Before CNC programmers—also referred to as numerical tool and process control programmers—machine a part, they must carefully plan and prepare the operation. First, these workers review three-dimensional computer aided/automated design (CAD) blueprints of the part. Next, they calculate where to cut or bore into the workpiece, how fast to feed the metal into the machine, and how much metal to remove. They then select tools and materials for the job and plan the sequence of cutting and finishing operations.
Next, CNC programmers turn the planned machining operations into a set of instructions. These instructions are translated into a computer aided/automated manufacturing (CAM) program containing a set of commands for the machine to follow. These commands normally are a series of numbers (hence, numerical control) that describes where cuts should occur, what type of cut should be used, and the speed of the cut. CNC programmers and operators check new programs to ensure that the machinery will function properly and that the output will meet specifications. Because a problem with the program could damage costly machinery and cutting tools, computer simulations may be used to check the program instead of a trial run. If errors are found, the program must be changed and retested until the problem is resolved. In addition, growing connectivity between CAD/CAM software and CNC machine tools is raising productivity by automatically translating designs into instructions for the computer controller on the machine tool. These new CAM technologies enable programs to be easily modified for use on other jobs with similar specifications.
Job Outlook and Growth Potential:
Computer-control programmers and operators should have excellent job opportunities. Due to the limited number of people entering training programs, employers are expected to continue to have difficulty finding workers with the necessary skills and knowledge. Employment of computer-controlled machine tool operators is projected to grow more slowly than the average for all occupations through 2012, but employment of numerical tool and process control programmers is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through 2012. Job growth in both occupations will be driven by the increasing use of CNC machine tools. Advances in CNC machine tools and manufacturing technology will further automate production, boosting CNC operator productivity and limiting employment growth. The demand for computer-control programmers will be negatively affected by the increasing use of software that automatically translates part and product designs into CNC machine tool instructions.
Wages and Earnings Potential:
Median hourly earnings of numerical tool and process control programmers were $18.04 in 2002. The middle 50 percent earned between $14.52 and $22.23. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $11.53, while the top 10 percent earned more than $27.37.