Metal and Plastic Machine Workers

Career, Salary and Education Information

What They Do: Metal and plastic machine workers set up and operate machines that cut, shape, and form metal and plastic materials or pieces.

Work Environment: Metal and plastic machine workers are employed mainly in factories. Workers must adhere to safety standards to protect themselves from workplace hazards. Most work full time, and some work evenings and weekends.

How to Become One: Most metal and plastic workers have a high school diploma and learn through on-the-job training typically lasting a year. Computer numerically controlled (CNC) machine tool programmers, however, typically need to complete courses beyond high school.

Salary: The median annual wage for metal and plastic machine workers is $36,080.

Job Outlook: Employment of metal and plastic machine workers is projected to decline 8 percent over the next ten years. Employment is expected to decline due to advances in technology and foreign competition.

Related Careers: Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of metal and plastic machine workers with similar occupations.

Following is everything you need to know about a career as a metal and plastic machine worker with lots of details. As a first step, take a look at some of the following jobs, which are real jobs with real employers. You will be able to see the very real job career requirements for employers who are actively hiring. The link will open in a new tab so that you can come back to this page to continue reading about the career:

Top 3 Metal Machine Worker Jobs

  • CL Prototype Sheet Metal Machinist - Moseley Technical Services - Scottsdale, AZ

    Ability to work from minimal design information or guidance in order to fabricate or machine a ... working properly at this moment. Please refresh the page and try again later. Share on your ...

  • Junior Quality Inspector - Precision Sheet Metal and Machining Job Sho - Quality Fabrication Inc - Chatsworth, CA

    Quality Fabrication Inc. is a mid-sized "Precision Sheet Metal Fabrication and Machining company ... working relationship with suppliers. For more information about who we are and what we do, please ...

  • Machine Operator - Day & Swing Shift Openings - Plastic Metals Technologies Inc. - Tigard, OR

    compensation: $14.00/hour employment type: full-time Plastic Metals Technologies, Inc. has an ... QUALIFICATIONS: · Experience working in production environment. · Prior experience operating ...

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What Metal and Plastic Machine Workers Do[About this section] [To Top]

Metal and plastic machine workers set up and operate machines that cut, shape, and form metal and plastic materials or pieces.

Duties of Metal and Plastic Machine Workers

Metal and plastic machine workers typically do the following:

  • Set up machines according to blueprints
  • Monitor machines for unusual sound or vibration
  • Insert material into machines, manually or with a hoist
  • Operate metal or plastic molding, casting, or coremaking machines
  • Adjust machine settings for temperature, cycle times, and speed and feed rates
  • Remove finished products and smooth rough edges and imperfections
  • Test and compare finished workpieces to specifications
  • 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. Many workers, however, perform both tasks.

Although many workers both set up and operate machines, some may specialize in being a machine setter or a machine operator and tender.

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 reinstall it into the machine. New tools are produced by 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 makes. 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.

Setters, operators, and tenders are usually identified by the type of machine they work with. Job duties generally 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. Machine operators are often able to control multiple machines at the same time because of increased automation.

In addition, 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 wide range of skills.

The following are examples of types of metal and plastic machine workers:

Computer-controlled machine tool operators operate computer-controlled machines or robots to perform functions on metal or plastic workpieces.

Computer numerically controlled machine tool programmers develop computer 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 set up or operate machines to extrude (pull out) thermoplastic or metal materials in the form of tubes, rods, hoses, wire, bars, or structural shapes.

Forging machine setters, operators, and tenders set up or operate machines that shape or form metal or plastic parts.

Rolling machine setters, operators, and tenders set up or operate machines to roll steel or plastic or to flatten, temper, or reduce the thickness of materials.

Cutting, punching, and press machine setters, operators, and tenders set up or operate machines to saw, cut, shear, notch, bend, or straighten metal or plastic materials.

Drilling and boring machine tool setters, operators, and tenders 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 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 set up or operate lathe and turning machines to turn, bore, thread, or form metal or plastic materials, such as wire or rod.

Milling and planing machine setters, operators, and tenders 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, and oxygen furnaces. These furnaces may be used to melt and refine metal before casting or to produce specified types of steel.

Pourers and casters operate hand-controlled mechanisms to pour and regulate the flow of molten metal into molds to produce castings or ingots.

Model makers set up and operate machines, such as milling and engraving machines to make working models of metal or plastic objects.

Patternmakers lay out, machine, fit, and assemble castings and parts to metal or plastic foundry patterns and core molds.

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 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 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 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 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).

