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Computer numerically controlled (CNC) machines are employed in most modern-day machinist shops and mass production facilities to increase accuracy and efficiency when forming metal parts. A CNC machinist is specially trained to program, operate, and maintain such equipment. He or she uses expert knowledge to set up machines that are capable of cutting, bending, forming, and polishing raw metal into finished parts and tools.
Modern technological advances in the design and implementation of CNC machines has changed the nature of a machinist's job. Where a professional used to cut and mold metal parts by hand, today's machinists can program and monitor the work of a fully automated machine. In some shops, a handful of skilled CNC machinists can perform the same amount of work as several dozen manual machinists. Professionals read and interpret blueprints, input data into a computer system, and inspect the accuracy of a machine's operation. Machinists are responsible for making careful adjustments and performing maintenance on delicate parts.
A CNC machinist is often involved with the design of new equipment, providing an expert perspective on the efficiency of new products. He or she might work with engineers and programmers to develop better machines, such as those that employ laser devices or water cutting tools. The CNC machinist uses his or her firsthand experience to inform designers and engineers about appropriate sizes and speeds for different kinds of equipment, and tests out prototypes to ensure their accuracy.
To become a CNC machinist, a person must usually have at least a high school diploma and experience working with machinery and computers. Some employers require new machinists to complete a training program at a trade school or community college, assume an apprenticeship at a shop, or both. Training programs, which may last from six months to two years, provide classroom and hands-on instruction to prospective machinists. Students learn about different CNC machinery and the latest technology, as well as safety procedures and workplace guidelines. Apprenticeships may take as long as four years to complete, and consist of paid on the job training under the supervision of experienced CNC machinists.
In the United States, a new CNC machinist may choose to become certified by taking a written exam administered by the National Institute of Metalworking Skills. Most other industrialized countries have similar nationally recognized organizations which accredit skilled CNC machinists. Becoming certified is not usually a requirement for employment, though gaining certification can improve a machinist's credentials and open up more job opportunities.