Computer numerically controlled (CNC) machines are programmed by computer to perform precise or repetitious mechanical tasks, such as printing, milling, or lathing. CNC programmers and operators are responsible for programming instructions into the machine, ensuring the machine works correctly, and verifying that the product meets expectations.
Although the use of CNC machines is increasing, you could face fierce competition for jobs in coming years due to the downturn in the manufacturing industry, the use of design software programs that can transmit information directly to CNC machines, and an existing surplus of trained workers.
Your opportunities to land a computer numerically controlled (CNC) machine job should increase if you know how to operate multiple machines, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. You may also increase your salary by pursuing bachelor's degrees in areas such as engineering and going into the higher-paying aerospace industry, The College Board reports.
CNC Training School: What to Expect
At CNC training schools, you should learn computer skills as well as the ability to complete tasks independently and to do highly accurate work. You should also learn how to proficiently operate CNC machines, which read the code entered into a computer and shape parts according to those instructions. Your classes may include:
- Computer programming
- Blueprint reading
- Computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) software use
- Shop training
Metal working and drafting could also be part of your program and online CNC courses and online CNC schools may be available.
Most CNC courses are offered at vocational schools or community colleges, but some entry-level CNC operators also get training through apprenticeship programs or on-the-job instruction. CNC programmers typically need an associate's degree, while those hoping to work in specialized industries such as aerospace or shipbuilding where precision is key may need a bachelor's degree in engineering.
Career Options for CNC Training School Graduates
CNC operators generally start in entry-level positions where the monitor already-tested CNC machines. As they gain experience, they may move into set-up roles where they are responsible for downloading the program into the machine and making sure the first few runs go as planned. If not, set-up CNC operators can generally make minor adjustments to the program. At the top of the hierarchy are CNC programmers, who write and code programs for CNC machines and must have a good knowledge of a variety of CNC machines and programs. CNC programmers are also responsible for making sure machine output meets specifications.
As a CNC professional, you may also decide to pursue related careers, such as:
- Computer programming
- Industrial production management
- Tool and die making
Salary Outlook for CNC Training School Degree Holders
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2009 the mean annual salary for a computer-controlled machine tool operator in the metal and plastic sector stood at $35,570, while the mean annual wage for a numerical tool and process control programmer was $48,230.
There are career tracks you may follow to increase these mean annual salaries. As an experienced CNC operator, you may become a CNC programmer or machinery mechanic, later moving to supervisory or administrative positions. You may also get into tool and die making or open your own shop.
In certain regions in the U.S., you should also make more money. The highest-paid computer-controlled machine tool operators in the Unites States earned $59,400 in Tacoma, Washington in 2009. In Cleveland, Tennessee, numerical tool and process control programmers' mean annual wages reached a whopping $88,540 during the same period.