A computer numerical controlled (CNC) machine controls tools, such as a lathe or mill, using a computer program to achieve incredible precision. Just about all industries rely on these custom machined parts and have been for decades. Yet, there are still some myths that give people the wrong impression about CNC machining.
As much as we try to share the wonderful opportunities of CNC machining — we covered what a CNC operator does and the 12 reasons why a career in CNC machining might be perfect for you — there are still many common CNC machining misconceptions out there. Get the facts right now!
Myth #1: CNC machining is a dying trade
Fact: Far from it! Yes, CNC machining has been around for decades, yet advancements in machines just keep getting better, faster, and more accurate. As different types of automation get added to CNC machines, the equipment (and the industry) continues to grow and evolve.
Think of CNC machining as if it’s a smartphone. Why do people wait in lines and pay big bucks to own the latest version of the Apple iPhone? Because the latest version makes life better, and it’s exciting to lead the way. If you don’t have the most current technology, you’ll be missing out on many features. It’s similar to CNC machining; not being on the cutting edge may mean you'll have a hard time competing in the market.
Myth #2: The best CNC machining is done overseas
Fact: Quite the opposite is true. Supply chain challenges, a global pandemic, and administrative policies have all forced manufacturers to focus much more attention on domestic CNC machine shops that are proving their proficiency. The reshoring movement is powerful, and that includes CNC machining.
Myth #3: CNC machining is a slow process
Fact: Old-school tapes, dials, and USB sticks have been replaced by CNC programming that directly connects engineers sitting at their desks and CNC machines on the shop floor. Plus, dozens of setups on pallets are ready to be quickly used with a quick switch of the program.
Myth #4: A CNC machine operator is just a “button pusher”
Fact: While the purpose of CNC machining is to make machining parts easier, it's not simply pushing buttons. The CNC machine itself does a majority of the work, however this valued trade requires skilled, experienced professionals at all levels. For instance, a CNC operator needs to load castings, monitor cycles, measure results, evaluate quality, and recognize when tooling needs replacing.
Myth #5: G-code and M-code is old and difficult to learn
Fact: Common and still used heavily in the industry, G-code and M-code are software programming languages that control CNC machines. They’re how the computer automatically controls the machining tools, and they require the right coded programmed instruction. Like any technology, it comes down to learning the tips and tricks of coding for specific situations. It’s definitely NOT an out-of-date system.
Myth #6: CNC machining is expensive
Fact: For customers who need a large volume of the exact same part, the costs of CNC machining can’t be beat. In fact, CNC machining is becoming more and more affordable. For CNC machine shops, there is a significant, front end investment to purchase and set up a CNC machine. Yet, the ROI is clear for CNC machine shops: repeatability, speed, set up ease, and reliability.
Myth #7: All CNC shops are the same
Fact: In the manufacturing world, it takes a diverse company to stand out. A shop full of lathes is technically a CNC machine shop, but their capabilities are obviously limited. What’s valuable is a true CNC partner with a variety of capabilities, experience in many industries, proper certifications, the ability to procure castings, and an in-house engineering department.
Myth #8: Higher education is needed to operate a CNC machine
Fact: In CNC machining, a desire to work hard far outweighs any education. Basic math skills and a willingness to learn on the job are the requirements, and any tech school classes are a bonus. High-end CNC machine shops have in-depth training programs (with full-time training coordinators) to get new operators up to speed and contributing quickly.
Myth #9: CNC machine shop are dirty and dangerous
Fact: Not all CNC machine shops value worker safety equally. Some are dirty and some are incredibly clean; it all depends on the shop and how much is invested in cleanliness and worker comfort. Safety features are built into modern CNC machining centers, and some CNC shops have a full-time safety coordinator on-staff.
Myth #10: The backbreaking work wears people down
Fact: Many castings that undergo CNC machining are heavy and/or difficult to handle by hand. Lifting devices are used for these to minimize any potential injury. The shop’s engineering department may even build a specific lift for a certain part. Some lighter lifting is often required, yet people don’t get assigned work that is beyond their abilities.
Myth #11: There are no career paths in a CNC machine shop
Fact: Most CNC machine shops highly value people with aspirations and advancement goals. A production machinist can work their way up to set-up technician, supervisor, and even senior leadership. It’s common to see management positions filled by people who have moved up from operations. Again, it depends on what the CNC shop values.
Myth #12: Experienced employees don’t respect new people
Fact: Although some people see CNC machine shops as traditional, male-dominated work environments, times have changed the culture of many shops. In general, the larger the shop, the more progressive the work environment. Especially during recent labor shortages, skilled workers are valued, appreciated, and rewarded more than ever.
Myth #13: The pace is too hectic
Fact: CNC machine shops have different positions that each require different skills, which could include the ability to perform at a rapid pace. Plus, some tasks may need to handle unexpected challenges — tooling issues, for instance — which could add to workers' stress levels. Smart shops fit job responsibilities to the worker, not the other way around. Those who want to take on more work and eventually move up are given that chance.
Myth #14: The pay is poor in CNC machining
Fact: Most CNC machine shops provide living wages from the very beginning. For inexperienced workers, this is an opportunity for entry-level work and training that will continue to pay off down the road. Like any trade, with more experience gained comes more responsibility, choice of shifts, and higher pay.
As advancements in equipment and efficiency grow, it’s clear that now is the time to get involved with CNC machining. Learn more about the CNC machining industry by reading our guide. Just click below to get access.