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Working As a Machine Tool 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

  • $33,000

    Average Salary

What Does A Machine Tool Operator Do

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

Duties

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 Machine Tool 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.

Education

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.

Training

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

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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Machine Tool Operator Career Paths

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Average Length of Employment
Machine Set-Up 6.3 years
Machine Operator 3.2 years
Top Careers Before Machine Tool Operator
Machinist 9.7%
Cashier 8.8%
Operator 5.5%
Technician 4.6%
Driver 4.2%
Supervisor 3.8%
Cook 3.4%
Helper 3.4%
Manager 3.4%
Top Careers After Machine Tool Operator
Machinist 13.0%
Supervisor 4.8%
Operator 4.8%
Technician 4.4%
Driver 4.1%
Cashier 3.8%
Manager 2.9%
Welder 2.5%
Mechanic 2.5%

Do you work as a Machine Tool Operator?

Average Yearly Salary
$33,000
Show Salaries
$9,000
Min 10%
$33,000
Median 50%
$33,000
Median 50%
$33,000
Median 50%
$33,000
Median 50%
$33,000
Median 50%
$33,000
Median 50%
$33,000
Median 50%
$122,000
Max 90%
Best Paying Company
National Oilwell Varco
Highest Paying City
Gardena, CA
Highest Paying State
Alaska
Avg Experience Level
3.6 years
How much does a Machine Tool Operator make at top companies?
The national average salary for a Machine Tool Operator in the United States is $33,543 per year or $16 per hour. Those in the bottom 10 percent make under $9,000 a year, and the top 10 percent make over $122,000.

Real Machine Tool Operator Salaries

Job Title Company Location Start Date Salary
Computer-Controlled Machine Tool Operator Digital Design Inc. Cedar Grove, NJ Jul 23, 2010 $70,000 -
$80,000
Comp. Contr. Machine Tool Operator, Progr. Eclipse Manufacturing, LLC. Garfield, NJ Sep 08, 2009 $50,109
Computer-Controlled Machine Tool Operators, Metal and Plastic Tolan Polishing Corporation Rockaway, NJ Nov 16, 2012 $49,774
Computer Controlled Machine Tool Operator Eclipse Manufacturing LLC Garfield, NJ Nov 03, 2016 $46,238
Computer Controlled Machine Tool Operator Eclipse Manufacturing LLC Garfield, NJ Dec 23, 2014 $45,282
Computer-Controlled Machine Tool Operators, Metal and Plastic Eclipse Manufacturing LLC Garfield, NJ Apr 02, 2013 $45,282
Machine Tool Setters, Operators Tenders Metal Bourdon Forge Company Inc. Middletown, CT Sep 11, 2012 $44,200
Computer-Controlled Machine Tool Operators, Metal and Plastic Ne&WS Metal Works Inc. NY Apr 03, 2008 $43,660
Drilling and Boring Machine Tool Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Metal and Plastic Neon Energy Corporation San Ardo, CA May 29, 2014 $41,808
Computer-Controlled Machine Tool Operators, Metal and Plastic H.W. MacHine LLC Berlin, CT Jun 04, 2014 $40,801
Multiple Machine Tool Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Metal and Plastic Beacon Reel Company New Milford, CT Sep 29, 2014 $39,666
Computer-Controlled Machine Tool Operators, Metal and Plastic Twelve Stones Engineering Inc. Brea, CA Jan 15, 2010 $39,069
Computer-Controlled Machine Tool Operators, Metal and Plastic Laszeray Technology, Inc. North Royalton, OH Apr 23, 2008 $39,048
Computer-Controlled Machine Tool Operators, Metal and Plastic Duall Precision Inc. Addison, IL Nov 29, 2007 $38,917
Numerical Control Machine Tool Operators and Tenders, Metal & Plastic R Kern Eng and Mfg Corp. Chino, CA Dec 19, 2007 $37,044
Computer Controlled Machine Tool Operators, Metal & Plast Volume Millwork, Inc. Houston, TX Jun 11, 2008 $37,000
Lathe and Turning Machine Tool Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Metal and Plastic United Starters and Alternatives Industries Bay Shore, NY Jan 13, 2010 $36,710
Lathe and Turning Machine Tool Setters, Operators, and Tender CLNJ Corporation El Monte, CA Mar 05, 2008 $36,566
Computer-Controlled Machine Tool Operator Micromolds Products, Inc. Yonkers, NY Jul 28, 2010 $35,625
Computer Controlled Machine Tool Operators, Metal and Plastic Atlas Precision Mfg, LLC South Windsor, CT Feb 18, 2010 $35,521
Drilling and Boring Machine Tool Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Metal and Plastic JMF Underground Inc. PA Dec 02, 2013 $35,479 -
$52,175
Grinding, Lapping, Polishing, and Buffing Machine Tool Setters, Operators . . . . Alliance Dynamic Group, Inc. Gardena, CA Mar 23, 2010 $34,300
Computer-Controlled Machine Tool Operators, Metal and Plastic Black Oxide Service, Inc. San Marcos, CA Jan 07, 2010 $32,032
Computer-Controlled Machine Tool Operators, Metal & Plastic Expert Embroidery Wallingford, CT Oct 15, 2007 $30,742
Multiple Machine Tool Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Metals and Plastic Morris Associates, LLC Morristown, NJ Apr 06, 2010 $30,282
Computer Controlled Machine Tool Operator Select Controls, Inc. Bohemia, NY Mar 23, 2011 $29,969
Computer Controlled Machine Tool Operator Select Controls, Inc. Bohemia, NY Sep 29, 2008 $29,969
Multiple Machine Tool Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Metal and Plastic The Jewelry Tray & Pad Company, Inc. Ridgefield, NJ Aug 01, 2014 $29,640
Grinding, Lapping, Polishing, and Buffing Machine Tool Setters, Operators Precision Metal Fabricators, Inc. New York, NY Mar 12, 2010 $28,988
Grinding, Lapping, Polishing, and Buffing Machine Tool Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Metal and PL Lax Wheels Refinishing Inc. Los Angeles, CA Apr 25, 2013 $28,496

