A machine operator uses a press brake to manipulate metal.

How to Become a Machine Operator for a Metal Fabricator

Are you looking for a new career? If you’ve been researching metal fabricator jobs, you may have seen or heard about machine operator positions. Machine operators are essential to manufacturing. They use heavy machinery with advanced technology to complete tasks that have been automated or cannot be performed by a human alone. 

At a metal fabrication company, machine operators help create custom parts by ensuring the machines that do the work are running efficiently. Machine operators are necessary to run mills, lathes, punch presses, press brakes, laser cutters and other machines that produce metal components. 

Some people stare at a desktop computer all day inside a cubicle. Others spend most of their time on the phone with customers as part of their job. If you’re interested in metal fabrication, you’re probably not cut out for a desk job. 

What’s great about being a machine operator is that you aren’t stuck at a desk from dawn till dusk. You get to be on the floor, working with team members and helping make tangible components that people will use in their homes, offices, cars and more. 

What Does a Machine Operator Do in Manufacturing?

All that sounds great, right? But you may be wondering what the duties and responsibilities of a machine operator are. What’s it like to work for a custom metal fabricator? What do you do as a machine operator?

A day in the life of a machine operator looks something like this. You will clock in for your shift, get your tasks for the day and put on the appropriate safety gear. Your company may require you to wear gloves, safety glasses, earplugs and steel-toed shoes. 

During your shift, you will set up and observe machines as they operate. If anything goes awry, you will troubleshoot the problem and communicate with other team members and departments. Once your shift is over, you may need to clean and shut down machines or relay any issues you had during your shift to the next shift’s operator. 

A machine operator’s duties include but are not limited to: 

  • Reading orders, specifications and blueprints
  • Setting up and running machines 
  • Adjusting machine settings and programming 
  • Lifting material onto or off of machines 
  • Communicating with other team members
  • Understanding tolerances
  • Performing calculations 
  • Checking parts for imperfections 
  • Cleaning machines after use 

Machine operators may also have responsibilities related to supplies and inventory. 

Most manufacturing companies work 24/7. You may work first, second or third shift, or you may work on the weekends, depending on the company’s needs. 

Necessary Machine Operator Skills

Many people find manufacturing jobs appealing. You can work with your hands and develop skills that help you further a hobby or passion. As a machine operator, you will be responsible for running heavy machinery, like lathes and milling machines, based on specifications from orders and blueprints.

You can start a machine operator job at entry-level. Many companies, including Metaltech, emphasize on-the-job training. If you are willing to learn, a job at a metal fabricator will help you gain valuable, hands-on experience and skills. As you grow in your skillset, you will work on more types of projects and advance in your career. 

Anyone can become a machine operator! Someone personable, dependable and eager to learn will excel in the role. Having an eye for detail and a streak of perfectionism doesn’t hurt either. You need to be able to focus on fine details to ensure parts are produced without error. 

Common skills for machine operators and metal fabricators include: 

  • Attention to detail. Inspecting components or parts for imperfections is a crucial part of the job. Completed work must meet specifications exactly—down to the millimeter. The slightest mistake could render components unusable and cost the company profit. As parts are completed, you will examine them for errors. Sometimes, your tasks may feel repetitive when working on high-volume projects. However, metal fabrication shops take on a variety of work; once one project is complete, it’s on to something different. 
  • Strength and stamina. You must be able to stand for long periods of time and lift materials. You may be required to load materials onto the machine or move them off after the process is complete.  
  • Basic math and analytics. Math and analytic skills are musts for machine operators. Both help you understand specifications and drawings for the components or parts and help you determine if a machine is operating as it should. Part of the job includes performing calculations to set up machines and examine components. You might calculate a machine’s speed or a part’s diameter or angle. Being comfortable with fractions and decimals is helpful.  
  • Safety mindset. In manufacturing, you must follow safety procedures and interact with the machines according to your company’s safety policies. Your safety and the safety of others should always come first. 
  • Problem-solving. Is a machine malfunctioning? Why are the components not to spec? Is there a problem with the machine’s setup? You must be able to solve problems when errors or setbacks occur. A pause in activity can halt production across the shop floor. It will be up to you to identify and troubleshoot problems. 

Machine Operator Training & Education

Many companies prefer that you have a high school diploma or GED for entry-level positions. When you work at a metal fabrication company, the most important thing you need is a willingness to learn as you go. Much of machine operator training is on-the-job training. Companies will train you how to use the machines and follow processes. 

You can earn an associate’s degree from a local trade school or certifications that specialize in specific skills or materials. The National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS) and the Fabricators and Manufacturers Association (FMA) offer training courses and resources to help you advance in your career and gain a competitive edge. An associate’s degree and certifications are not requirements to become a machine operator. 

How to Become a Machine Operator in Manufacturing 

Getting a machine operator job is similar to applying for other jobs. You will need to provide information about your experience and goals, interview and take a drug test. 

If you have experience in metal fabrication or machine technology, include that in your application and discuss it in the interview. If you don’t have experience, you’ll want to talk about how you are ready to jump in and learn. 

Are you ready to start your career? 

We’re hiring for entry-level positions. View our job openings.   Questions? Contact us for more information about our company history, benefits and what working with us would be like for you. We’d love to have you join us!

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