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Become A Cell Operator

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Working As A Cell Operator

  • Controlling Machines and Processes
  • Getting Information
  • Making Decisions and Solving Problems
  • Communicating with Supervisors, Peers, or Subordinates
  • Inspecting Equipment, Structures, or Material
  • Repetitive

  • Stressful

  • $31,069

    Average Salary

What Does A Cell Operator Do

Metal and plastic machine workers set up and operate machines that cut, shape, and form metal and plastic materials or pieces.


Metal and plastic machine workers typically do the following:

  • Set up machines according to blueprints
  • Monitor machines for unusual sound or vibration
  • Insert material into machines, manually or with a hoist
  • Operate metal or plastic molding, casting, or coremaking machines
  • Adjust machine settings for temperature, cycle times, and speed and feed rates
  • Remove finished products and smooth rough edges and imperfections
  • Test and compare finished workpieces to specifications
  • Remove and replace dull cutting tools
  • Document production numbers in a computer database

Consumer products are made with many metal and plastic parts. These parts are produced by machines that are operated by metal and plastic machine workers. In general, these workers are separated into two groups: those who set up machines for operation and those who operate machines during production, however, many workers perform both tasks.

Although many workers both set up and operate machines, some specialize in one of the following job types:

Machine setters, or setup workers, prepare the machines before production, perform test runs, and, if necessary, adjust and make minor repairs to the machinery before and during operation.

If, for example, the cutting tool inside a machine becomes dull after extended use, it is common for a setter to remove the tool, use a grinder or file to sharpen it, and reinstall it into the machine. New tools are produced by tool and die makers.

After installing the tools into a machine, setup workers often produce the initial batch of goods, inspect the products, and turn the machine over to an operator.

Machine operators and tenders monitor the machinery during operation.

After a setter prepares a machine for production, an operator observes the machine and the products it makes. Operators may have to load the machine with materials for production or adjust the machine’s speeds during production. They must periodically inspect the parts a machine produces. If they detect a minor problem, operators may fix it themselves. If the repair is more serious, they may have an industrial machinery mechanic fix it.

Setters, operators, and tenders are usually identified by the type of machine they work with. Job duties generally vary with the size of the manufacturer and the type of machine being operated. Although some workers specialize in one or two types of machinery, many are trained to set up or operate a variety of machines. Machine operators are often able to control multiple machines at the same time because of increased automation.

In addition, new production techniques, such as team-oriented “lean” manufacturing, require machine operators to rotate between different machines. Rotating assignments results in more varied work but also requires workers to have a wide range of skills.

Computer-controlled machine tool operators operate computer-controlled machines or robots to perform functions on metal or plastic workpieces.

Computer numerically controlled machine tool programmers develop computer programs to control the machining or processing of metal or plastic parts by automatic machine tools, equipment, or systems.

Extruding and drawing machine setters, operators, and tenders set up or operate machines to extrude (pull out) thermoplastic or metal materials in the form of tubes, rods, hoses, wire, bars, or structural shapes.

Forging machine setters, operators, and tenders set up or operate machines that shape or form metal or plastic parts.

Rolling machine setters, operators, and tenders set up or operate machines to roll steel or plastic or to flatten, temper, or reduce the thickness of materials.

Cutting, punching, and press machine setters, operators, and tenders set up or operate machines to saw, cut, shear, notch, bend, or straighten metal or plastic materials.

Drilling and boring machine tool setters, operators, and tenders set up or operate drilling machines to drill, bore, mill, or countersink metal or plastic workpieces.

Grinding, lapping, polishing, and buffing machine tool setters, operators, and tenders set up or operate grinding and related tools that remove excess material from surfaces, sharpen edges or corners, or buff or polish metal or plastic workpieces.

Lathe and turning machine tool setters, operators, and tenders set up or operate lathe and turning machines to turn, bore, thread, or form metal or plastic materials, such as wire or rod.

Milling and planing machine setters, operators, and tenders set up or operate milling or planing machines to shape, groove, or profile metal or plastic workpieces.

Metal-refining furnace operators and tenders operate or tend furnaces, such as gas, oil, coal, electric-arc or electric induction, open-hearth, and oxygen furnaces. These furnaces may be used to melt and refine metal before casting or to produce specified types of steel.

Pourers and casters operate hand-controlled mechanisms to pour and regulate the flow of molten metal into molds to produce castings or ingots.

