What is a CNC Operator?

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  • Written By: Lori Kilchermann
  • Edited By: Jacob Harkins
  • Last Modified Date: 08 December 2018
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A CNC (computer numerical control) operator is someone who operates a CNC machine. The CNC machine can perform functions, such as precision drilling and tapping, cutting and shaping steel and aluminum, or milling flat stock into intricate designs. Often called a CNC lathe, the operator programs the machine to perform the task needed and monitors the work, making all necessary adjustments as needed.

In most cases, an operator learns the trade through an apprenticeship program and on-the-job training of a vocational school. He or she must typically understand blueprints and know how to read and interpret them. Computer knowledge is also a requirement, since the CNC machine is computer controlled. By entering a set of numbers in a particular sequence, the CNC operator can program the machine to do any number of functions.

The CNC machine is capable of running large production orders with little to no variance in production pieces. The operator monitors the work being completed and takes many critical measurements. If the machine is producing work that is not satisfactory, small adjustments can be made by the operator using a key pad on the control panel of the machine.


Often, a single operator is assigned to several CNC machines. This is possible due in part to the CNC's ability to provide such close tolerances over a large amount of work. The operator goes from machine to machine, checking the finished product of each. The operator takes critical measurements of each machine's work and implements any needed adjustments.

Many CNC operator tasks call for programing a machine to run a new product. The operator installs the new operation into the machine by programing the computer to complete new and different functions. He or she is often asked to change the tooling of the machine, although some change tooling automatically. The operator will run a test piece of work and take measurements and, once satisfied with the finished product, he or she will set the machine to run a certain number of pieces.

The operator is an important person within the manufacturing industry. The knowledge to program and operate a CNC machine is a valued skill, and by controlling the work being manufactured to exacting tolerances, the CNC operator is responsible for the company's reputation, in many instances. By keeping the machine properly adjusted, the operator cuts down on wasted materials and saves the company money. Even though the machine is computer guided, the operator's eyes and measuring skills are the final measure of the finished product's quality.


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Post 4

I'm starting school at dmacc for cnc-tool and die. I'm trying to learn beforehand. I have loaded programs into hydraulic presses and other computer aided machines at the auto plant. I'm hoping to get a job now and get hands on training.

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