CNC programming jobs offer great challenges for professionals working with automated machines. These jobs require skills and experience but it's often possible to find apprenticeships and on-the-job training programs that can lead to employment as a CNC programmer.
What Is a CNC Programmer?
CNC stands for computerized numerical control, which is a modern version of numerical control (NC). Numerical control is a system of coded instructions that are used to operate machine tools automatically. This makes manually operating the machine unnecessary. NC systems are built in, or "hardwired" into the control unit and changes whereas CNC systems use internal microprocessors, or computers.
The CNC programmer has a very important job in the machine shop that involves a number of different duties. CNC programming jobs require skills and experience including:
- Experience as a machinist
- Reading technical drawings
- Ability to understand aspects of engineering design
- Recognizing restricting factors in the system
- Ability to visualize how the machine tools move and work
- Ability to create a viable program
- Choosing methods of manufacturing
- Strong mathematical skills
- Understand manual programming methods
The position requires excellent communication skills, as programmers will often interact with CNC operators, engineers and managers. Individuals who work in this field may be called a process control or numerical tool programmer.
CNC Programming Jobs
Computer control programming positions can involve a range of automated machinery that work in many different environments. People working in this field may program machines that previously requires manual manipulation to work and now use a central computer to complete tasks. Examples include:
- Roll forms
- Press breaks
- Laser cutting
- Printing presses
Programming jobs may involve creating new programs for the latest equipment or it may involve revamping older machines for automation. Upgrading automated machines may be part of the job in many cases. Job duties include:
- Reading CAD (computer aided design) blueprints
- Creating plans to make parts for machines
- Developing a set of instructions
- Translating instructions into a CAM (computer aided manufacturing) program that contains commands for the machine to follow
CNC programmers are responsible for monitoring the effectiveness of the machine and reworking any problems that may occur, including poor productivity. With the level of responsibility associated with CNC programming jobs, proper training is essential.
Training and Education
According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the type of education and training needed depends on the type of CNC programmer job. The more complex the position, the more training and education is required. Many people entering this field have experience in related jobs:
- Machine setter
- CNC machine operator
Entry-level programmers may have on-the-job training to become proficient in CNC machine operation. Those interested in becoming programmers may also need to have a few years of experience and formal training to be able to write programs for the machines. Training may be completed in a number of settings, depending on the demands of the job.
- Secondary and post secondary vocational schools
- Community colleges
- Technical colleges
- Colleges or universities
The type of education needed depends on the type of job you want. Specialized programming jobs may require an engineering degree. Some employers may pay for an employee's certification in CNC programming.
Training may be ongoing as new technology develops. Many employers pay for ongoing education for their employees at local technical schools. In some cases, a representative of the manufacturer of the machine may offers workshops and training for customers' employees.
Is CNC Programmer the Job for You?
If you are mechanically inclined, love trigonometry, information technology and communicate well with others, working as a CNC programmer may be right for you. Entry level positions may offer on-the-job training or apprenticeships and you can opt for educational opportunities in local community colleges or technical schools. If you are interested in complex CNC programming, a degree in engineering can send you in the right direction.
CNC Programming Handbook
The CNC Programming Handbook is an excellent resource for those interested in entering this fascinating field. The book is a comprehensive guide for CNC programmers that covers basic and advanced information suitable for different levels of training.