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[10/3/2016] Look around you…everything you see which isn’t naturally occurring had to be manufactured in some way, shape or form, and machinists play a major role in designing, producing or modifying the majority of metal parts in use today. The skills of a machinist, and the machine tools they incorporate, are typically called upon when a part needs to be produced from solid metal material by way of various cutting methods. Computer numerical control, or CNC machinists, rely upon computer aided design (CAD) and computer aided manufacturing (CAM) software to set up and run complex CNC machine tools such as milling machines, lathes and grinders to produce in-demand precision metal parts.
Machine shop technology has advanced by leaps and bounds over the past decade. Today, the challenges of meeting the demands of increasingly complex equipment, and the need for more accurate and high-precision parts, has led to some difficulty in finding qualified CNC machinists. Because of the rapidly changing technology, the general public is unaware of how advanced the milling and machining processes used can be. Cutting-edge machinists must be skilled and able to operate a wide range of sophisticated equipment, they must be familiar with the intimate details of metal properties, have good mathematical and computing skills, and be able to design, plan and carry out the intricate operations necessary to meet the precise specifications of customers. They also must be flexible enough to learn new machining properties and techniques.
Due to the recent re-shoring of some manufacturing work, the loss of quality from overseas competition, and the overall economic conditions faced in this country, a surplus of in-demand, skilled workers hasn’t materialized and machine shops are still facing a job/skills gap. The bottom line is that thousands of relatively high-paying milling and machining jobs remain unfilled and employers want to fill them fast, so the opportunities in this career field are vast. There are many ways to enter the workforce of skilled machinists, but as the industry has evolved, so have the skills and training requirements necessary to obtain employment and perform the work. Gone are the relatively low-skilled days of simple tool and die making. Employers want CNC skills, and applicants need to be both good with their hands and possess mathematical aptitude. If you’re interested in a milling and machining career, knowing what it means to be a machinist and having an interest in the profession are great first steps, but how does one become a machinist?
The operation of a CNC mill, lathe or CNC router is a highly skilled and detailed oriented position, and as such, requires years of specialized training. From in-shop apprenticeships, to on the job training and educational opportunities at the high school, vocational or college level, many employers may have their own take machine shop roles and responsibilities, but the expected skills and required knowledge are typically standard. So are the paths followed for obtaining a desired position. In a nutshell, get a technical degree or enroll in an apprenticeship and never stop learning! Stay tuned for part 2 of this Advanced Precision Machining blog installment in which we’ll discuss various CNC machining positions, educational requirements, the pros and cons of the work, and much more.
Want to learn more? Do have questions about the milling and machining industry, or even want to inquire about potential employment opportunities? Contact the expert CNC machinists at APM’s Colorado machine shop for all of your milling and machining needs.
Gerry Dillon is a co-founder, current owner and certified CNC machinist at Advanced Precision Machining (APM), a full-service machine shop located in Longmont, Colorado. Before making his home in the United States in 2000, Gerry was born and raised on the emerald isle of Ireland and took an interest in milling and machining from an early age, ranking #1 in the Irish National Apprenticeship Program. In 2005, he partnered with his friend and colleague, Kirk Tuesburg, currently APM’s machine shop manager, together launching what’s grown into a leading Colorado machine shop. Gerry brings over 30 years of machining experience to the shop floor, and is certified in all aspects of geometric dimensioning and tolerancing.