what is a CNC operator?

You work in the metalworking industry as a CNC operator, producing machine parts using a computer numerical control machine. You operate CNC machines and routers and employ computer programming skills to sculpt and finish component prototypes. CNC operators are critical members of any industrial engineering team. Due to the nature of the work, CNC operators undertake rigorous training to operate their machines and maintain the required high-quality standards.

CNC operator tasks

CNC operators work on machinery to cut, sculpt and finish machine component prototypes. These can be anything from car parts to metal tools and hardware supplies. Additionally, you assign quality control checks from time to time and report any issues to CNC programmers to make necessary machine adjustments. Typically, CNC operators work in a factory setting, and job responsibilities differ depending on where you are in your career.

While CNC operators are generally found in the metalworking industry, your speciality is used in different industries. For example, a CNC operator makes parts for the automotive, hardware and housing sectors. A CNC operator also makes parts or machinery used in the mining industry.

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average CNC operator salary

As a CNC operator, you earn a yearly remuneration package of $68,000. In an entry-level role, you perform minimal tasks like calibrating and testing equipment and take home a salary of $60,000 annually. When you are experienced in the role, you are likely to earn more since you can handle complex tasks like maintaining equipment. An experienced CNC operator takes home a salary of $75,000 yearly.

what factors affect your salary as a CNC operator?

CNC operator salaries vary depending on experience and specialisation. Experienced CNC operators specialise in calibrating machinery to shape raw materials into the desired shapes. You can negotiate a higher salary when you are an expert in calibrating a particular piece of equipment.

The industry you work in also influences your remuneration package. Metalwork and manufacturing industries have complex projects, and you will likely take home a higher salary.

Want to know what you will earn as a CNC operator? Check out what you are worth with our salary checker.

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types of CNC operators

CNC operators can specialise in different aspects of operating computer numerical control machines. Some types include:

  • CNC programmer: as a CNC programmer, you study numerical control programming languages and use your expertise to prepare instructions that the CNC machines can read and perform. Your job involves reading blueprints and figures to understand how to make a part. From the blueprints, you select the tools and write the programs.
  • CNC set-up operator: as a CNC set-up operator, you load the program and prepare the machines for operation. You select and set up the tools, test the program and ensure everything works as expected.
  • entry level CNC operator: as a junior CNC operator, you are the button pusher. That means you load stock materials to the machines and run parts.
Female Asian in factory
Female Asian in factory

working as a CNC operator

Working as a CNC operator entails operating various metal and manufacturing machinery. Let's explore the daily activities, duties and work schedules of CNC operators.


education and skills

Before becoming a CNC operator, complete the following qualifications:

  • apprenticeship: you are expected to complete an apprenticeship like Certificate III in engineering with a specialisation in fabrication trade. The apprenticeship is a three-year program that combines coursework and on-the-job training.
  • work experience: you require work experience to excel as a CNC operator. With work experience, you develop skills in using computer-aided manufacturing software used to calibrate machines and update new software developments.

CNC operator skills and competencies

Some of the qualities required by a CNC operator include:

  • technical knowledge: as a CNC operator, you need technical knowledge. Your role requires understanding how a machine works and calibrating the machines to suit various functions. You can improve your technical knowledge through apprenticeships. You also require knowledge of physics and electrical circuits to isolate problems in CNC machines.
  • computer-aided design: as a CNC operator, you don't create computer-aided design images, but you should understand how to translate the information to the CNC machines. Your job is to analyse CAD designs and create instructions that a machine can use to develop proposed products.
  • problem-solving skills: as a CNC operator, you encounter problems during calibration and testing machinery. You rely on your problem-solving skills to isolate particular issues in the machinery. When you notice a problem in the finished product, you use your problem-solving capabilities to resolve the issue and ensure the next product meets the production standards.
  • teamwork skills: as a CNC operator, you work alongside a team of machinists and other CNC operators. You require good communication and interpersonal skills to collaborate and brainstorm the best ways to accomplish a task.

FAQs about working as a CNC operator

Here, you will find the answers to the most frequently asked questions about the profession of a CNC operator.

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