CNC Machine Operator Job Description

CNC machine operators fabricate machine parts using a CNC machine, also known as a computer numerical control machine. Manufacturing businesses hire CNC machine operators to work full-time, flexible schedules during all shifts, as well as some overtime hours. CNC machine operators report to supervisors, shift managers, and floor managers, primarily working independently. CNC managers may travel as part of their daily activities in order to fabricate specialized parts, purchase supplies, or perform on-site inspections.


CNC Machine Operator Duties and Responsibilities

CNC machine operators work with many different machines to make a vast array of machine parts and materials. However, their core duties are the same, no matter where they work and what they’re making:

Study Designs

CNC machine operators study blueprints, specifications, plans, drawings, and parameters as detailed in new work orders to make calculations to program CNC machines.

Program Machines

CNC machine operators program lathes and mills, laser cutters, routers, punches, and other machines to manufacture machine parts.

Prepare Machines for Manufacturing

CNC machine operators prepare machines for manufacturing processes. This includes checking attachments and parts, taking measurements, making adjustments to precisely calibrate machines, and loading feeding mechanisms.

Maintain Equipment

CNC machine operators maintain machines and equipment by cleaning and sharpening tools and components as needed. This includes ordering new machine supplies and replacing parts and tools.


CNC machine operators inspect equipment for potential problems, safety hazards, and issues that may affect the quality of finished pieces.

Follow Safety Standards

In any environment, CNC machine operators follow safety standards at all times and wear proper protective gear.

Maintain Machine Logbooks

CNC machine operators record each time machines are used, when parts are replaced, and other relevant information in machine logbooks.

Inspect Finished Pieces

CNC machine operators inspect finished parts to ensure they meet all specifications and quality standards.


CNC Machine Operator Skills and Qualifications

CNC machine operators are detail-oriented. To succeed in this career, they should have the following necessary skills:

  • Mathematics – to perform precise calculations, which requires a working knowledge of trigonometry, geometry, and basic math
  • Computer skills – to program measurements and other numbers into machines
  • Problem-solving – to perform frequent inspections and troubleshoot machines and parts
  • Physical skills – CNC machine operators must be able to lift up to 50 pounds of equipment, stand and walk for long hours at a time, and bend and squat to operate and maintain machines
  • Design comprehension – CNC machine operators know how to read and interpret blueprints, schematics, and other design plans
  • Multi-tasking – to perform many duties simultaneously


Tools of the Trade

CNC machine operators regularly work with the following tools:

  • Measuring tools (steel rules, tape measures, calipers, gages, micrometers)
  • Hand tools (cutters, holders, spindles)


CNC Machine Operator Education and Training

CNC machine operators have a high school diploma or equivalent. Some companies only hire CNC machine operators who have previous experience or a machine technology certification through a trade school or technical college.

Companies hiring CNC machine operators to train require no formal education or previous work experience. The training period usually lasts a few weeks to several months, depending on the company. During this time, new CNC machine operators work under more experienced CNC machine operators and are closely monitored by team leaders, managers, and other supervisors.


CNC Machine Operator Salary and Outlook

CNC machine operators perform job duties very similar to those of machinists, who earned an annual median income of $43,160 and a median hourly wage of $20.75 in 2016. There were more than 450,000 jobs for machinists in 2016. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that this number will have little to no change through the year 2026. They estimate a one percent growth rate for these jobs, which is lower than the national average.

A majority of employers offer health insurance benefits that include dental and vision coverage to CNC machine operators. Retirement packages, life insurance, vacation leave, and sick days are included as part of standard benefits packages. Some companies also provide monetary bonuses to CNC machine operators who meet or exceed production goals.


Helpful Resources

Learn how to become a CNC machine operator and master the skills necessary for this job using these resources:

Getting Started with CNC: Personal Digital Fabrication with Shapeoko and Other Computer-Controlled Routers (Make) – Get introduced to fabricating using CNC machines with this book written for CNC machine operators who are new to the profession.

National Tooling and Machining Association – NTMA features training and certification information, networking events, and news updates for CNC machine operators and other professionals in machining career fields.

CNC Control Setup for Milling and Turning – Get a look at the day-to-day job tasks of being a CNC machine operator in this book, which serves as a practical guide to machine setup and operations.

American Gear Manufacturers Association – Find reports, news updates, educational resources, and networking events for CNC machine operators and other manufacturing professionals at AGMA.

Programming of CNC Machines – This book is written in straightforward, simple language for CNC machine operators to help them hone their programming skills.


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