Being someone who actually makes things for a living can be an incredibly rewarding career, and working in CNC brings many things together that so many people find appealing. You’re working with your hands, day in and day out, machining new items out of solid metal, steel, alloys, and wood. You’re applying real-world math and science principles in order to create precision-crafted items that have to pass the most stringent quality control tests. You’re working with high-end modern machinery.
Put all of these things together and if they sound appealing to you then life in a CNC machining and turning shop might be just the career you’re looking for. So, what’s it going to be? CNC Operator or CNC Programmer?
A CNC operator can get his or her start in a variety of ways. Some of the more common include apprenticeships and on the job training. Others choose to go the classroom route and earn associate degrees in community colleges or certifications from vocational technology schools.
Regardless, the CNC Operator must have a good understanding of math, blueprint reading, and other applications technologies. Obviously, extended training in CNC machine operation, setup, and safety are required as well.
To enhance their knowledge and set the stage for future earnings advancement and promotion, CNC Operators may choose to learn various CAD, computer aided manufacturing, and other computer programming technologies. This enhanced computer training will set the stage for programming CNC lathe, milling, and turning machines further down the road.
Training to be a CNC Operator can take time. Associate degree programs can take 2 or more years to complete and a CNC apprenticeship can be upwards of 4 years. In most apprenticeship programs, however, the apprentice operator is an employee of the company that is training them.
CNC Programmers are responsible for giving the CNC machine its instructions. They use blueprints as well as computer based drafting and design programs to tell the CNC machine exactly what to cut, where to cut, and at what angle.
The CNC Programmer can be trained through on the job training as well as an apprenticeship program. However, a 2 year degree can be helpful in various industries.
Those that excel as CNC Programmers are highly detail oriented and are generally considered to be mechanically inclined. Skills in math, reading drawings, and a basic understanding of computer technologies will always set a CNC Programmer up for success.
Which Path Will You Take?
While it is possible for someone to go straight into CNC programming, it is not uncommon for a programmer to have gotten their start as a CNC operator. The skills they learn as an operator give them a very good understanding of the machine when it comes time to program a set of instructions for a new piece.
Regardless of the path, however, the pride of seeing a shop full of high quality, high precision CNC machined pieces ready for delivery to the customer is always a part of the end of every day.