Model makers set up and operate machines, such as milling and engraving machines to make working models of metal or plastic objects.

Patternmakers lay out, machine, fit, and assemble castings and parts to metal or plastic foundry patterns and core molds.

Foundry mold and coremakers make or form wax or sand cores or molds used in the production of metal castings in foundries.

Molding, coremaking, and casting machine setters, operators, and tenders set up or operate metal or plastic molding, casting, or coremaking machines to mold or cast metal or thermoplastic parts or products.

Multiple machine tool setters, operators, and tenders set up or operate more than one type of cutting or forming machine tool or robot.

Welding, soldering, and brazing machine setters, operators, and tenders (including workers who operate laser cutters or laser-beam machines) set up or operate welding, soldering, or brazing machines or robots that weld, braze, solder, or heat treat metal products, components, or assemblies.

Heat treating equipment setters, operators, and tenders set up or operate heating equipment, such as heat treating furnaces, flame-hardening machines, induction machines, soaking pits, or vacuum equipment, to temper, harden, anneal, or heat-treat metal or plastic objects.

Plating and coating machine setters, operators, and tenders set up or operate plating or coating machines to coat metal or plastic products with zinc, copper, nickel, or some other metal to protect or decorate surfaces (includes electrolytic processes).

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How To Become A Cell Operator

A few months of on-the-job training is enough for most workers to learn basic machine operations, but 1 year or more is required to become proficient. Computer-controlled machine workers may need more training.


Employers prefer metal and plastic machine workers who have a high school diploma. Prospective workers can improve their employment opportunities by completing high school courses in computer programming and vocational technology, and by gaining a working knowledge of the properties of metals and plastics. Having a sturdy math background, including taking courses in algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and basic statistics, is also useful.

Some community colleges and other schools offer courses and certificate programs in operating metal and plastics machines.


Machine operator trainees usually begin by watching and helping experienced workers on the job. Under supervision, they may start by supplying materials, starting and stopping the machines, or by removing finished products. Then they advance to more difficult tasks that operators perform, such as adjusting feed speeds, changing cutting tools, and inspecting a finished product for defects. Eventually, some develop the skills and experience to set up machines and help newer operators.

The complexity of the equipment usually determines the time required to become an operator. Some operators and tenders learn basic machine operations and functions in a few months, but other workers, such as computer-controlled machine tool operators, may need a year or more to become proficient.

Some employers prefer to hire workers who either have completed or are enrolled in a training program.

As the manufacturing process continues to utilize more computerized machinery, knowledge of computer-aided design (CAD), computer-aided manufacturing (CAM), and computer numerically controlled (CNC) machines can be helpful.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Certification can show competence and professionalism and can be helpful for advancement. The National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS) offers certification in numerous metalworking specializations.


Advancement usually includes higher pay and more responsibilities. With experience and expertise, workers can become trainees for more advanced positions. It is common for machine operators to move into setup or machinery maintenance positions. Setup workers may become industrial machinery mechanics and maintenance workers, or machinists or tool and die makers.

Experienced workers with good communication and analytical skills may move into supervisory positions.

Important Qualities

Computer skills. Metal and plastic machine workers must often be able to use programmable devices, computers, and robots on the factory floor.

Dexterity. Metal and plastic machine workers who work in metal and plastic machined goods manufacturing use precise hand movements to make the necessary shapes, cuts, and edges that designs require.

Mechanical skills. Metal and plastic machine workers set up and operate machinery. They must be comfortable working with machines and have a good understanding of how the machines and all their parts work.

Physical stamina. Metal and plastic machine workers must be able to stand for long periods and perform repetitive work.

Physical strength. Metal and plastic machine workers must be strong enough to guide and load heavy and bulky parts and materials into machines.

