Computer-control programmers cut and shape precision products, such as auto parts, compressors, and machine parts, using computer numerically controlled (CNC) machines. CNC machines are machining tools, such as lathes, multiaxis spindles, milling machines, and electrical discharge machines (EDM) that perform functions with the aid of a computer-control module. CNC machines cut away metal, plastic, or glass from a workpiece to form a finished product. Computer-control programmers typically produce large quantities of one part, but may also produce small batches of unique items. Their knowledge of the properties of metals and their skill with CNC programming enables them to design and produce precise machined products.
CNC programmers first plan and prepare an operation, reviewing three-dimensional computer-aided/automated design (CAD) blueprints, calculating the placement of the bore into the workpiece, determining the speed of the machine, and deciding how much metal to remove. After this phase, CNC programmers convert the plan into a set of instructions, which are translated into a computer-aided/automated manufacturing (CAM) program. This program has a set of commands for the machine to follow in order to complete the operation. Computer-control programmers check new programs to ensure that the machinery will function properly and that the output will meet specifications.
Computer-control programmers should have a basic knowledge of computers and electronics. Experience with machine tools can be very advantageous. They should have the ability to learn new programming languages because numerous languages are constantly in use within the manufacturing industry.
In 2002, computer-control programmers earned a median hourly wage of $13.97. Earnings ranged from the lowest 10%, who earned less than $9.14, and the highest 10%, who earned more than $21.27. The following shows the median hourly wages for the industries employing the highest numbers of computer-control programmers:
- Metalworking machinery manufacturing — $15.97
- Other fabricated metal product manufacturing — $15.14
- Machine shops — $13.82
- Motor vehicle parts manufacturing — $13.08
- Plastics product manufacturing — $11.00
Training and Education
Computer-control programmers receive training in a number of different ways. Some train in apprenticeship programs, while others train informally on the job. Others receive training from a secondary, vocational, or postsecondary school. A shortage of qualified applicants has lead many employers to teach introductory courses in metalworking, machines, safety, and blueprint reading. Experience with machine tools can be very advantageous, and many computer-control programmers have previous work experience as machinists. High school or vocational courses in mathematics (trigonometry and algebra), blueprint reading, computer programming, metalworking, and drafting are valued by employers. A growing number of computer-control programmers get their training from community or technical colleges.
Many training facilities have started using curricula that is standardized by the National Institute of Metalworking Skills (NIMS). Trainees must pass a performance requirement and written test. Once they pass, they receive a NIMS credential that recognizes their metalworking competency and can add to career opportunities. Computer-control programmers update their skills with additional training even after they are hired. Representatives from equipment manufacturers usually provide this training.
In 2002, computer-control programmers held about 151,000 jobs. Most worked in machine shops, plastics products manufacturing, or machinery manufacturing.
Between 2002 and 2012, employment of engineering technicians is expected to increase more slowly than the average, due to the increased use of CNC machines. However, job prospects should be excellent due to the low number of people entering training programs, which will create a shortage of and demand for trained workers.
For more information as a Computer Control Programmer, please see our directory of schools offering CNC Training