Many manufacturing companies use industrial equipment, tools and machines to produce products and parts. Each machine used on the production line is operated, monitored and maintained by machine operators. These professionals can specialize in a variety of industrial machines, including high-tech equipment. The duties and responsibilities of a machine operator vary, and depend on the type of production environment they work in.
Generally, there is no minimum education requirement for this occupation, but employers prefer those who obtained a high school diploma or GED. Because machine operators use heavy production equipment, many employers require prospective machine operators to pas a drug test and physical. Computer skills can also help machine operators, as many production environments have become automated using computerized machines. Qualified applicants receive several weeks of on-the-job training.
Machine operators prepare the machine for each production task. This can include entering information such as sizes, shapes or cutting information into computer-controlled machines, or adjusting machine settings such as speed. They perform tests to ensure the machine is set properly, and then operate the machine for normal production. This can include putting each part or piece into the machine, unless the production line is fully automated.
While the machine is operating, machine operators monitor the equipment to ensure proper function throughout the production process. They also randomly test or measure products or parts to ensure that they meet specifications. After production is completed, they clean or recalibrate machines. They also create production reports for the machines they operate.
Technological advances will slow growth for machine operators through 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Job opportunities will be best for computer-controlled machine operators, whose field is expected to increase by 19 percent during that timeframe. This compares to a 14 percent average growth predicted for all U.S. occupations. Salaries vary greatly for machine operators and depend on their skills. In 2010, the BLS estimated average salaries ranging from $13.54 to $22.07 per hour.
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