

    Machine setters, operators, and tenders—metal and plastic held about 1.1 million jobs in 2006. More than 90 percent of jobs were found in manufacturing, primarily in fabricated metal product manufacturing, plastics and rubber products manufacturing, primary metal manufacturing, machinery manufacturing, and motor vehicle parts manufacturing.

    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
    • Core — Mark curves, lines, holes, dimensions, and welding symbols onto workpieces, using scribes, soapstones, punches, and hand drills.
    • Core — Compute layout dimensions, and determine and mark reference points on metal stock or workpieces for further processing, such as welding and assembly.
    • Core — Locate center lines and verify template positions, using measuring instruments such as gauge blocks, height gauges, and dial indicators.
    • Core — Lift and position workpieces in relation to surface plates, manually or with hoists, and using parallel blocks and angle plates.
    • Core — Plan locations and sequences of cutting, drilling, bending, rolling, punching, and welding operations, using compasses, protractors, dividers, and rules.
    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.
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