CNC Careers – Machine Operator vs. Machinist

If you’re investigating CNC careers, a machine operator is likely near the top of your list. Growing the knowledge, skills and talents to operate complex CNC machinery is a worthy goal and is one pathway to a successful and interesting career. Perhaps you’ve also heard the term ‘machinist.’ Are there differences? Let’s explore what you should know about a CNC machine operator and a machinist.

Duties of a CNC Machine Operator

A machine operator is considered an entry-level position in most shops and manufacturing centers because basic skills are all that are required. Still, with an average base pay of $16.83 per hour across the United States (some states go as high as $22-$25 per hour), it isn’t a bad job for entering the machining industry. 

Common duties of a CNC machine operator typically include: 

  1. Loading materials into CNC machines
  2. Calculating the correct the amount of material to use for a task
  3. Determining the cutting path on a material for the task at hand
  4. Adjusting the operating speed of a machine as it runs
  5. Inspecting each finished item for quality and accurate measurements
  6. Cleaning and maintaining CNC equipment and workspaces

Duties of a CNC Machinist

While many in the industry use the terms ‘machine operator’ and ‘machinist’ interchangeably, this is technically incorrect. In most settings, a machinist will have more experience, and usually more technical training, than a machine operator. Machinists’ average base pay across the U.S. is $22.74, with many shops going as high as $35-$40 per hour. 

This higher pay is reflective of the higher expectations of machinists. In addition to being capable and qualified to carry out the duties of a machine operator above, a machinist may also have these additional duties: 

  • Setting up & programming CNC equipment 
  • Troubleshooting CNC equipment 
  • Servicing equipment
  • Routine maintenance on CNC equipment
  • Quality control
  • Supervising machine operators 

Both roles are essential for smooth operations in most machine shops and manufacturing settings. Of course, even a skilled machinist can only perform limited repairs in the event of a breakdown. For serious problems with your CNC machinery, contact Accurate Machine Tool Services for trained, certified, and experienced repairs and routine maintenance.