As the name suggests, a machine operator is the person responsible for carrying out all machinery-related activities in an organization. This involves feeding instructions, data and raw materials into the equipment, monitoring the operations of the machinery and overall maintaining optimum efficiency. Carrying out all these activities requires great dexterity, hand-eye coordination and technical knowledge. If you possess these skills or are willing to develop them with practice, then the work of a machine operator can be the right fit for you.
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Job duties of a machine operator
A machine operator’s primary role is to operate machinery. As a result, the machine operator of an organization is in charge of choosing the right machine for a specific task, operating the machine while maintaining all safety standards and ensuring optimum efficiency of the equipment. For this purpose, a machine operator must possess good skills working with both manual and CNC technology.
Following are some of the important job duties of a machine operator:
Read and interpret blueprints, diagrams and drawings to input data into the equipment accordingly.
Calibrate machinery regularly to maintain efficiency and productivity standards.
Monitor the operation of equipment to detect any defects or problems.
Adhere to standard safety standards and norms to ensure proper usage of equipment that maximizes machinery lifetime.
Determining, loading and adjusting production rates to keep up with the demands for manufactured goods.
Carrying out proper data collection and report-making about all the operations being carried out by machinery.
Feed raw materials into equipment to move the production process forward.
Follow specified measurement norms and accordingly adjust the measurements whenever required to maintain the acceptable standard of the final product.
Machine operator median salaries
According to the website PayScale, the median annual salary of a machine operator stands at $40,312. This pay tends to increase with experience and expertise. The higher-end range is around $60,000.
Top skills for machine operators
If you are mechanically inclined and have experience in a production or manufacturing environment, this may be the perfect position for you. A machine operator performs various tasks to set up, operate, monitor, troubleshoot and perform preventive maintenance on assigned machines to maintain quality specifications. The position’s primary responsibility is to operate machinery, handle materials and ensure all equipment is maintained and serviced according to established protocols. Let’s break down the top skills you’ll need to get a job in this position:
- Machine operation and maintenance Being mechanically inclined and working well with hands-on a wide variety of machines are essential skills for successfully performing as a machine operator. The main responsibility of this role is to safely operate the machines for their intended purpose, complete preventive maintenance requirements and properly troubleshoot malfunctions according to established protocols. You’ll perform necessary pre-operation activities to ensure proper equipment startup and operation on multiple pieces of equipment and monitor all aspects of production, detecting and resolving malfunctions with necessary procedures to ensure maximum quality and efficiency. For example, you might be operating a palletizer, ensuring the equipment is operated and performs according to expectations.
- Diagram literacy and mathematics As a machine operator, you must read and interpret drawings and diagrams to select, position and secure machinery. You’ll also be required to read and interpret blueprints. You must master this skill because you’ll be responsible for the interpretation of and adherence to production work orders. As part of the role, you must also be knowledgeable in the metric system, mathematical formulas and mathematics in general. The job will require you to perform basic mathematical computations such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and percentages.
- Communication and interpersonal skills The ability to read and follow written procedures is crucial for this role. Thoroughly reviewing and understanding all information listed on job paperwork before beginning a project is essential. You must demonstrate the ability to read and interpret documents such as safety rules, operating and procedural manuals and write simple correspondence. As a machine operator, you’ll also have to work in a team environment, frequently communicating with team members and supporting teams to ensure continuous production of the correct product at high-quality levels with minimal wasted time and materials. Communicating effectively with customers, coworkers and supervisors professionally and courteously and communicating valuable information to the team using various tools (verbal, written, electronic, etc.) are part of the role. For this, interpersonal skills come in handy to assist you in developing and maintaining professional working relationships with builders, vendors, subordinates and coworkers.
- Physical endurance The nature of this job requires the machine operator to stand or walk for long periods, lift up to 25 lbs. at once, have the physical ability for sitting, crouching, kneeling, reaching above head and below the waist and navigate hazardous conditions. Some positions ask that you can lift at least 50 pounds and perform repetitive and physically demanding tasks throughout your shift, including pushing/pulling, gripping, bending and climbing ladders/stairs.
- Problem-solving and decision-making skills You’ll have to identify proactively, analyze, address and resolve problem areas, conflicts, issues and initiate work orders for this role. You must display a willingness to make decisions and exhibit sound and accurate judgment. For some positions, you’ll have to support and explain the reasoning behind your choices, make sure you include appropriate people in the decision-making process and make timely decisions.
- Quality assurance An important duty of this role is to pay attention to detail and be alert to quality issues. This is because quality control and assurance are part of the tasks for machine operators. You must perform and document quality checks, evaluate results and take appropriate action. You may even have to interface with computer control systems. You must also ensure others perform ongoing quality control inspections to detect fabrication errors and problems. In short, you must be quality-focused by ensuring all products meet the correct specifications. To perform the quality inspection, sometimes you’ll need to be knowledgeable in various measuring equipment, such as micrometers and calipers, among others.
- Project management Another major task of a machine operator is to organize work for smooth operations. This entails being responsible for all processes, equipment, employees, safety and housekeeping on assigned lines. Maintaining company policies and procedures, ensuring scrap goals on designated lines are met and relieving other workers for breaks are part of a machine operator’s job. To perform successfully in this role, you must use effective time management to ensure job completion is timely and thorough. You should develop an organizational system that allows you to be efficient and responsive. You must have strong organizational skills to ensure adequate tracking systems are utilized to maintain and track all required information associated with the ordering and production process and assess your performance and the performance of others to make improvements or take corrective action to ensure job completion. Working knowledge of the internet, inventory, project management practices, spreadsheet and word process software and order processing systems is very helpful to perform project management tasks.
