Computer numerically controlled (CNC) machines have become essential tools for the manufacturing industry worldwide. In the UK, such technology is used in factories, manufacturing plants, and machinist shops where workers no longer manually control heavy equipment used to cut, shape, and form products made from raw wood, composites and metals.
In most factories, CNC operators are not only trained to operate equipment, but also to programme and maintain it. Special knowledge is also required to set up machines, while technological advances in the design and implementation of CNC machines means the nature of an operator's job has changed considerably in recent years. CNC operators are increasingly recruited to programme and monitor fully automated machines and in some factories, a small number of skilled CNC professionals now handle the same amount of work previously assigned to several dozen manual workers.
CNC operators monitor and manage crucial processes, reading and interpreting blueprints, inputing data and monitoring the accuracy of a machine's operation while also making careful adjustments and performing maintenance on fragile parts. They may also be called upon to monitor the technology for any problems during the production process. If there is an issue, the operators can either adjust the programme to correct the problem or consult with a programmer who fixes the software accordingly. Once a product is completed, CNC operators verify quality and check the specifications match the required standards.
A qualified CNC operator is also often involved in the design of new equipment, testing out prototypes to ensure their accuracy and providing an expert perspective on the efficiency of new technology. Working with programmers and engineers, they help develop better machines and use their on-the-job experience to assist designers and engineers when setting appropriate sizes and speeds for different kinds of manufacturing equipment. They learn how to operate various machine tools, and train in professional practices, physics, mathematics and safety procedures. Continuing education is crucial as CNC technology changes on a regular basis. Machine manufacturing companies may offer training or operators can take vocational courses at a technical college.