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What Does an Engine Machinist Do?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 16 November 2016
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An engine machinist builds and repairs engines on request from customers. These specialists can work on engines of a variety of types and sizes, from the small engines used in devices like lawn mowers to high performance engines in race cars. Some work for shops or manufacturers with a machining department, while others may be hired to offer continual support for a facility or team; race cars, for example, may need regular attention from a machinist who focuses on engine maintenance and management.

The nature of the work can depend on a number of factors and vary by employer, specialty, and context. Some engine machinists participate in the design and development phase of new engine products. As engineers and other designers create a framework for a new design, the engine machinist can build test and sample engines. These allow the team to evaluate the engine's performance, make changes to the design, and develop technical specifications that will go into the formal documentation for the engine.

Engines in need of repair can be sent to a machinist, who can perform an evaluation and make the necessary repairs. Required tasks may involve removing components, fabricating or ordering new ones, and installing them. Such repairs can vary in complexity and delicacy. Engines designed for high performance, for example, often have very low tolerances and require meticulous maintenance to operate in peak condition. Other engines have higher tolerances and may be more forgiving.

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Rebuilds are also part of the work for an engine machinist. Engines may periodically need rebuilding as components wear down and reach the end of their functional lifetime, or in response to a catastrophic event that destroys all or part of the engine. Equipment may need an overhaul to compensate for changing standards, as well, as may be the case if tough environmental laws take effect and engines need to be modified to address them.

There are several career paths a person can take to become an engine machinist. One option is the completion of a program at a technical school or college, in which students receive training in machining and related topics. Another option is to apprentice with a skilled machinist at a shop to receive hands-on education. In both cases, it may be possible to take a certification exam to receive special qualifications as an engine machinist after demonstrating competency. This can be helpful on job applications, as some shops prefer to hire technicians and machinists with certifications.

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