What Metal and Plastic Machine Workers Do
Metal and plastic machine workers monitor and adjust machines during operation, detecting malfunctions.
Metal and plastic machine workers set up and operate machines that cut, shape, and form metal and plastic materials or pieces.
Metal and plastic machine workers typically do the following:
- Set up machines and monitor them for unusual sound or vibration
- Lift material onto machines, manually or with a hoist
- Operate metal or plastic molding, casting, or coremaking machines
- Adjust the machines’ speed and other settings
- Adjust cutting machine settings to account for irregularities
- Stop machines and remove finished products
- Test and measure finished products
- Remove and replace dull cutting tools
- Document production numbers in a computer database
Consumer products are made with many metal and plastic parts. These parts are produced by machines that are operated by metal and plastic machine workers. In general, these workers are separated into two groups: those who set up machines for operation and those who operate machines during production.
Although many workers both set up and operate the machines, some specialize in one of the following job types:
Machine setters, or setup workers, prepare the machines before production, perform test runs, and, if necessary, adjust and make minor repairs to the machinery before and during operation.
If, for example, the cutting tool inside a machine becomes dull after extended use, it is common for a setter to remove the tool, use a grinder or file to sharpen it, and place it back into the machine.
New tools are produced by tool and die makers. For more information, see the profile on machinists and tool and die makers.
After installing the tools into a machine, setup workers often produce the initial batch of goods, inspect the products, and turn the machine over to an operator.
Machine operators and tenders monitor the machinery during operation.
After a setter prepares a machine for production, an operator observes the machine and the products it produces. Operators may have to load the machine with materials for production or adjust the machine’s speeds during production. They must periodically inspect the parts a machine produces. If they detect a minor problem, operators may fix it themselves. If the repair is more serious, they may have an industrial machinery mechanic fix it. For more information, see the profile on industrial machinery mechanics and maintenance workers.
Setters, operators, and tenders usually are identified by the type of machine they work with. Job duties usually vary with the size of the manufacturer and the type of machine being operated. Although some workers specialize in one or two types of machinery, many are trained to set up or operate a variety of machines. Increasing automation allows machine setters to operate multiple machines at the same time.
In addition, newer production techniques, such as team-oriented “lean” manufacturing, require machine operators to rotate between different machines. Rotating assignments results in more varied work but also requires workers to have a wider range of skills.
The following are types of metal and plastic machine workers:
Computer-controlled machine tool operators, metal and plastic operate computer-controlled machines or robots to perform functions on metal or plastic workpieces.
Computer numerically controlled machine tool programmers, metal and plastic develop programs to control the machining or processing of metal or plastic parts by automatic machine tools, equipment, or systems.
Extruding and drawing machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic set up or operate machines to extrude (pull out) or draw thermoplastic or metal materials into tubes, rods, hoses, wire, bars, or structural shapes.
Forging machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic set up or operate machines that taper, shape, or form metal or plastic parts.
Rolling machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic set up or operate machines to roll steel or plastic or to flatten, temper, or reduce the thickness of material.
Cutting, punching, and press machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic set up or operate machines to saw, cut, shear, notch, bend, or straighten metal or plastic material.
Drilling and boring machine tool setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic set up or operate drilling machines to drill, bore, mill, or countersink metal or plastic workpieces.
Grinding, lapping, polishing, and buffing machine tool setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic set up or operate grinding and related tools that remove excess material from surfaces, sharpen edges or corners, or buff or polish metal or plastic workpieces.
Lathe and turning machine tool setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic set up or operate lathe and turning machines to turn, bore, thread, form, or face metal or plastic materials, such as wire or rod.
Milling and planing machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic set up or operate milling or planing machines to shape, groove, or profile metal or plastic workpieces.
Metal-refining furnace operators and tenders operate or tend furnaces, such as gas, oil, coal, electric-arc or electric induction, open-hearth or oxygen furnaces to melt and refine metal before casting or to produce specified types of steel.
Pourers and casters, metal operate hand-controlled mechanisms to pour and regulate the flow of molten metal into molds to produce castings or ingots.
Model makers, metal and plastic set up and operate machines, such as milling and engraving machines and jig borers, to make working models of metal or plastic objects.
Patternmakers, metal and plastic lay out, machine, fit, and assemble castings and parts to metal or plastic foundry patterns, coreboxes, or match plates.
Foundry mold and coremakers make or form wax or sand cores or molds used in the production of metal castings in foundries.
Molding, coremaking, and casting machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic set up or operate metal or plastic molding, casting, or coremaking machines to mold or cast metal or thermoplastic parts or products.
Multiple machine tool setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic set up or operate more than one type of cutting or forming machine tool or robot.
Welding, soldering, and brazing machine setters, operators, and tenders (including workers who operate laser cutters or laser-beam machines) set up or operate welding, soldering, or brazing machines or robots that weld, braze, solder, or heat treat metal products, components, or assemblies.
Heat treating equipment setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic set up or operate heating equipment, such as heat treating furnaces, flame-hardening machines, induction machines, soaking pits, or vacuum equipment, to temper, harden, anneal, or heat treat metal or plastic objects.
Plating and coating machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic set up or operate plating or coating machines to coat metal or plastic products with zinc, copper, nickel, or some other metal to protect or decorate surfaces (includes electrolytic processes).