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Going for a machinist degree, advice?


psilogen

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I'm moving to Colorado because there's nothing here for me in the winter, and I'm hoping to go into CNC machining so I can get an interesting and well-paid job and still have the energy to come home after work and accomplish things at the forge (or work on my car or teach myself this or that). What advice can you offer to a budding machine tool operator? Jobs/tasks to avoid, supplemental classes to take, where to go from there?

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Machining is a great profession that includes a lot of self satisfaction as one of its rewards. Anything and everything (not made by God) has machinist(s) fingerprints all over it.

On the downside (and not trying to change your professional dreams), prepare yourself mentally and financially for possible employer layoffs, down sizings, plant closures, labor strikes, etc. These have been a way-of-life for me many times since the early 1970's. It seems like no employer, product line, job location, etc. is immune to any of these then or now.

In 1984 I opened my own machining job shop for a more stable form of job security. Little did I know then that personal health issues would eventually plague that income source too.

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Strive to be a machinist and not a machine operator theres a pretty big difference in skill level and pay scale.
Its a honorable trade and has served me well .
But im old school and although I have several cnc machines both mills and lathes I can operate neither, ( I have employees that do that ).
Theres an old saying that anybody can run a new machine but it takes a machinist to run an old one.
Improvements are happening in leaps and bounds in the machine tool industry and if you blink your eyes you can be easily left behind.
Of course a machine operator nowadays pretty much only needs to know two things ( the go button / and the panic button

Mike Tanner

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Yes, good point. I'd like to be the guy turning out unique and complex parts for crazy research projects rather than just being one step in a mass-production line, but I guess that means I'll have to get really good, and keep up on my reading. What parts of the country tend to have the most stable employment in the field?

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for stable and clean working envirement , the medical machining industry
" swiss type cncs"
seems to be a huge demand in my area ,northeast
synthes is the company that is predominant
i don't work in that field but headhunters call me on a daily basis
i have been a machinist for 30 years , i am a journeyman .
always worked never layed off .
i like it always have
if i can say this , and i can in this forum
being a machinist or blacksmith for that matter is a matter of "heart" to have any sustainability.
i have seen the guys with no heart come and then they go.
just like blacksmithing , being a successful machinist requires constant vigilance
and attention .
if not you end up being another"button pusher" that fades into obscurity.

if you are looking for a good shop to work for ask the local tooling supplier "street salesman"
they normally know where the good shops are to work for, not the propaganda adds in newspaper
another observation is the smaller jobs shops tend to in this day and age pay more and
contrary to popular belief manufaturing in the states is going thru the roof
don't reference manufaturing with gm or ford that is a whole other entity .
i have worhed unfortunatly 50 hours plus for years now.
chuck

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  • 1 month later...

Being a certified CNC programmer/operator, manual machinist, I've made my fair share of chips. That's what we machinist's do is make chips, parts are a by-product. Beware that you will have to start at the bottom and prove yourself, we all have. Listen and learn. Old school machinist's are a wealth of information. But just like any profession there are some who will be threatened by your presence, happened at my last job.

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Machining is a great profession that includes a lot of self satisfaction as one of its rewards. Anything and everything (not made by God) has machinist(s) fingerprints all over it.

On the downside (and not trying to change your professional dreams), prepare yourself mentally and financially for possible employer layoffs, down sizings, plant closures, labor strikes, etc. These have been a way-of-life for me many times since the early 1970's. It seems like no employer, product line, job location, etc. is immune to any of these then or now.

In 1984 I opened my own machining job shop for a more stable form of job security. Little did I know then that personal health issues would eventually plague that income source too.


Yeah, buddy.

Try and not limit your skills to just CNC. You may like programming better, so study machining language. Know how to do complicated set ups, by hand. You may like tool design/fabrication better.

My experiences, is that the term "cnc operator", tends to be mass production, the same part, day after day.

I have a machinist degree, but I took extra classes to upgrade to engineering. Opened a lot more doors. Worked as an engineering aid, (fancy draftsman), when the economy was laying off machinists. Gave me more options. Good luck, Jerry
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  • 1 month later...

if you please..CNC guys/gals are a dime a dozen..old skool hands on machinists are in demand big time. CNC is machine monkey work IMHO.but then some prefer that kinda stuff.
"the President him self would grind to a halt..if not for a machinist"

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  • 2 weeks later...

Well, I'm not sure how it works in the 'States but in Canada we have a national certifying body for the machinist trade. I'm mid-apprenticeship right now on the way to my ticket, so take my opinion for what you figure that's worth.

