How to Become a Machinist in 5 Steps
A machinist is responsible for creating precise metal, wood or plastic parts. Read further to learn how you can gain experience working with metal properties and mechanics. Check out a 5-step career path to becoming a machinist, and learn about advancement opportunities in this field. Schools offering Mechanical Engineering degrees can also be found in these popular choices.
What Is a Machinist?
A machinist creates or alters parts with the aid of computer numerically controlled (CNC) machine tools. The process involves using tools such as grinders and milling machines to cut and remove excess metal, such as aluminum or steel. Then, parts are measured with micrometers and closely examined to ensure that they're made to exact specifications. Because they work in a potentially hazardous environment, machinists must wear safety goggles and follow precautionary procedures.
Step 1: Research the Career Duties of a Machinist
You may have different job duties, depending on your job title. For example, as a production machinist, you might mass-produce hundreds of pieces of one kind of part, and as a maintenance machinist, you would replace broken parts for machinery that already exists. Basically, the job involves setting up machinery and tools, cutting and adjusting work pieces, monitoring the heating and cooling temperatures of metal parts and testing for defects. Replacing defective cutting tools and monitoring machine performance are among your other job responsibilities.
Step 2: Take Preparatory Courses
At minimum, you'll need a high school diploma to become a machinist. While it's possible to learn the skills of a machinist through on-the-job training, the vast majority of machinists learn through structured classroom and practical training. Manufacturer or union-sponsored apprenticeships are an ideal way of getting the necessary training, but admission to such a program can be difficult to manage.
You can prepare yourself and become a prime candidate by taking courses in metal shop, drafting and blueprint reading. Computer courses are also important, because CNC machine tools will often be used in your work. Math classes such as trigonometry and algebra will help you in making precise measurements.
Step 3: Complete an Apprenticeship
An apprenticeship program can usually take as long as four years. You'll study various aspects of the machinery trade, including safety practices, CNC machine operation basics, metallurgy, computer-aided design (CAD) and CNC programming. Other areas covered in the classroom include math, physics and geometric dimensions. Apprenticeship or 2-year associate's degree programs might also be found at some technical and community colleges, but, as the BLS noted, you'll still need a large amount of on-the-job training to become a proficient machinist.
Step 4: Obtain the NIMS Credential
When you have completed an apprenticeship program, you can become a credentialed worker. The NIMS credential is strongly recommended if you'd like to enhance your professional image and increase the likelihood of securing employment. The National Institute of Metalworking Skills (NIMS) administers performance-based examinations for metalworkers that consist of written and practical components. You could acquire such credentials as the CNC Setup Programmer, Certified Journeyworker, or NIMS Certified Machinist.
Step 5: Advance your Career
If possible, you might go on to become a tool and die maker or a CNC programmer in the company you work for, or you could take on managerial or supervisory positions. If you have business skills, you can also work for yourself after you've acquired sufficient work experience. In this instance, you'll require excellent communication skills to network with customers and generate additional business. You'll also need extensive job knowledge to fulfill complex or unusual orders.
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