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What is a Machine Operator?

By Cassie L. Damewood
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A machine operator is traditionally an employee in a manufacturing or production facility who runs machine tools and equipment. She may be involved in the manufacturing of machinery, transportation equipment, or metal and plastic products. Her job may be in a large production facility that mass-produces parts or at a small manufacturing company that turns out fewer, more specialized components.

Although people with this job traditionally operate a few specific types of high-speed production machines, they may operate any machine in a plant manufacturing environment. The most common machines they operate include precision grinders, lathes, boring machines, drill presses and milling machines. If they specialize in one type of machine, their title may be referred to by the machine type, such as drill press operator.

Another distinction in this general job category is the difference between a machine operator and a machinist. A machinist is typically much more highly-skilled and has expertise in operating many types of machining tools and performing intricate operations. Operators commonly have the skills to operate only one or two tooling machines and have basic operational skills. They sometimes aspire to reach machinist status, however, and commonly seek their vocational guidance.

Most jobs involve repetitive motions and recurring use of foot pedals, buttons, switches and levers. The job customarily requires inserting metal or plastic into a machine and shaping it. When the part is ejected, a machine operator normally tests the part for conformity to industry standards and specifications.

In addition to operating different machines, someone in this position ordinarily performs minor adjustments and calibrations on the machines she uses. If major adjustments are needed, a supervisor or machinist may intervene. Fine-tuning the machine equipment can normally be quickly performed, and work is not usually significantly delayed.

To avoid psychological job burnout and injuries, such as repetitive stress syndrome, machine operators are often assigned to rotate on a specific schedule imposed by management. It is commonly thought that workers are more productive and content if they are provided with diverse jobs working with a variety of people. This revolving assignment schedule also can increase the skill sets of individual workers.

A high school diploma or equivalent is generally required to do this job. On-the-job training customarily includes new hires observing work in progress before they operate specific machines. Simple machine operations can normally be learned in a few weeks, while more difficult tasks often take up to a year to master.

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Discussion Comments
By liveoak — On Apr 22, 2011

@DFMeyers- What kind of machine operator training did you need to have for those two positions? Was it a thorough training program?

By DFMeyers — On Apr 20, 2011

I worked in a factory and had a lot of machine operator work. I operated several machines, including a molding machine and a laminating machine. It was OK, but I had a hard time with it sometimes because it was so repetitive.

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