There is alot of 'bah-humbugging' of CNC machining, but it IS the present and the future of machining. There are many, many parts that would take many, many times longer with a manual set up. Having said this, there are nearly as many parts that CNC is total overkill for. They both have value, so you should try to find a place to work that has both types of machines and is willing to train you on them. There is nothing like holding the wheels and feeling a tool work for generating an understanding of what is going on.

As for CNC jobs to avoid... none. Take anything you can get and learn what you can! If you find that the job you have is no longer challenging you, either ask to move machines or find another shop. every chip made is a lesson you can learn.

edit: the most important thing I've found is a shop that welcomes progress. Always doing things the same way doesn't yield progress. They should be willing to let you experiment to SOME degree. New/different tooling, varying speeds, feeds and depth of cut, changing clamping etc can all yield big improvements in productivity. Always strive to make it better, faster. Course, the guy before you has probably looked at alot of ways for that so ask first before you change things :)

Edited by MailleMas
disorganised thought processes
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  • 8 months later...

I've never even thought about getting a degree in Machining. Right now I have about a month and a half of experience under my belt working in a machine shop. I'm basically working for free, literally no money, but I see it as my education.

I don't know how old you are or what your plans are for the future, but if you could find the time I think it would be well worth it to get a little experience in a shop. Offer to work for free, or dirt cheap. Even one day a week would be good. I'm not saying don't get a degree, but real world experience is priceless.

The shop I work in is real old school. There isn't a CNC in the place and I'm happy about that. Mostly we work restoring old Indian Motorcycles, its a good time and keeps your mind going. There is something about making a part with your hands, feeling it being created, that gives the job that much more meaning. I have a hard time seeing myself learning how to program a CNC, but I'm afraid its something I'll eventually have to pursue if I want to find another job in the future.

Good luck.

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Interesting thread. I've been a toolmaker/ machinist for 32 yrs. The last 28 in the same place. We went from the old school machines right through to the CNC technology. I'm a firm believer that you need to know how to do it manually to be proficient with CNC. You need to know the setups. Speeds and feeds, cutter styles and toolbit geometry. Decimal equivalents and tap drill sizes. There is way more to it then just motion but you do need to know G code as well for CNC . There are a lot of conversational machines out there as well and each has it's own special needs.
Long story short (before this gets to long ) learn all you can as the opportunity presents itself. Knowing the manual way will give you many more ideas on setups then just CNC and the tooling designed specifically for it.

Chris, Someday I need to stop in Walker Machine, I have a 101 Scout.

Dick

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My Dad was a master machinist who started just before WWII, and retired for the second time (Air force first in 1967) after 20 years of civil service in 1987. During WWII my Mom was running a Cincincinati Hydrotel at the converted Graham Paige plant in Detroit making master rods for aircraft engines. I guess you could say it was in my blood to do machining. As it turned out I started machining in 85 after a couple of years taking the machine tool program at my local JC. Worked at a couple of shops before starting my own job shop. That lasted 6 years, before we had to close due to circumstances that were out of our control. Since then I have worked in a foundry, hydraulics shop, candy factory, for a machine gun dealer, and now another machine shop as the tool maker.

The shop I started tool making for was the largest Deco Swiss turning facility in N.America with 60+ machines. I say was because it went bankrupt this year. Sales of our biggest account were 30% of what they were last year, with much of the production going overseas. The parts the shop made are on the Space Shuttle, and International Space Station,as well as medical applications, electrical, fiber optic, etc.. It reorganized, downsized, and relocated, but I still have a job. Not much call for machinists in this area of the country, and lower wages than some areas. Some shops are offering $15 per hr for a fully qualified journeyman machinist. I was making $24+ spinning wrenches at the candy company. A huge part of our manufacturing base has moved off shore where the cheap labor is. The injection mold shop a friend worked at closed due to foreign competition after 25 years in business. Some shops do not even have operators now, just a programmer. Robotics handle the pick and place of the parts---so learn programming. There will always be a need for the pure machinist, but in a greatly reduced capacity. Kind of like how CAD put a lot of old school draftsmen on the streets. I went to tons of machine shop auctions when I was in N.CA, and a lot of the old machines being sold were headed to Mexico, and other countries. There were months where there were 8 auctions in one month for just one auction company.

As stated before, CNC machines do speed up the production of many parts due to their flexibility. No rotary tables to set up, no dividing heads to calculate ratios on, just type and go. With the ease of programming compared to the older CNC's the old manual machines are being pushed aside in a lot of shops in favor of newer CNC's.


Don't count on any one industry, as any of them could fold in today's economy / world market. Look at the auto makers, and the trickle down when they stumble. Same thing happened in Silicon Valley. A shop would get tied in tight with a computer manufacturer, and everything was great. That is until the computer company faltered, and they would take a number of shops down with them. The San Jose phone book machine shop listings look like residential listings there are so many. I have walked past 6 shops to get to the one that was being auctioned off. All I am saying is machining can be a very rewarding profession, especially if you have a creative mind-which most of us do-but the role of the pure machinist is changing. One field to look into might be tool and die making. A number of years ago it was reported then that the average age of a tool and die maker in the U.S. was 55.

