Machining is the process of producing parts from solid pieces of material using a range of tools and machinery. It is known as a subtractive manufacturing technology, because it removes material from a solid block to create a new part. There are two main machining methods to consider, manual machining and Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machining.
Using manual machining, the operator uses hand tools and the levers and controls of a machine tool to produce the new part. CNC machining uses computers and programming languages to operate the system, producing the new part automatically once the system is programmed.
One of the main advantages of CNC over manual machining is the consistency of production. Once a CNC machine is programmed, the same new part can be produced repeatedly to exactly the same dimensions and accuracy.
Automation of machinery has been a goal of manufacturing for centuries, enabling quicker production times with greater accuracy. This does not mean that manual machining is no longer required, just that different methods are required for different types of jobs.
Machining is a 3 step process. A design engineer first produces a Computer Aided Design (CAD) model of the item required. A machinist uses the CAD information to produce the part manually or program a CNC system which controls the machine. Finally, a test run is made by the machinist to ensure everything is correct. Assuming the test is successful, the work is repeated or CNC machine can then run automatically with just minor intervention and supervision from the human machinist.
Machines tools come in a number of types, and the most common are:
Mills: Milling uses rotary cutters to remove material and create the new piece, and it is one of the most common methods machining parts to precise tolerances. The workpiece is held stationary and the cutting tools move around the part.
Lathes: In contrast to milling, the workpiece is rotated around an axis and various tools are used to remove material. This creates an object that is symmetrical around the axis of rotation.
Electric Discharge Machines (EDM): Also known as spark machining, EDM systems use electrical sparks to erode the material in place of cutting or drilling tools.
Cutters: Cutting machines generally either use plasma or water jets and can cut metal, granite and other hard materials.
Multitasking machines (MTM’s): A multitasking machine, as the name suggest, combines both milling and lathe functions. These are computer controlled and remove any need for manual intervention, once the system is programmed.
A career within the machining industry will involve using many of the machines described above, but also design skills, hand tool skills plus measuring and testing skills. Whether you decide to be involved as a design engineer, preparing drawings in CAD, a machinist, or as a tool setter, setting up the CNC machine, programming and monitoring, there are a range of skills you require.
Machining is a highly skilled job, which can be challenging and rewarding. The range of different parts you could be involved in making is vast. From components for military or aerospace industries to parts for home appliances or medical implants.
Once qualified, you can expect to earn a good wage with skills that are in demand and as your experience grows your employment opportunities will also increase. It is important to learn the basic hand tool skills, but once mastered, skills such as designing, CNC machining, testing and quality control must also be learned.
Almost any product you buy or use will have parts that have been produced through machining. This means that your chosen career path could take you to jobs you would have never dreamed of!
Are you a motor sport enthusiast? Would hand making a one-off part for a Formula 1 or Nascar racing car get you interested? Or maybe parts for NASA? These are of course the very pinnacle of machining, that require extreme skills, but those roles are out there. Or perhaps manufacturing custom motorcycle and car parts would get you to work? Remember American Chopper? These types of role are of course the exception.
Away from the extremes of NASA, there are many well paid roles in the manufacturing industry, creating parts for anything from hair-dryers to computers. Once you have the experience of producing parts, the opportunities for testing and quality control then open up.
Demand for machinists and skills surrounding the production of parts has always been strong and continues to grow as demand for high-end quality products continues to grow. This is a career that has long future, so long as you continue to update your skills.
Typical salaries for qualified machinists can range from $33,000 to $55,000 per year, depending on which state you are living in and your particular skills. The average salary across the United States is around $44,000.
As mentioned earlier, machining is a highly skilled role, which can take years to perfect. When you are looking for a school to learn your machining trade, make sure it gives you all the tools you need to progress.
Machining is not just about the physical making of the finished article, but involves a range of abilities that your chosen school should teach you.
Training to be a machinist can be achieved in a variety of ways, but the most common method is through formal courses and on the job training. This gives the best of both worlds, providing real skills and certification with practical knowledge.
Other routes include apprenticeship programs and associate degrees.
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