Posted March 4, 2021

How to Become a CNC Machinist: What You Need To Know

A Machinist operating a CNC machine

Many industries utilize computer numerical control (CNC) machining as an integral part of their manufacturing process. From oil and gas, defense, aerospace, medical, automotive, and electronics, industries of all kinds depend on machined components of desired specifications to build critical equipment. To fulfill this demand, many CNC machine shops are seeking skilled machinists to join their operations.

The highly technical CNC equipment, tools, and programming software require machinists to have specific knowledge and skill to operate. Understanding the basics of how to become a CNC machinist can guide your way to master the skills and requirements of this highly sought-after career. 

Responsibilities of a CNC Machinist

Before diving into what companies seek in their CNC machinist, it is important to understand their primary roles. From operating heavy machinery for milling, turning, drilling, cutting, or shearing applications to working with CAD/CAM drawings and CNC software, machinists must possess several skills. 

A CNC machinist is a technician who is responsible for operating the CNC machine. They oversee the planning, setup, and execution of the fabricating process. This process may involve setting up machines, optimizing the CNC machine’s parameters, and monitoring and maintaining the equipment and tools. Working closely with quality control personnel is also an essential part of CNC machinists’ role to ensure that the final fabricated products are of high quality and meet industry standards.

Today, many machine shops have advanced machines, such as 3-axis, 5-axis milling, and turning systems. A CNC machinist should have a good understanding of the latest industry trends and should possess the ability to operate and optimize these machines, along with knowledge of CNC programming languages. 

How to Become a CNC Machinist: Qualifications and Skills

CNC machining requires a high level of technical proficiency. Regardless of the industry you're serving, those seeking a career as a CNC machinist should have the following qualifications and skills.

Technical Education

A competitive CNC machinist must have the ability to understand technical specifications, work with 2D/3D drawings, and possess a hands-on repair and maintenance ability. One should seek out a technical degree to operate and program CNC machines. Machinists hold associate’s degrees in programs like manufacturing engineering technology, but this is not mandatory.

Many trade schools provide different levels of certification programs that demonstrate operators’ technical capabilities. In some cases, certification can replace the degree requirement. It may not be a mandatory requirement, but experts consider it a good career advancement step.

Core Skills and Experience

Most machine shops look for machinists with some years of experience to bring value to their operation. Trade schools provide a practical approach to the CNC training and equip students with necessary tooling, CAD, and equipment knowledge. The basic competency area includes:

  1. Bench skills: A CNC machinist should have the ability to perform the basic bench operation. These include the skills to:
  • Select and use the basic hand tools.
  • Read and interpret blueprints.
  • Perform minor assembly, preventive maintenance, and housekeeping responsibilities.
  1. Metal cutting skills: Working in a machine shop, one should possess the ability to perform basic metal cutting operations. The fundamental metal cutting skill requires the technician to :
  • Identify metallic or non-metallic material.
  • Identify tools and accessories required for machining.
  • Perform basic setup and operation of machines for milling, turning, drilling, and grinding applications.
  • Identify and select the cutting fluids.
  1. Inspection and quality assurance skills: Precision and quality is the main goal in CNC machining. A competent CNC professional should:
  • Calibrate and use precision measurement tools.
  • Follow the inspection procedures. 
  • Perform quality assurance responsibilities.

Students may gain these skills and experience through internships or apprenticeships to build real-world knowledge.

Other Experience

Besides technical knowledge and experience, soft skills are useful for a successful career as a CNC machinist. Some of these skills include:

Communication and Teamwork: A CNC machining process may require effective collaboration in a team of operators, quality inspectors, and programmers. A machinist must effectively communicate any potential machine error, quality control, or production progress with a team. For a successful production run, there should be effective collaboration and communication between stakeholders. 

Attention to detail: A CNC machinist should have a keen eye for details as most machining work involves fabricating complex and precise parts. Understanding machine and programming details allow machinists to spot the error before or during machining, preventing material and economic waste.

Problem-solving: Identifying the problem and resolving the issue is an essential trait of CNC machinists. They must identify mechanical problems, find the root cause of the error, and develop solutions to address them.  

Technical skills: For an effective production run, a machinist should possess specialized knowledge of the advanced computerized machine and operate such mills, lathes, laser cutting, and water jet cutting machines. 

Pursuing a Career as a CNC Machinist

CNC machining provides an exciting and rewarding career prospect for professionals with ideal experience and skills. At Plethora, we provide our professionals with the opportunity to work with the latest CNC technology and software and utilize the knowledge for a wide range of industries. Those learning how to become a CNC machinist in this highly in-demand field, or seeking career advancement, should be prepared to use their technical, mechanical, analytical, and communication skills to collaborate with the team to ensure precision machining service.

To learn more about how to become a CNC machinist and the latest technology in CNC machining, contact us at Plethora. We are ISO-approved machine shops that provide custom solutions to your precision parts manufacturing needs. Give us a call today at 415-726-2256, or upload your design files to Quote My Part to get your project started.

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The Plethora Team

The Plethora team is your go-to CNC manufacturer for hardware done right the first time. We have the tools and experience needed to create high quality custom parts quickly and with precision, whether you need a prototype or production run.

Topics: materials, Manufacturing, finishing, CNC machining, Prototyping, engineering, quality design