Calling CNC operators button-pushers is one of those things that may have started out as an insult or a reason to offer less pay, but has grown into more of a term of endearment. Online job sites recognize “button pusher” as a search keyword, and you can even buy fun swag that proudly lays claim to the term.
A (computer-numeric controlled) CNC operator, also called a CNC machinist, is responsible for operating a machine that fashions tools from stock metals and plastic. The work involves fine-tuning the machine’s settings according to the project specs and loading it with the correct cutting tools for the job. The output is a huge volume of precisely cut parts that are used in a variety of industries.
And while it is often considered an entry-level position that’s learned on-the-job, it’s about a lot more than just pushing a button. Operating a CNC machine safely and productively requires mechanical aptitude, concentration and a knack for precision, as well as the ability to read specs and the business acumen to manage inventory. If the machine requires troubleshooting, the CNC machinist is often called in to take a look.
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One advantage of starting out as a CNC machinist is that, even without a formal education, you can start work for a company and learn as you go. And it’s by no means a dead-end job. In fact, the hands-on knowledge you gain as a machinist can provide the perfect foundation for a career in manufacturing.
Toolmakers, for example, use computer-aided design (CAD) programs to create tools used in manufacturing, including -- you guessed it -- CNC machine tools. The experience gained as a machinist, especially in reading blueprints and specs, would serve a toolmaker well.
Millwrights also need an expert understanding of complex industrial machinery in order to take them apart, perform maintenance, and replace parts if necessary. Here again, is an example of how one job lays the foundation for an easy step up.
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If you're looking for a rewarding career in manufacturing, take a look at our careers page to see if there are any openings.