CNC machining is a fancy term for tools such as routers, grinders and milling machines that are guided by computer instead of by hand. Many CNC, or computer numerical control, machines still need humans to run them, however. These types of tools use CAD, or computer-aided design, to function. Most are highly-automated, working from programmed code that tells them where and when action needs to be taken, and only require human intervention at the beginning and end of the job.
Life as a CNC Operator
Life as a CNC operator is both easy and difficult; easy, because the computer does most of the work, yet difficult because the operator is responsible for entering the data that guides the computer. In some instances, it's the operator who positions the item to be tooled on the table -- one fraction of an inch too far to the left or right could render the piece unusable or unstable. And when the piece being cut is slated for use in the aerospace industry or to help construct a home for a family, the pressure to be perfect is especially great.
Skills for Running CNC Machines
It requires skill and a steady eye to make it as a CNC operator. In the manufacturing industry, the workers who secure these jobs may have worked their way up through the ranks of the manufacturing plant, and have a proven track record with numbers and steady nerves. The CNC operator stays with his project throughout the process, ready to make corrections in an instant. In other industries, the CNC machinist may need advanced technical training to get the job.
Industries That Use CNC Technology
This type of CAD is used extensively throughout various industries. For example, in the construction industry, it's used to cut the window and door openings in fiberglass sidewalls for recreational vehicles, while in the printing world, it's used to operate 3D printers that create real objects based on the information contained in a computer file. CNC applications are even available for crafters and hobbyists, such as helping bakers to decorate cakes using more-intricate designs and artists to etch or engrave items much more easily.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers employed as machinists earned an average of $40,910 annually in 2012. Per hour, this breaks down to about $19.67. The BLS anticipates the growth rate of this type of manufacturing position to be slow throughout the year 2022. However, with the development of ever-new and experimental technology surrounding CAD, workers with college degrees in areas such as engineering, programming or CAD drafting may find better opportunities in the field.
2016 Salary Information for Machinists and Tool and Die Makers
Machinists and tool and die makers earned a median annual salary of $43,140 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, machinists and tool and die makers earned a 25th percentile salary of $33,960, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $53,720, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 468,700 people were employed in the U.S. as machinists and tool and die makers.