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Becoming a CNC router operator: An Overview of CNC Routing

Komo Model 512 Innova CNC RouterCNC (Computer Numerical Control) router operators specialize in the operation of CNC routers. Unlike standard routers, a computer that contains design programs controls CNC routers. This allows them to offer more efficiency, accuracy, and cutting intricacy than standard routers. Depending on their training, CNC router operators may also operate other types of CNC machinery. In either case, their important job tasks include:

Measuring finished pieces to ensure they meet design specifications.

Removing and replacing dull cutter heads as necessary.

Adjusting or installing new attachments and fixtures as necessary.

Moving work pieces onto the cutting plane manually or with the use of hoists.

Programming a router’s computer with new design profiles as required.

Calculating and adjusting a router’s cutting speed according to design needs.

A CNC router operator’s task set ultimately depends on the router he or she operates. But the tasks above are ubiquitous to CNC machinist work.

Required knowledge

CNC router operators work with complex machinery to produce complex designs. Consequently, they require the following forms of knowledge:

Mechanical knowledge of a how a CNC router operates and its maintenance needs.

Mathematical knowledge, including knowledge of statistics, algebra, geometry, calculus, and arithmetic.

Production/processing knowledge, including knowledge of raw materials, cost control, quality control, and production processes.

Computer knowledge regarding CNC router computers.

CNC router operators may also require knowledge of used woodworking machines if they make router purchases. Due to their high price and excellent longevity, industrial CNC routers are often purchased used.

Required skills and abilities

CNC router operators require skills and abilities needed for general woodworking and operating a CNC router, including:

Acute hearing for detecting sounds that indicate a router isn’t performing properly.

Near vision for reading computer screens and determining the surface quality of wood stock.

Critical thinking for programming instructions into a router’s computer and performing cuts in the right order.

Concentration for focusing on router operation once it begins the routing process.

Job statistics

As of 2008, 141,000 CNC operators are employed in the U.S., with a projected growth of 7% to 13% between 2008 and 2018. As of 2009, the median annual wage for a CNC operator is $34,460 ($16.57/hr.). According to a national work survey, 48% of CNC operators have a high school diploma or the equivalent; 32% have some college; and 16% do not have a high school diploma. To learn more about becoming a CNC router operator, contacting a trade school that offers courses in CNC routing or shadowing CNC router operators at a woodworking company are good options.

Other considerations

Most CNC operators are employed by the manufacturing industry. However, many CNC operators also choose self-employment, purchasing their own router for their woodshop. For independent woodworkers that plan on including CNC routing in their range of services, purchasing a CNC router used can (a) significantly reduce start up cost and (b) still deliver the dependability expected from industrial machinery.

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