As you look around, you see levers, buttons, switches and all sorts of other individual components. This is the world of the machine operator, the factory worker who sets up and operates the machines that make all the individual plastic and metal parts that form all the objects used in the manufacturing process. Most employers prefer machine operators to have at least a high school diploma or GED.
Machine operators are typically either tenders or setters. A person with a machine-tending job has the responsibility of watching an assembly line produce the parts. Depending on the job, the tender may start by supplying materials to the assembly line. As he gains more knowledge of the assembly process, the tender has the responsibility of starting and stopping the line, adjusting the line speed and inspecting materials for defects. (See Reference 1) The tender is responsible for monitoring the equipment for unusual behavior. He lifts raw materials onto the machine, either with a hoist or manually. The tender is responsible for recording production numbers in a computer database.
While a tender can learn his job in a few weeks, the machine setter usually has more extensive training. Some setters even attend vocational schools to learn the trade. Alternatively, some participate in informal apprenticeships to learn the necessary skills on the job. Setters often have advanced training so they can set up computer numerically controlled, or CNC, and computer aided manufacturing, or CAM, machines. Some jobs require setters to have experience reading computer-aided design, or CAD, drawings so they can properly set machines to the exact manufacturing specifications. The machine setter runs the first batch of the item through the assembly line to ensure everything is set properly. As he performs his job, the setter removes and replaces damaged cutting equipment. Whenever possible, the machine operator repairs the damaged equipment.
Computer skills are essential for both setters and tenders, as they must be able to operate the computers that run the assembly lines. Even with modern technology, machine operators still need knowledge of the basic operations of machines used in the manufacturing process. Machine operators need to be physically fit to meet the heavy lifting requirements and physical demands of their jobs.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the demand for machine operators will grow by 6 percent in 2020, which is slower than the 14 percent average rate of growth expected for all other occupations. As manufacturers install computer-controlled machines to do the work of the tenders, job openings may diminish even more. Machine operators with computer experience are more likely to find and retain their jobs. The average hourly wage for machine operators was $15.34 in 2010. Wages varied based on skill, industry and union status.
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