Why CNC Machining
Is a Good Career Choice for You
Entering the manufacturing industry as a CNC operator is an option many people might consider, although you may be reluctant to take the plunge if you do not have an understanding of the potential career trajectory this offers.
To address this, here is a rundown of the skills that CNC machining will teach you and the development opportunities it affords professionals, so you can make an informed decision about whether it is the right career for you.
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A brief introduction to CNC technology
Computer numerical control (CNC) machinery has been around for several decades at this point, with the term CNC applying to all sorts of equipment used in manufacturing, ranging from drills, mills and lathes to laser cutters and beyond.
What sets it apart from older approaches to producing parts and working on materials is that the tool involved is controlled mechanically, and the movements are defined by a pre-programmed, computerized design. This takes the direct control of a craftsperson out of the equation, although as you will find out, human workers are still very much involved in the operation of CNC gear.
Effective problem solving
While modern CNC equipment is generally intended to automate tasks that were previously performed manually by technicians, this does not mean that human operators are relegated to little more than low-skilled button pushers; quite the opposite.
Indeed, you will need to demonstrate and foster problem solving skills in order to cope with the day-to-day challenges of fulfilling a machinist’s role.
This is relevant not only for operating the equipment itself, but also for broader strategizing and planning as part of a team within an ambitious organization. For example, you may be expected to determine the most appropriate procurement tactics, deciding between a variety of brands of used press brakes for sale or calculating whether current equipment can be maintained and upgraded, rather than needing to be replaced.
The problem-solving skills you develop will be applicable whether you decide to stick with a career in CNC machining, move into a managerial role, or shift to an entirely different industry further down the line.
Another universally useful skill set to build upon with a career in CNC machining is communication, both written and verbal.
The ability to interpret designs and blueprints provided by engineers, translate these into physical components through the use of equipment and collaborate with colleagues to find the best way to fulfill the needs of clients will be part and parcel of the machinist’s experience on the job every day.
Because of this, you will also be able to glean an understanding of how a number of different communication platforms work, in addition to having to get to grips with the interpersonal skills that are important in every workplace.
Attention to detail
Manufacturing is an industry in which attention to detail is arguably more important than in almost any other context. One small misstep can have serious consequences for a company and overlooking a seemingly minor defect or flaw early on may end up having serious repercussions when this is passed down through thousands or even millions of sub-standard production units.
While CNC machine operators are not necessarily responsible for creating these problems in the first place, they will be a more valuable asset to the organizations they represent if they have a finely honed appreciation of attention to detail and can pick up on potential disasters before they are allowed to spread.
From testing and maintaining equipment to scrutinizing designs and pinpointing issues with materials and prototypes, machinists will need to keep their eye on the ball, and this means nurturing the skills necessary to do this.
Software & hardware programming proficiency
CNC machine operation is fundamentally a technical process, requiring workers to ensure that the hardware under their care works as intended, as well as that the software side of the equation runs smoothly.
Being proficient in both aspects of programming that this involves is crucial for anyone who wants to make a career in the world of CNC machining. Likewise, if you know how to program heavy equipment and check that software instructions are being correctly interpreted, you will learn skills that will set you in good stead for whatever path your career might take within another industry.
In turn you can expect to acquire skills in math, since taking measurements, checking tolerances and comparing dimensions are all part and parcel of producing components using CNC equipment. These tend to go hand in hand with developing an understanding of software and hardware programming, and again are abilities that are applicable elsewhere.
One of the interesting things about CNC machinery is that it can be used to make components and parts for almost any purpose, and lots of smaller manufacturers will need to be incredibly agile to jump on the opportunities that are available to them.
This means that operators must also be able to adapt to whatever is needed from them during a given project, whether that might be making aerospace parts, providing prototypes for the auto industry, or fashioning one-off, bespoke objects for boutique clients.
Many of the more complex aspects involved will be automatically encompassed by the software and hardware, but operators will still need to foster a varied skill set and a generally flexible approach to tackling the challenges they face day by day.
CNC machine operation is not about brute force or raw strength on the part of the operator; that is what the equipment is for.
Instead, you will need to be able to operate devices and systems, as well as manipulate work pieces, with accuracy and overall dexterousness. Good hand-eye coordination, as well as an overarching level of control, will pay dividends and should set you up for whatever else your career might throw at you in the future.
Although CNC equipment has taken a lot of the manual labor out of manufacturing, there is still a lot of physicality involved in the role of a machinist. You will be on your feet a lot and will need to be capable of maintaining concentration for extended periods.
All of this adds up to a career which is not only rewarding in its own right, but also offers a whole host of transferable skills. And with a skills gap to plug, demand for operators is strong, which makes job hunting easier.
Further Reading from Skills You Need
Develop the skills you need to get that job.
This eBook is essential reading for potential job-seekers. Not only does it cover identifying your skills but also the mechanics of applying for a job, writing a CV or resume and attending interviews.
About the Author
Cristina Par is a content specialist with a passion for writing articles that bridge the gap between brands and their audiences. She believes that high-quality content plus the right link building strategies can turn the tables for businesses small and large.