Lathe Operator Job Description
Lathe operators use machines called lathes to process raw materials into parts and other components. Their employers can service a variety of different industries, like the automotive, furniture, aerospace, and medical fields. This is an entry-level position that doesn’t require any education past high school. Employers may also require their lathe operators to have industry-specific certifications. Lathe operators usually work in a workshop environment around industrial machinery. They report directly to lead machinists or shop managers.
Lathe Operator Duties and Responsibilities
Specific job duties for lathe operators vary based on their employer. However, there are several core tasks common to all lathe operators, such as:
Prepare Lathes for Operation
Before they start the manufacturing process, lathe operators prepare the machines to process the raw materials. To prepare machines, lathe operators adjust specific settings, such as height and width.
Prepare Materials for Fabrication
Lathe operators prepare the raw materials for parts manufacturing. This includes ensuring the materials used are the right size. Lathe operators look at blueprints and parts plans to ensure the correct materials are being used.
Operate the Lathe
After the machine and materials have been prepared for fabrication, lathe operators run the lathe and other machines in a safe and efficient manner. They are responsible for the proper operation of the machine so parts are manufactured correctly.
Perform Quality Control on Finished Parts
Lathe operators perform quality control inspections on all parts and components they fabricate. This includes comparing the finished parts to blueprints and other plans. If parts don’t meet quality standards, lathe operators typically need to re-manufacture them.
Oversee Routine Maintenance
Lathe operators are responsible for maintaining all the lathes and other industrial machines they operate. This includes monitoring the lathe’s performance to ensure it is operating properly. If the lathe operator finds any problems with their machines, they are responsible for scheduling maintenance.
Lathe Operator Skills and Qualifications
Lathe operators work well under pressure, and they understand and obsessively follow safety rules when working with industrial machinery. Employers look to hire lathe operators who have, at minimum, a high school diploma or GED. Employers prefer to hire candidates who have at least a year of experience, but many positions don’t require candidates to have prior experience. Successful lathe operators also demonstrate the following skills and qualifications:
- Hand-eye coordination – lathe operators have a high level of hand-eye coordination, and they use that skill in high-pressure scenarios with industrial machinery. They also have quick reaction times
- Inventory management – lathe operators know how to track and maintain inventory of raw materials. They can recognize when more materials need to be ordered and are adept at managing the ordering process
- Physical fitness – due to the nature of the job, lathe operators are on their feet all day. Successful candidates are physically fit enough to comfortably stand for at least an eight-hour shift
- Attention to detail – lathe operators demonstrate an obsession with details since the parts they fabricate need to follow precise standards and plans. They can recognize when parts don’t meet those quality standards and work to prevent errors during the lathing process
- Dedication to safety – industrial machines like lathes operate with a certain level of risk for the lathe operator. As such, lathe operators pay special attention to safety rules and are constantly on the lookout for unsafe situations
Tools of the Trade
Lathe operators typically work with the following tools on a day-to-day basis:
- Lathes and other industrial machinery
- Measuring tools (calipers, micrometers, height and depth gauges)
- Microsoft Office Suite (especially Word and Excel)
Lathe Operator Education and Training
Successful lathe operators have at least a high school diploma or GED. Candidates who have further education in machining are typically hired over those who don’t. Some employers may also look for candidates who have certifications in lathe machining, such as the National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS) certification.
Lathe Operator Salary and Outlook
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), lathe operators make a median annual salary of $41,700, listed under the category of machinists and tool and die makers. Lathe operators who make the most money in their field can earn as much as $62,000 per year. Those on the lower end of earnings make as little as $25,900 per year. Lathe operators are typically awarded a benefits package from their employers. These benefits usually include health insurance -including dental and vision coverage – along with vacation and sick time.
The BLS reports that lathe operators in this category can expect to experience an employment growth of about 2 percent through 2026. Advances in technology and machinery automation may be why this growth rate is lower than average.
Check out the following helpful resources to learn more about lathe machinists and the overall machining industry:
American Machinist Metalworking Network – if you’re looking for like-minded professionals, check out this LinkedIn group. Made up of machinists including lathe operators, this group gives you the unique opportunity to network and learn more about the field with a welcoming forum for asking and answering questions
Practical Machinist – this is a forum website where you can connect with lathe operators and other machinists from around the world. The unique forum approach allows you to communicate in real time with professionals who can help answer questions or discuss the latest advancements in the industry
Machinery’s Handbook – this book is often touted as the most popular reference book for machinists to have been written in the last 100 years. It contains a wealth of information that you can keep on your person for quick reference and information
Blueprint Reading for the Machine Trades – lathe operators often need to look at blueprints, and this book can help you build this essential skill. It covers a wide variety of topics, from visualization to multiview drawings, among other topics
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