Are you interested in pursuing a career as a CNC machinist? The good news is that you don’t necessarily need to study engineering in a college or university in order to start learning CNC and evolve as a competent CNC professional. However, you definitely need to have some skills and qualities in order to succeed in the CNC field.
Many people believe that CNC machining is about CNC programming; that’s not true. CNC programming (or G-code programming) deals with the fundamental language that CNC machines use to execute machining operations.
It is obvious that CNC programming is a must-have skill. No matter in which industry you may later develop as a CNC professional – even if you want to learn CNC as a hobby or work in the aerospace industry – CNC programming skills will boost your productivity and help you get the results you need. Besides, it is a skill found in almost every scientific field (manufacturing, bioengineering, space applications, general technologies, and others).
However, although programming is at the core of CNC machining, programming knowledge is not enough if you want to develop as a high-level CNC professional. Continue reading this article to find out why.
But how can one learn CNC machining? This is what we specifically address in this article.
Is that job for me?
First, let’s clarify this: CNC is not for everyone. So the first question you must ask yourself is: Is a CNC job for me? Keep reading to find out…
We see many university or college students expressing their interest in starting a CNC career to find out later that somehow they lack the needed qualities and they stay behind in their profession when they finally start working. It seems that from the beginning they didn’t have the whole picture of what it takes for someone to become a successful CNC machinist.
So, here is the truth: Are you willing to get your hands dirty? If yes, fine. If no, think about it twice. Having things done by a CNC machine does not mean that you will be working from an office. You must be confronted with a real CNC machine, familiarize with it and handle it properly. If you want to pursue a CNC career, be prepared to start as a practitioner first until you gather practical knowledge and experience.
Are you a creative person? Do you love making stuff from scratch? If you are someone who makes good use of different hand tools to create simple, everyday work, then that’s a good sign. If you are someone who loves to experiment in finding alternatives on how to turn a raw material or a useless component into something functional, that’s great! CNC machining is not only about pure engineering. It’s about creativity and passion in creating new stuff.
Developments in CNC technologies never stop. As such, you should always look for opportunities to continuously improve and learn. We have seen people working as CNC machinists who are anxious about the end of their 8-hours working shift; those people will never evolve as competent CNC professionals because they do not have the right attitude even if they have a good academic background as engineers. CNC is about love and passion. Every day, be prepared to learn something new and become better than the other day. CNC career is very promising but you should love it in order for it to love you. If you are looking for a job just to get paid at the end of the month and do not have the passion and attitude to continuously learn and grow, then you better forget it…
Your team working spirit should also be there. Do not expect to do things alone. It is mandatory to get along with different people who may have different viewpoints and ways of thinking as to how a problem should be solved. CNC machining strategies are always more than one. So, listen to them, understand their views, work together in order to find the best commonly accepted solution. Learn from each other.
What do you think? Do you have the above-mentioned qualities? Let’s summarize… and always keep them in mind: practice and get hands dirty, creativity, continuous learning, and improvement, passion and love, team working.
Do I need a diploma?
A university degree or diploma is definitely a strong qualification but this alone does not guarantee success in your career.
If you look at the content of a university engineering syllabus, you expect that its students will be well-trained to articulate subjects such as machine elements, general manufacturing processes, theories of cutting, engineering drawing, and others. University studies will give you a strong theoretical background but lack the practical aspects that will later help you to follow the job will love and do it well.
Our advice to university or college engineering students is: keep up with every aspect of engineering but emphasize the topic that is close to the area you want to gain expertise in.
And something else: as an engineering student, you are requested to produce a thesis or a written report about an academic topic that falls into your professor’s research interest or yours; in this case, consider your recommendations on the area that really attracts you and use them as the basis to express your own ideas and start developing something that is related to your particular skills. In other words, turn the thesis into a learning opportunity to develop knowledge and skills in your particular area of interest.
If for example, you like weldings, approach your supervisor and show something about your work; something that you may have already done or created yourself. You can present your work in the form of images or present the real thing; i.e., a small welding structure.
Where should I study?
If you have decided that working with CNC machines is what you really want to do, the next question is ‘where to study CNC’?
To make this decision, you will apparently have to consider your life conditions such as budget, family obligations, or free time available to devote to your studies.
Here, we will present you with the overall options that you have.
University or college
As already said, you can enroll in a technical university or college to study engineering. Since university studies will take you 3-5 years depending on your country, this is a preferred option for many school graduates at the age of 18-19. Normally, you have to give and pass exams before you are accepted by an engineering university.
Vocational training is expected to give students practical CNC skills that will later be leveraged in their real CNC environment. Their content is cleared from unrelated engineering subjects and theories and is designed to provide hands-on, job-specific methodologies and guidelines preparing students for the real work.
This is probably the most desirable option for those who are determined to follow a CNC career or are already in this field and want to develop new skills. It is also strongly recommended for engineering university students or graduates who have decided to pursue a CNC career and want to develop CNC practical skills.
