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Machining is the process of creating or changing parts that are made primarily of metal, and less frequently, of plastic or wood. It may be accomplished by cutting, grinding, drilling, lathing, polishing and other technological processes that are performed to remove excess metal and shape the part. Machinists are individuals who use machinery tools to fabricate parts according to the parameters specified in blueprints, also known as technical drawings. They generally work with materials such as steel, brass, aluminium, copper and sometimes glass, plastic or wood. Machinists have to be proficient in using various machinery equipment because the making of a part frequently requires more than one technological process and tool. Most machinery tools are electrically powered equipment, but several hand tools may also be used occasionally. Machinists are essential workers in industries or fields where replacement parts are frequently needed, especially in emergency situations when the operation of equipment depends on the availability of a specific part.
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Machinists use their knowledge and a variety of tools to accomplish the task of making a part according to a technical drawing. First of all, a machinist will use measuring tools to determine how much will be cut from a metal piece to make the part. Measuring tools may include calipers, rules or more precise tools such as micrometers. Machinery tools that are used by machinists cut, grind, polish or drill metal or other materials to achieve the final shape of the part. Additionally, machinists use auxiliary tools such as hand tools, tool holders and work holders such as vises or chucks. Machinists must follow proper safety procedures to prevent work accidents due to inattention or haste. They wear safety goggles at all times during operation of machinery equipment.
When a small number of parts is needed, machinists are usually able to make them by manually operating machinery tools to cut, drill or grind metal according to specifications. However, when large-scale production of parts is involved, machinists operate primarily through Computer Numerically Controlled (CNC) machine tools. This is a type of computer guided equipment that cuts and shapes the metal according to precise parameters that are introduced in its settings. It allows the production of a large number of parts, especially in industrial settings, and reduces the probability of human error. Still, this process is feasible and cost-effective only on a large scale, since it requires a lot of work in making the appropriate settings to computer-guided equipment. When unique, custom parts are needed, especially in remote locations such as on a military base, on an island, aboard an aircraft carrier or other naval facilities, machinists will use their skills and experience to produce a part by operating machinery tools by hand.
The work of a machinist may be inspected by an engineer, by a specialist from the quality department, or by a more experienced machinery specialist. Before work on a part is started, the equipment must undergo an adjustment of settings according to specific parameters. This is done by a tool setter or by the machinist, to ensure that production is started with a properly configured piece of equipment to avoid errors and delays.
Machinists usually have a passion for creating useful things from scratch. Their talent resides in the ability to transform a simple piece of metal into a part that will play its role in the operation of an equipment unit. Machinists are like "industrial sculptors" because they have the capacity to make unique parts according to specific requirements. People who want to become machinists usually possess qualities such as attention to details, knowledge of various technical processes, being skilled with a variety of electrically powered and hand tools, and patience. Machinists also need good communication skills to discuss their tasks with engineers, tool setters, and administrative workers. They must have in-depth knowledge of safety procedures because a lack of caution when operating machinery may result in injury and even disability. When a replacement part is needed urgently, machinists must be able to work quickly while maintaining high quality standards. Candidates must be good at basic math and have good computer skills.
People who want to become machinists require a high school diploma. They may then attend apprenticeship programs or get a degree at a technical or community college. However, the most essential part of becoming a machinist is on-the-job training, which is where candidates acquire the necessary skills and experience to operate machinery individually. The duration of training may be up to five years, and a continuous refining of skills and knowledge is further required on the job. Before they become proficient in their occupation, machinists may be supervised by a more experienced machinery expert.
Machinists work in shops using various measuring, metal-processing and computer-guided equipment. Usually, it involves working in industrial facilities, but they may also work in remote locations such as aboard ships, at military bases or research facilities. At their workplace, machinists receive feedback and instructions from engineers, administration workers and senior machinists.