Before delving into the job of a CNC operator, you must understand a CNC machine. A Computer Numerical Controlled (CNC) machine works on a program to operate machine tools such as mills and lathes. A CNC machine cuts, drills, grinds, turns, or mills the inputted raw material and shapes it into precision-specific parts.
The job of a CNC operator is to build machined components via programming and operating a CNC machine. Some fundamental responsibilities of a CNC operator include equipment maintenance, ensuring compliance with quality and adherence to safety standards, and maintaining detailed part records.
Responsibilities of a CNC Operator
Some typical responsibilities of a CNC operator include:
- Ensuring compliance with all company policies and safety protocols.
- Equipment setup using appropriate calibration techniques.
- Strict adherence to guidelines for operating machinery.
- Regularly inspecting the work area and machinery.
- Employing specific handling techniques to load raw materials and unload castings.
- Utilizing specialized instruments to meet quality parameters.
Qualifications to Become a CNC Operator
Here are the qualifications and requirements that you must meet to secure a position as a CNC operator in any firm:
Educational Qualifications and Training
Beginner CNC operators must possess at least a high school diploma or equivalent combined with some industrial experience. Securing higher positions requires a diploma in engineering or mechanical operations.
CNC operators must possess skills in advanced math, metalworking, technical drafting, machine tooling, and computer programming for peculiar industry challenges.
While several manufacturing or machining firms offer on-site training with no previous experience necessary, other employers demand a specified period of working in the CNC machining sector before admitting you to a training program.
Basic training typically lasts a few days to a week and includes following current operators and performing duties under their guidance.
Here are some of the most common yet essential certifications that aspirants must obtain to enter this profession:
Certified CNC Setup Programmer
This entry-level certification comprises assessing core competencies through apprenticeship programs and multi-level proficiency in machining. It is offered by the National Institute for Metalworking Skills, Inc. (NIMS).
Fundamentals of Metal Fabrication
The certification of Fundamentals of Metal Fabrication is offered by the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, International (FMA) for entry-level operators. The program covers fundamental concepts and operates on a curriculum of specific learning objectives. This certification is provided to technical program students and those unfamiliar with metal fabrication.
Precision Sheet Metal Operator (PSMO)
The PSMO certification is an advanced-level certification offered by the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, International. It is the industry’s most recognized and comprehensive examination, which assesses knowledge and proficiency of precision sheet metal operations. Some operations include sawing, shearing, turret punch press, press brake, laser cutting, and mechanical finishing.
Difference Between a CNC Operator and a CNC Machinist
A CNC machinist is an advanced and experienced CNC operator. The job of CNC machinists is to program machinery, read blueprints and part drawings, and troubleshoot mechanical issues.
Most CNC machinists begin their careers as CNC operators and are later responsible for supervising and instructing them. Operators who gain in-depth knowledge of machine operation, understand metal properties, and gain years of experience in CNC machining can try moving up the ranks towards a CNC machinist.
Necessary Skills to Become a CNC Operator
CNC operators must possess a wide range of skills to excel in their job and eventually climb up the ranks. Some of the relevant skills a CNC operator must acquire include:
Mathematics and Programming
CNC operators must possess knowledge of Computer-Aided Manufacturing (CAM) software and stay updated on the latest software refreshes and tools. Operators also employ math skills to estimate dimensions, fix parameters in the software and set part tolerances.
Analytical and Engineering Skills
Analytical skills are necessary for CNC operators to understand blueprints, part drawings, models, and other technical specifications in CNC machining.
One of the most critical skills for CNC operation is to possess a degree in mechanical engineering because operators must acquire a working understanding of the operation of the CNC machinery.
Besides following instructions accurately, CNC operators must adapt to variations in the work environment, emphasizing challenging demands and catering to unprecedented production delays.
Want to Become a CNC Operator? Follow These 4 Steps
If you wish to build a career in CNC machining and become a CNC operator, here are the steps that you must follow:
1. Graduate High School
Most employers demand a high school diploma or an equivalent qualification to offer entry-level jobs as a CNC operator. Once you finish high school, you can pursue an associate’s degree in tool technology, CNC machine operations, or CAD programming to improve your resume.
2. Obtain Hands-On Experience
While pursuing a degree or certification, you will most likely be provided with hands-on experience throughout your course. Otherwise, you can also apply to work as an apprentice to gain practical knowledge of the job that you seek.
3. Acquire Technical Certifications
CNC operators can improve their skills by pursuing certification courses from gold-standard organizations, including the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, International (FMA), the National Institute for Metalworking Skills, Inc. (NIMS), and many others.
4. Apply to Open Job Roles
After completing your education, acquiring certifications, and gaining hands-on experience, go through local job listings and apply for relevant positions that suit your educational qualifications, experience, and expertise. Consider writing a cover letter summarizing your qualifications and why you are suitable for the role and the company.
The metalworking industry is witnessing a rise in opportunities for CNC operators who possess a decent skill set, have an eye for detail, possess analytical and mathematical skills, and can efficiently read technical drawings.
CNC operators employ a combination of mental and hands-on work experience to transform a metal casting into a working machined component. This guide will provide you with relevant information on the responsibilities of a CNC operator and the level of qualifications necessary to enter the field and climb up the ranks.
At FactoryFix, one of our primary goals is to connect skilled workers with career opportunities where they can thrive. In addition to maintaining a job board with manufacturing opportunities, we also share information regarding different career paths with guest contributors directly from the field. We thank Peter Jacobs for sharing his insights in this edition of the CNC Operator Spotlight.
Learn more about our Career Coach resource or check out our job board to find open positions near you.
About the Author
Peter Jacobs is the Senior Director of Marketing at CNC Masters. He is actively involved in manufacturing processes and regularly contributes his insights for various blogs in CNC machining, 3D printing, rapid tooling, injection molding, metal casting, and manufacturing in general.