Some vocational training programs contain even real CNC machine tools giving the opportunity to their students to practice on them and make real CNC parts – of course with the presence of their supervisor.
One of the most prominent CNC vocational training is offered by HAAS Automation Inc. – the largest CNC machine tools manufacturer in Europe and America – through their network of HTECs – HAAS Technical Education Center. There are over 150 HTECs worldwide and if you are lucky, you may find one that is close to your location.
In the last years, online training has been developed as one of the top-3 online sectors following gaming and tourism.
When it comes to CNC training, there are also quite many e-learning opportunities to look for; from e-learning platforms like Udemy and Coursera to stand-alone online trainings such as CNC Training online courses.
Which one to select depends on your goals. Keep in mind that CNC is by nature a practical field; therefore the theory itself – although necessary to provide you a solid academic background – may not fully meet your real needs.
Go for in-depth training that are delivered by CNC professionals with real experience in CNC machining. CNC machining is a whole world itself relating to other scientific areas at the same time, like engineering, materials behavior, geometry, computing. The more you deepen your knowledge and skills, the better you are going to cope successfully with real challenges at work later. It takes time, deep knowledge, skills and long-term experience.
In-company trainings & workshops
Another option is to attend in-company trainings or workshops provided by CNC companies.
In-company trainings are a vocational type of CNC training that might be more flexible and customized to your organization's needs in terms of its content, time, location, and pricing.
An in-company CNC training can be more economical if more than one person attends them – for example, a group of CNC programmers or operators working in a CNC machine shop.
Often, in-company trainings are accompanied by workshops with real demonstrations of certain methods and techniques. This way, not only you get trained in CNC but you also see how theories you may have been taught are put into practice.
During in-company trainings and workshops, you will also have the opportunity to meet people who are active in the field and have deep CNC knowledge. With the right networking, it might be easier and faster to find a good job in a modern company and make a very promising start with your CNC career.
Our company CNC Solutions has delivered in-company trainings and workshops to CNC technicians of several companies in Greece as well as engineering students; all these were customized and hosted in our CNC training facilities.
What areas should I focus on?
CNC is a wide area and as mentioned above it engages with other scientific areas as well. It is reasonable to be a bit confused at the beginning as to which areas should you start learning and focus on.
Again, this depends on your learning goals. However, there are four (4) overarching learning areas that practically cover all the fundamentals you need to know as a CNC professional. These are:
- Engineering drawing
- Manufacturing technologies
- CNC machine tools technologies
- CNC programming and operations
Let’s see why you need to comprehend each one of these learning areas.
The engineering drawing is the most reliable form of communication among individual engineers and working teams worldwide. It is the starting point of process learning and the primary information source for a certain part to be machined; it may also include data about the initial blank material (stock), such as type, size, and shape.
Good knowledge of engineering drawing will help you define the shape of the part to be machined, its individual dimensions, and all the existing relationships between its part features. A close study of the engineering drawing will provide you the solid ground you need to proceed with and execute the most efficient methods of production considering at the same time all critical factors such as accuracy, productivity, and safety.
As a CNC programmer, you will have to make regular decisions as to which materials, cutting tools, cutting conditions, and work-holding tools to select and use.
Good knowledge of manufacturing technologies will help you understand how the latest manufacturing technologies and modern methods used interrelate with the above-mentioned decisions that you need to make as a CNC programmer.
You will therefore boost your confidence as to how to make the right decisions in your real work cases, depending on the manufacturing technology that you are using.
CNC Machine Tools Technologies
Inevitably you have to work with CNC machine tools; the deeper you know about their technologies, systems, hardware, tools, and kinematics, the better equipped you will be to make full use of them and achieve your goal, which – as mentioned above – is to produce with efficiency, accuracy, and safety.
CNC technologies develop rapidly; as such, you must have an open mind and be willing for continuous learning as this will help you stay in front of the developments, incorporate new technology developments and trends in your real work, and ultimately evolve as a knowledgeable modern and competitive CNC machinist.
CNC Programming & Operations (Turning & Milling)
Here, we basically refer to manual programming. And although manual programming is used less frequently today and will probably be used even less frequently in the future, a good knowledge of manual programming can dramatically enhance your competitiveness as a CNC programmer and operator.
As a general rule, keep in mind that manual programming skills are applied to CAD/CAM programming; in other words, manual programming is the basis of CAD/CAM programming and serves as the source to develop more powerful software applications.
Therefore, with a good level of CNC manual programming knowledge and skills, you will be in a much better position to make better use of the available CAM software and upgrade your overall CNC efficiency and effectiveness. Overall, manual programming knowledge is the key to harness the power of CAM software.
Manual programming will also force you to understand the programming techniques to the very last detail and teach you a tight discipline and organization in program preparation.