- Safety-conscious One of the most critical responsibilities of a machine operator is to make working around heavy machinery a safe endeavor. In this role, you’ll direct the workflow strictly adhering to safety rules and regulations to include wearing safety equipment, as well as high standards for quality and product safety. To maintain a safe working environment, employers expect you to have an excellent safety record and mindset. This ensures that you’ll proactively identify hazards and mitigate risk by safely setting up and operating plant production machinery, such as the grinder, forklift, crusher, pulverizers, Bobcat equipment, conveyors, small trucks and loaders, by established procedures and guidelines. Because of the nature of this job, the machine operator must maintain a high level of housekeeping, which means that you’ll perform tasks that maintain a clean and safe workstation. More specifically, you’ll be responsible for performing routine equipment and general cleaning.
Educational requirements for machine operators
DegreeFor this role, you must be at least 18 years old and preferably have a high school diploma or general education degree (GED). While some employers will accept a candidate without one so long as you have a few years of experience in a related field and the appropriate certifications, preference is given to candidates who do have one. Some employers require candidates to have their diploma or GED just to be considered. Some roles even prefer a technical degree, but it’s not usually required to have one.
If you want to consider a degree, you can check out Central Lakes College’s diplomas in Machine Operations, CNC Technologies, Heavy Equipment Operation & Maintenance and Welding and Fabrication. Or, maybe check out Gateway Technical College’s technical diploma in CNC Production Technician and CNC Programmer. Through hands-on projects and practice, you’ll learn blueprint interpretation, layout and other necessary skills in these diplomas.
Employers usually prefer candidates with at least six months of previous experience in a similar role, but others look for candidates with a full year. The more experience and credentials you have, the better pay you can expect to have since the salary for this role tends to be commensurate with experience.
CertificationsSpecific licenses are not required for this role. Also, while not all machine operator roles will ask for certifications, they expect you to be proficient in the above-mentioned skills. So, if you need to develop some of the necessary skills for the role, you can consider taking courses, specializations and certifications. For example, you can take a class to learn to efficiently use various hand and power tools necessary to perform your daily duties. Some encompassing certificates you can check out are:
Colleges and universities: Gateway Technical College has many valuable certifications. You can check out their Advanced Manufacturing Specialist program that gets you certified as an Automation and Control Technician. You can also look into their CNC Operator, Quality Control Technician (which teaches about safety and blueprint reading) and Technical Supervisor certificate programs (which also teaches about safety in the workplace and team-building, problem-solving and quality). Also, Southern Maine Community College offers a certificate in CNC Machine Operation you can consider as well. Meanwhile, Shoreline Community College provides a Machine Maintenance Certificate, which is also useful. Alternatively, you can also consider Front Range Community College’s Machining Programs and Certificates.
Organizations and associations: The Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, International® (FMA) has a few helpful certificate programs: Machine Safeguarding Certificate, Machine Tool Service Technician Certificate and more.
Machine operator resume-writing tips
As a machine operator, your technical expertise must come through directly from your resume. You can get an edge and create a lasting impression on your potential employers by structuring a well-thought resume that provides a complete picture of your experiences, expertise and future potential.
Use the following tricks to polish your resume well:
- Use action verbs: Action verbs play a vital role in forging your personality on the resume. They help you come across as decisive, responsible and proactive. They also eliminate the risk of making you sound like a robot. Lastly, action verbs have also been considered vital for resumes because they help employers visualize you performing the work. Using industry-specific action verbs has the potential of greatly impressing employers. Thus, you must start incorporating them into your resume. For example, instead of writing “carried out operations of 15 machineries,” try to write “managed operations of 15 machineries.”
- Avoid resume buzzwords: Buzzwords are the words or phrases that have been highly overused in resumes. Usage of these buzzwords creates great monotony for employers as the majority of resumes contain these. As a result, they reduce you to being a familiar face among the masses and pull you back. Moreover, buzzwords also reflect poorly on your dedication toward securing the job since they show a lack of research. Instead, make sure to include technical words to add strength and value to your resume. One example would be to write “calibrated machines to enhance productivity” instead of “carried out machine maintenance.”
- Focus more on recent experiences: Employees will always tend to look at your recent work experiences. These experiences are a true reflection of your skill set and an indicator of your potential. It is generally preferable not to mention any work experience that is more than 15 years old since it does not add much value to your resume. Instead of focusing on many work experiences, it is better to focus on periods of time. Machine operators are usually engaged in the production plants, work floors or workshops of an organization.
What is the difference between a machinist and a machine operator?
The job duties of a machinist and a machine operator are very similar in the day-to-day activities of an organization. Both of them operate CNC and manual machines to efficiently contribute to the manufacturing stage of the supply chain. However, the difference lies in the fact that machinists are usually trained in carrying out repairing measures on the machines as well.
What is the work environment of a machine operator?
Machine operators typically work in those areas of an organization where the manufacturing process takes place. Their work requires them to remain on their feet for extended periods of time. Machine operators are usually engaged in the production plants, work floors, or workshops of an organization.