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Top Skills for A Machine Tool Operator

  1. CNC
  2. Machine Operation
  3. Drill Press
You can check out examples of real life uses of top skills on resumes here:
  • Loaded and unloaded pallets off of various CNC machines and lathes, and other machining duties.
  • Trained and supervised other Associates in production procedures, gathering and analyzing data, machine operation, and quality control.
  • Operated drill presses, lathes and milling machines.
  • Utilized and maintained all common hand tools for maintaining vehicles, trailers and industrialized oil field rentals and equipment.
  • Programmed computers and electronic instruments such as numerically controlled machine tools.

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Top 10 Best States for Machine Tool Operators

  1. Wisconsin
  2. North Dakota
  3. Minnesota
  4. New Hampshire
  5. South Dakota
  6. Vermont
  7. Michigan
  8. Rhode Island
  9. Montana
  10. Maine
  • (289 jobs)
  • (32 jobs)
  • (227 jobs)
  • (97 jobs)
  • (37 jobs)
  • (27 jobs)
  • (251 jobs)
  • (40 jobs)
  • (25 jobs)
  • (28 jobs)

Machine Tool Operator Demographics

Gender

Male

80.1%

Female

10.7%

Unknown

9.3%
Ethnicity

White

62.8%

Hispanic or Latino

16.2%

Black or African American

10.8%

Asian

7.1%

Unknown

3.1%
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Foreign Languages Spoken

Spanish

62.5%

Russian

12.5%

Hmong

12.5%

Carrier

12.5%
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Machine Tool Operator Education

Schools

Kaplan University

8.2%

Tri-County Technical College

8.2%

Jacksonville State University

6.6%

Community College of the Air Force

6.6%

Pennsylvania College of Technology

6.6%

Gadsden State Community College

4.9%

Champlain College

4.9%

Vermont Technical College

4.9%

Cuyahoga Community College

4.9%

Northcentral Technical College

4.9%

Colorado Technical University

4.9%

Austin Community College

4.9%

University of Maine

4.9%

The Academy

4.9%

Clinton Technical School

3.3%

Spokane Community College

3.3%

Wayne County Community College District

3.3%

College of the Desert

3.3%

Daytona College

3.3%

Owens Community College

3.3%
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Majors

Business

14.4%

Precision Metal Working

10.3%

Computer Science

9.2%

Mechanical Engineering

7.7%

Industrial Technology

7.2%

Drafting And Design

4.6%

Electrical Engineering

4.6%

Criminal Justice

4.6%

Electrical Engineering Technology

4.1%

Engineering

4.1%

General Studies

3.6%

Information Technology

3.6%

Automotive Technology

3.1%

Environmental Control Technologies/Technicians

3.1%

Computer Networking

3.1%

Computer Programming

2.6%

Education

2.6%

Liberal Arts

2.6%

Communication

2.6%

General Education, Specific Areas

2.6%
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Degrees

Other

41.1%

Associate

24.3%

Bachelors

18.9%

Certificate

9.7%

Masters

2.9%

Diploma

2.6%

License

0.3%

Doctorate

0.3%
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Updated May 19, 2020