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Job Description of a CNC Engineer

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CNC is short for "computer numerical control," describing programmable instrumentation that uses letters, numbers and symbols to automate machine operating processes. CNC engineers are responsible for the programming, maintaining, repairing and testing of these machines so that they can effectively carry out the functions necessary for a given enterprise. The demand for such engineers (also called technicians or programmers) will become more vital as industries increase their automated processes.

Job Duties

You must first study all of the client's manufacturing requirements, including the desired output of the machinery to be automated, the design of the components to be manufactured, the sequence of the machine operations, and the total time that the operational process requires. The CNC program that you create to control the machinery will be based on these factors. You will be tasked with ensuring the smooth operation of all CNC machines and troubleshooting any problems that arise. You must also maintain a centralized program database and detailed records on all CNC machines. Additional duties may include training and supervising other engineers, researching the latest in technological advancements, and fielding client inquiries.

Required Skills

The job requires a natural aptitude for science and mathematics. However, you must also have strong written and oral communication skills for dealing with clients, supervisors and other engineers. You will have to adapt to different industries and changing technologies, listening to and understanding the needs of each client, while balancing their budgetary constraints with frequently rigid deadlines. The best engineers will also have flexible, can-do attitudes and the ability to address inevitable problems with confidence, poise and a team-oriented mindset.

Background and Education

At minimum, CNC programmers should have a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from an accredited university or a certificate in CNC programming from a technical college. A master's degree may also be required, depending on the demands of the employer. Highly specialized industries, like those that deal with complex components or exotic materials, may require additional software certification, such as Mastercam's CAD/CAM. Entry-level positions may be difficult to find, as most employers expect applicants to have at least five years working as a CNC programmer or manufacturing-based mechanical engineer.

Work Environment

Much of the engineer's workday is split between the manufacturing floor, where the CNC machines are programmed and serviced, and an office environment where data records are kept and preparatory duties are undertaken. You should be able-bodied, as the job may include extended periods of sitting, standing, stooping and walking. In addition, manufacturing floors can be dangerous, loud and rife with physical obstacles. You may be contracted to work for different clients or employed in-house by a single company. You will likely work 40-hour weeks, although overtime is occasionally required.

Salary and Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, mechanical engineers (including CNC programmers) held a total of 258,100 jobs in 2012. Median pay was $38.74 per hour, or $80,580 per year. Those in the lowest 10 percent (entry-level or less experienced personnel) earned $52,030 annually, while those in the top 10 percent earned $121,530. Between 2012 and 2022, mechanical engineering jobs are expected to increase by 11,600, or 5 percent, which is slower than the 11 percent average growth rate for all occupations nationally. Job prospects will be best for those engineers working in areas that employ the most advanced technologies.