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Cell Operator jobs


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Cell Operator Career Paths

Cell Operator
Truck Driver Equipment Operator Numerical Control Operator
2nd Shift Supervisor
6 Yearsyrs
Delivery Driver Computer Numerical Controller Machinist
Computer Numerical Controller Supervisor
6 Yearsyrs
Production Supervisor Office Manager Accounting Manager
Control Operator
6 Yearsyrs
Computer Numerical Controller Machinist Manufacturing Engineer Production Manager
Facilities Manager
8 Yearsyrs
Machine Operator Operator
Lead Operator
5 Yearsyrs
Computer Numerical Controller Machinist Maintenance Technician Production Supervisor
Manufacturing Supervisor
7 Yearsyrs
Maintenance Technician Production Supervisor
Operation Supervisor
5 Yearsyrs
Operator Technician Operations Manager
Plant Manager
11 Yearsyrs
Machine Operator Production Supervisor
Production Manager
6 Yearsyrs
Operator Maintenance Technician
Production Supervisor
7 Yearsyrs
Production Worker Quality Control Inspector Quality Assurance Technician
Quality Assurance Supervisor
6 Yearsyrs
Production Supervisor Production Manager Product Manager
Research And Development Technician
6 Yearsyrs
Inspector Security Officer Safety Officer
Safety Supervisor
6 Yearsyrs
Delivery Driver Warehouse Lead Production Supervisor
Sanitation Supervisor
7 Yearsyrs
Mechanic Operator
Senior Operator
5 Yearsyrs
Inspector Forklift Operator Shipping Clerk
Shipping Manager
5 Yearsyrs
Mechanic Delivery Driver Welder
Shop Supervisor
5 Yearsyrs
Maintenance Technician Maintenance Manager Operations Manager
Site Manager
7 Yearsyrs
Production Worker Forklift Operator Technician
Technical Supervisor
5 Yearsyrs
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Average Length of Employment
Bindery Operator 4.5 years
Slitter Operator 4.0 years
Utility Operator 4.0 years
Relief Operator 3.9 years
B-Operator 3.8 years
Coater Operator 3.8 years
Winder Operator 3.8 years
Furnace Operator 3.7 years
Binder Operator 3.7 years
Extrusion Operator 3.6 years
Generator Operator 3.6 years
Extruder Operator 3.5 years
Press Operator 3.5 years
Lathe Operator 3.3 years
Finisher Operator 3.3 years
Cutter Operator 3.1 years
Wrapper Operator 3.1 years
Machine Operator 3.0 years
Cell Operator 3.0 years
Filler Operator 2.8 years
Operator 2.8 years
Assembly Operator 2.8 years
Oven Operator 2.7 years
Robot Operator 2.6 years
Welder Operator 2.6 years
Packaging Operator 2.5 years
Laser Operator 2.5 years
Line Operator 2.4 years
Pack Out Operator 2.3 years
Stacker Operator 2.1 years
Molder Operator 2.1 years
Table Operator 2.1 years
Top Employers Before
Cashier 11.5%
Assembler 4.5%
Operator 3.9%
Technician 3.7%
Waitress 3.3%
Welder 3.1%
Machinist 2.9%
Specialist 2.7%
Supervisor 2.7%
Top Employers After
Cashier 7.1%
Operator 5.9%
Assembler 4.0%
Technician 4.0%
Supervisor 3.3%
Inspector 2.8%

Cell Operator Demographics










Hispanic or Latino






Black or African American

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Languages Spoken










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Cell Operator Education


University of Phoenix


Thomas Nelson Community College


Kaplan University


Hamilton Technical College


Niagara County Community College


Black Hawk College - Quad-Cities Campus


Community College of the Air Force


Purdue University


Central Texas College


Lakeshore Technical College


Tri-County Technical College


Rochester Institute of Technology


Kirkwood Community College


Baker College


Saint Leo University


Grand Rapids Community College


Henry Ford College


Ferris State University


Midwestern State University


Texas Tech University

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General Studies


Computer Science


Electrical Engineering Technology


Electrical Engineering




Criminal Justice


Precision Metal Working






Automotive Technology


Health Care Administration






Industrial Technology


Liberal Arts


Information Technology


Computer Information Systems


Mechanical Engineering


Medical Assisting Services

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Top Skills for A Cell Operator


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Top Cell Operator Skills

  1. Inspect Parts
  2. Safety Procedures
  3. Engine
You can check out examples of real life uses of top skills on resumes here:
  • Work Inspect parts, running machines, pack as needed in a factory setting as a temporary employee
  • Informed chain of command with inputs and estimated ready for issue dates for specific engines.
  • Assisted in editing CNC programs and developed new part setups and tooling while working closely with manufacturing engineers.
  • Performed over 3,200 hours of Test Cell and computerized operation, troubleshooting and final engine performance evaluations.
  • Maintain equipment, or parts using hand tools.

Top Cell Operator Employers

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