What Does a Precision Machinist Do?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A precision machinist fabricates parts with very low tolerances for error. The work can include a variety of products from custom-built components for spaceships to the mass-production of car parts. Careers in this field typically require apprenticeship or formal training at a technical school or college. It can take several years of education to be able to work independently as a precision machinist and some continuing education may be necessary to keep up with an industry.

Modern precision machinists often operate CNC machines, which render high quality results when programmed correctly.
Modern precision machinists often operate CNC machines, which render high quality results when programmed correctly.

Historically, machining involved working by hand to create components. Today, a precision machinist may perform tasks with the assistance of computer numerical control (CNC) technology. Handwork requires patient, focused attention to the piece to make sure it is machined within the specifications set by the client. To operate a CNC machine, the machinist needs to understand the programming and be able to to tell the machine how to process the component.

A precision machinist fabricates parts with very low tolerances for error.
A precision machinist fabricates parts with very low tolerances for error.

Some precision machinists work on prototypes. As a project goes through development, the team may request machined parts to put together prototypes for testing. Once the project is complete, a precision machinist may be involved in the programming of CNC equipment for mass production. The machinist starts with the final prototype, refining the design and features to make it possible to produce large numbers of identical parts.

A CNC plasma cutting system can be a useful tool in shops that require precision machining.
A CNC plasma cutting system can be a useful tool in shops that require precision machining.

These workers may produce custom parts. Some work in facilities like aerospace companies while others may take on contract work from a variety of clients. The client provides information about the part and the need to allow the machinist to select the best materials and fabricate the part successfully. These custom parts may be made in very small runs. A precision machinist needs an intimate understanding of the part as well as the application to ensure that the client receives the best possible final product.

A precision machinist may also be in charge of an assembly or production line. The machinist programs and checks equipment, engages in quality control spot checks, and supervises workers on the line. Every part that comes off the line needs to fall within a narrow set of specifications, which requires attention and focus from the machinist who monitors the proceedings. In this job role, it is important not only to understand machining, but to be skilled at interpersonal communication. The machinist may act as a conduit between workers, supervisors, clients, and other staff to ensure that parts are produced properly and as expected.

A CNC machinist must be skilled at programming, testing and adjusting the equipment to produce the desired results.
A CNC machinist must be skilled at programming, testing and adjusting the equipment to produce the desired results.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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