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Do it, by all means. When I was a teen I was told that someday manual machinists would be in high demand and paid well. When the economy blew apart last fall, and most of my contracts for high end architectural metalwork were cancelled, I was able to get a good job right away, because of my varied skills as a blacksmith, foremost among them, manual machinist. The boss likes that I can run the power hammer, TIG up a bunch of bronze or stainless, install a staircase, or run the mill, or lathe.

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I think the point there is learn more than just machining. I have worked in varied industries, and my skill base includes welding, machining, casting, plumbing, concrete, electrical, and a few more. This has enabled me to be employed ,where as if all I knew was machining there would have been some dry spells.

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  • 2 months later...
  • 4 months later...

I know this is an old thread but I thought I would add my 2 cents and hope it is still relevant.

I joined back in January and promptly got sidetracked. Anyway I am back now.

Regarding the Machinist degree-Go for it.
Learning on the job is Okay. That's how I did it but getting all the information up front with a degree will let you progress much faster than I did once you are in the workforce.

I started out as manual machinist in 1977. I then moved to CNC operation then programming. Then for ten years I was application manager and then training manager for Mori Seiki USA. I am now Regional manager for Lyndex-Nikken selling machine tool accessories.

I agree that you should get the basic manual skills but then go after the most complex machines out there. This is machines like the MAZAK Integrex, MORI NTs and OKUMA Macturns.
This is were the market is going. If you have the skills and aptitude to run and/or program these machines your market value is very high. These machines are very productive thus eliminating manpower. But, the people that can run these machines efficiently are hard to come by. I won't say it makes you layoff proof but pretty darn close to it.

These are not load em up push the button kind of equipment. It takes a lot of imagination and 3-D mental imaging to keep it all going and not reduce it to a large pile of very expensive rubble. They are fast, powerful and scary as hell. Some have as many as nine axis going at once.

Don't let it scare you off though. If you can stand in front of a fire and mentally see what you want and then apply it you can learn these machines.

Dan

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  • 2 weeks later...

Follow your Dreams. If it feels right and you can tolerate Manufacturing then go for it.
I am a Journeyman, I can run just about anything. It all comes down to what type of Shop you work at. the more you can do " THE MORE YOU ARE WORTH. (And even More if your GOOD!!!)
The Trade like any other has some great and not so great poeple in it.
I'm lazier now, so CNC's are eaisier. Truth be known I'd rather run a Manual anyday.
Learn everything you can, as it will serve you well.
20 years ago, I to was at a crossroad. In retrospect, I should have become an electician.
A LOT MORE MONEY
The biggest downfall of our trade is Outsourcing to other Countries. And we have not kept up in pay-scale like the other Trades have.
Still all in all I make a decent living.
Hell, I used to be a Toolmaker. Good luck finding someone who even knows what that is anymore???

Best of Luck!!!

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I'm moving to Colorado because there's nothing here for me in the winter, and I'm hoping to go into CNC machining so I can get an interesting and well-paid job and still have the energy to come home after work and accomplish things at the forge (or work on my car or teach myself this or that). What advice can you offer to a budding machine tool operator? Jobs/tasks to avoid, supplemental classes to take, where to go from there?

I recently retired as a toolmaker after 32 years doing precision work. For most of that time I worked in a medical device or support facility (repair shop) for pharmaceutical related industry. If you are looking for a challenge that is both mental and physical where there will be little or no chance of a layoff I can recommend it. After 6 or eight years if you are reasonably competent, however, it will be boring and repetitious. It will pay fairly well though, but you can expect to work a minimum ten hour and sometimes twelve hour days and fifty to sixty hours a week. It is tiring both physically and mentally. You have to have an almost compulsively anal ability to deal with minute detail and perform everything in exactly the same manner time after time. Chances for physical injury are always present, as you will be working around equipment that can injure and maim easily if you let you attention lapse. The last ten or twelve years there has been a move to ISO certification and LEAN manufacturing and six sigma manufacturing process analysis. The emphasis on both internal and external auditing of everything can drive you batty.....All this said if you really want to try this, go for it. Try to stay away from facilities that do a lot of government contract or military industry work as the layoffs are nearly a constant threat. Until you have been working for a company like that for at least ten years it is not unheard of that you will be laid off two to three months a year. I also expect as time goes on that hard manufacturing jobs will continue to be outsourced overseas due to increased labor and regulatory costs. I alsoexpect as time goes on there will be less and less of this work available.
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