working with a cnc machine

Becoming a CNC machinist is a very technical job, which requires proper education and training. It is a job that is vital to the automotive industry and one that is not going to fade anytime soon. That means that you can look forward to a future of job stability when making the career choice to become a CNC machinist. These jobs also offer competitive pay as CNC machinists are entrusted with a host of responsibilities that require skill, safety and precision. Becoming a CNC machinist can be accomplished by following theses simple steps.

1.    Meet Minimum Education Requirements2.    Select a CNC Machinist Training Program3.    Complete CNC Machinist Training4.    Obtain Work Experience as a CNC Machinist5.   Earn CNC Machinist Certifications

What is a CNC Machinist?

CNC stands for Computer Numerical Control, which is used to describe the functionality of a CNC machine. These machines produce all kinds of parts for automobiles. There are other uses as CNC machines are used on metal, wood, fiberglass, copper, brass, titanium and plastics. CNC machinists are capable of taking a blueprint and interpreting the information to program a CNC machine so that it produces a specific part. The machine functions by cutting, milling and grinding the material to provide an exact match. Here is a closer look at the job duties of a CNC Machinist.

  • Interpret design of parts based on shapes and cuts
  • Incorporate technical briefs when programming a CNC machine
  • Choose appropriate tools needed to complete product orders
  • Select most optimum tolerance levels and cutting speeds
  • Conduct regular maintenance on CNC machine for efficiency
  • Verifying work is up to technical standards of current project
  • Operate lathes, presses, mills and drills
  • Proficient in the operation of cutting and grinding machines

CNC machinists have become a valuable part of the automotive industry as their job duties provide a necessary function to parts replacement.

Meet Minimum Education Requirements

It is very rare for a CNC machinist to obtain employment without any post-secondary education. Therefore, in order to obtain work as a CNC machinist, the first step is to complete a high school education by earning a diploma or GED equivalency. This will provide a foundation of knowledge, particularly when it comes to math skills. The job of a CNC machinist relies on mathematical precision and the first step towards receiving the proper training begins at the high school level.

CNC Machinist certificate training programs are available at technical colleges, vocational institutes, career training centers and community colleges. Each institute will set its own requirements for admission. However, it is rare for any of those programs to admit students who do not hold a high school diploma or GED equivalency. Some programs will require applicants to pass a math skills test. There are also colleges offering Associate Degree programs in CNC Machinery. These programs may be more stringent with their admission requirements and typically ask for standardized test scores and some require applicants to take placement tests.

Select a CNC Machinist Training Program

There are a variety of vocational schools, technical institutes and community colleges that offer CNC machinist training programs. These programs differ in length as some can be completed in a matter of a few months while others may take several months to complete. These programs are designated as certificate programs, meaning students will not receive a college degree upon completion. However, the certificate of completion serves as an adequate form of training in this profession and will be sufficient enough to obtain employment.

There are different titles for these programs as some are called CNC Machining, CNC Machinist Technology and CNC Programming. The components of these programs are relatively similar as both combine classroom instruction and hands-on training. Regular exams are given in traditional test form and through practical application as well.

There is also the option of extending one’s education and earning an Associate’s Degree of Applied Science in CNC Machining from a two-year junior college or community college. An associate degree program goes into greater depth, offering classes that include conceptual physics, geometric dimensioning and more. These programs also require the completion of core classes that are not required in a certificate program. These core classes typically extend the program to last a bit longer in duration.

Both the certificate and associate degree options generally serve as ample training to obtain a position as a CNC machinist. There are financial aid and scholarship options, although the specifics differ according to each individual institution.

Complete CNC Machinist Training Program

Completing a CNC Machinist education program will require both classroom and a hands-on portion of coursework. Experienced CNC machinists serve as instructors and teach the essentials of the trade. This prepares students to enter into the profession upon graduation. Here is a look at some of the coursework that is taught through CNC Machinist education programs:

  • Blueprint Reading
  • Fundamentals of Machining
  • Machine Shop Safety and Routing Practices
  • Machining Techniques
  • Mill Programming
  • Lathe Programming
  • Calculations and Measurements

As part of these programs, students will learn about the finer points of CNC Machines. That includes extensive knowledge on metal diaphragm compressors, pressure vessels and other important components. One of the primary machines used by CNC machinists is a CNC lathe which manufactures parts based on work orders. There are specifications that dictate this process as CNC machinists are capable of fabricating the internal fixtures.

Students also become proficient in operating a CNC mill which drills and cuts parts to fit the specifications of a work order. The CNC mill is the most frequently used CNC machine and becomes a regular tool of machinists.

Once students complete a CNC Machinist Training Program, they will have the necessary skills to join the workforce. They will be able to determine which tool is appropriate for specific work orders. In addition to the technical skills that are attained in these programs, graduates will have the following skills:

  • Communication Efficiency
  • Enhanced Mechanical and Technical Capacity
  • Advanced Knowledge of Safety Precautions
  • Computer Numerical Control Mastery
  • Understanding of Blueprint Specifications

Obtain Work Experience as a CNC Machinist

A CNC Machinist certificate or an associate’s degree in CNC Machinery Technology will qualify individuals for employment as a CNC machinist. Most CNC machinists work 40-hour weeks and are paid hourly rates. There are some that are on salary, although they are fewer in number. Overtime rates may be applied during higher production times. Work experience is also required to earn CNC Machinist certifications. Some higher-paying positions demand a certain amount of work experience, although there are enough entry-level positions to make this a promising career choice.

  • Annual Salary of a CNC Machinist

    According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, CNC machinists fall into the classification of machinists and tool and die makers. The annual median salary for that group stands at $43,160, which is the equivalent of $20.75 per hour. However, the overtime potential can raise that annual amount and pay rates also differ by location, experience and workplace. The top 10% of that machinist group claim a yearly salary of $62,590, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Most CNC machinists spent the better part of their workday on their feet. The physical demands may also require them to remain hunched over a machine for an extended period of time. The work environment typically consists of a shop where CNC machinists work under the direction of a shop supervisor.

The work area is intended to be clean and well ventilated. The CNC machines have implemented modern technology, which prevents them from being excessively loud. However, safety equipment is required at all times when operating a CNC machine.

Earn CNC Machinist Certifications

Earning a certification as a CNC machinist indicates that an individual has attained a higher level of skill and knowledge. There are various certifications that can be obtained. The National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS) provides a host of different certifications. This includes the distinction of NIMS Certified CNC Setup Programmer and adds in different milling credential levels. There are certifications available for Mill Operations, Lathe Operations and other certifications in Lathe Programming and Mill Programming. For more information on how to become NIMS certified, click here.

There are other certifications offered through another organization. The Roll Form Operator Skilled Trade Certification and the Precision Sheet Metal Operator Certification are both offered by the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, International. To earn either of these certifications, students must complete coursework and also attain a certain amount of work experience. For those interested in potentially earning one of these certifications, click here.

A certification as a CNC machinist is not required, although it does boost the resume of a CNC machinist. Potential employers are always looking to hire the most qualified machinists and earning a certification shows a commitment to advancing one’s overall knowledge and skill in this profession. Certifications also provide CNC machinists with more bargaining power when negotiating a pay raise or obtaining employment.

CNC machinists who hold certifications are often held in higher standing than those who have not attained any form of ongoing education. This is also important in order to stay current with the latest technology in the industry. CNC machines are continually being upgraded to provide more efficiency and it’s important for machinists to stay ahead of the learning curve by engaging in some form of career advancement or ongoing education.