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Computer-Controlled Machine Tool Operators, Metal and Plastic

Computer Numerical Control (CNC) Operator, CNC Machinist, CNC Lathe Operator, CNC Machine Operator, CNC Mill Operator, CNC Set Up Technician, CNC Set-Up Operator

Average Salary: Entry level--$28,430  Experienced--$41,060

Education/Training Required: Most positions require an Associate's Degree

Jobs Available: 51-110

Energy Industries:  Gas, Transmission & Distribution, Wind

A computer numerical control (CNC) operator produces machined parts by programming, setting up, and operating the CNC machine according to defined specifications of customers. 
Brian Robertson is a CNC Machine Operator for Ellwood City Forge, a maker of open-die forgings for a range of industries including oil and gas, power generation, shipbuilding and aerospace. He began in inventory control management and worked his way up to his current position. “I've always been good at figuring things out in my head and with DIY projects.  Now, after gaining experience here, I consider myself a surrogate sculptor. The customer provides a basic blueprint and a vision and we program and operate the machine to produce that.  It feels good to be part of something much larger.” In Brian's case, that something larger is often the crankshaft of a cruise ship or seal-off valves for an oil rig.


  • Insert control instructions into machine control units to start operation.
  • Mount, install, align, and secure tools, attachments, fixtures, and work pieces on machines, using hand tools and precision measuring instruments.
  • Calculate machine speed and feed ratios and the size and position of cuts.
  • Listen to machines during operation to detect sounds such as those made by dull cutting tools or excessive vibration and adjust machines to compensate for problems.
  • Adjust machine feed and speed, change cutting tools, or adjust machine controls when automatic programming is faulty or if machines malfunction.
  • Stop machines to remove finished work pieces or to change tooling, setup, or work piece placement, according to required machining sequences.
  • Modify cutting programs to account for problems encountered during operation.
  • Remove and replace dull cutting tools.
  • Measure dimensions of finished work pieces to ensure conformance to specifications, using precision measuring instruments, templates, and fixtures.  

Critical Knowledge

  • Blueprint reading - Can be taught on job, but some prior knowledge useful.
  • Mechanical - Knowledge of machines and tools, including their designs, uses, repair, and maintenance.

Tools and Technology Used

  • Micrometers
  • Calipers - Dial calipers; Vernier calipers
  • Gauges or inspection fixtures
  • Lathes, Milling machines, Turning machines
  • Computer-aided design (CAD), computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) software
  • Computer database for part information and specifications
  • Analytical or scientific software; Project management software; Spreadsheet software 

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Bryan Brantley
McGuireWoods LLP

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