Work Environment for Metal and Plastic Machine Workers[About this section] [To Top]

Metal and plastic machine workers hold about 1.1 million jobs. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up metal and plastic machine workers was distributed as follows:

Cutting, punching, and press machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 188,800
Molding, coremaking, and casting machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 166,000
Computer-controlled machine tool operators, metal and plastic 151,600
Multiple machine tool setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 135,900
Extruding and drawing machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 76,500
Grinding, lapping, polishing, and buffing machine tool setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 75,400
Plating and coating machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 40,600
Welding, soldering, and brazing machine setters, operators, and tenders 37,700
Lathe and turning machine tool setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 29,900
Rolling machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 27,100
Computer numerically controlled machine tool programmers, metal and plastic 24,300
Heat treating equipment setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 20,000
Milling and planing machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 19,800
Forging machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 18,600
Metal-refining furnace operators and tenders 18,100
Foundry mold and coremakers 15,900
Drilling and boring machine tool setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 11,600
Pourers and casters, metal 8,000
Model makers, metal and plastic 5,300
Patternmakers, metal and plastic 2,900

The largest employers of metal and plastic machine workers are as follows:

Fabricated metal product manufacturing 26%
Plastics and rubber products manufacturing 16%
Transportation equipment manufacturing 13%
Primary metal manufacturing 12%
Machinery manufacturing 11%

Injuries and Illnesses for Metal and Plastic Machine Workers

These workers often operate powerful, high-speed machines that can be dangerous, so they must observe safety rules. Operators usually wear protective equipment, such as safety glasses, earplugs, and steel-toed boots to protect them from flying particles of metal or plastic, machine noise, and heavy objects, respectively.

Other required safety equipment varies by work setting and machine. For example, respirators are common for those in the plastics industry who work near materials that emit dangerous fumes or dust.

Welding, soldering, and brazing machine setters, operators, and tenders have one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations

Metal and Plastic Machine Worker Schedules

Most metal and plastic machine workers are employed full time. Overtime is common, and because many manufacturers run their machinery for extended periods, evening and weekend work is also common.

How to Become a Metal or Plastic Machine Worker[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Metal and Plastic Machine Workers near you!

Most metal and plastic workers have a high school diploma and learn through on-the-job training typically lasting a year. Computer numerically controlled (CNC) machine tool programmers, however, typically need to complete courses beyond high school.

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Education for Metal and Plastic Machine Workers

Although most metal and plastic machine workers typically have a high school diploma, many computer numerically controlled machine tool programmers usually need to complete coursework beyond high school. Some community colleges and other schools offer courses and certificate programs in operating metal and plastics machines including CNC programming.

For most metal and plastic machine workers, high school courses in computer programming, vocational technology, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and basic statistics are considered useful.

Metal and Plastic Machine Worker Training

Machine operator trainees usually begin by watching and helping experienced workers on the job. Under supervision, they may start by supplying materials, starting and stopping the machines, or by removing finished products. Then they advance to more difficult tasks that operators perform, such as adjusting feed speeds, changing cutting tools, and inspecting a finished product for defects. Eventually, some develop the skills and experience to set up machines.

The complexity of the equipment usually determines the time required to become an operator. Some operators and tenders are trained on basic machine operations and functions in a few months, but other workers, such as computer-controlled machine tool operators, may need up to a year to become trained.

As the manufacturing process continues to utilize more computerized machinery, training on computer-aided design (CAD), computer-aided manufacturing (CAM), and CNC machines can be helpful.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations for Metal and Plastic Machine Workers

Certification can show competence and can be helpful for advancement. The National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS) offers certification in numerous metalworking specializations.

Advancement for Metal and Plastic Machine Workers

Advancement usually includes higher pay and more responsibilities. With experience and expertise, workers can become trainees for more advanced positions. It is common for machine operators to move into setup or machinery maintenance positions. Setup workers may become industrial machinery mechanics and maintenance workers, or machinists or tool and die makers.

Experienced workers with good communication and analytical skills may move into supervisory positions.

Important Qualities for Metal and Plastic Machine Workers

Computer skills. Metal and plastic machine workers often must be able to use programmable devices, computers, and robots on the factory floor.

Dexterity. Metal and plastic machine workers who work in metal and plastic machined goods manufacturing use precise hand movements to make the necessary shapes, cuts, and edges that designs require.

Mechanical skills. Metal and plastic machine workers set up and operate machinery. They must be comfortable working with machines and have a good understanding of how the machines and all their parts work.

Physical stamina. Metal and plastic machine workers must be able to stand for long periods and perform repetitive work.

Physical strength. Metal and plastic machine workers must be strong enough to guide and load heavy and bulky parts and materials into machines.

Metal and Plastic Machine Worker Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for metal and plastic machine workers is $36,080. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $23,940, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $56,920.

Median annual wages for metal and plastic machine workers are as follows:

Model makers, metal and plastic $56,130
Computer numerically controlled machine tool programmers, metal and plastic $53,190
Patternmakers, metal and plastic $45,840
Milling and planing machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic $43,590
Metal-refining furnace operators and tenders $41,220
Computer-controlled machine tool operators, metal and plastic $40,070
Lathe and turning machine tool setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic $39,180
Forging machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic $38,900
Rolling machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic $38,650
Drilling and boring machine tool setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic $38,020
Pourers and casters, metal $37,730
Welding, soldering, and brazing machine setters, operators, and tenders $37,670
Heat treating equipment setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic $37,520
Foundry mold and coremakers $35,430
Multiple machine tool setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic $35,390
Extruding and drawing machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic $35,150
Grinding, lapping, polishing, and buffing machine tool setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic $34,850
Cutting, punching, and press machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic $34,460
Plating and coating machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic $32,420
Molding, coremaking, and casting machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic $31,480

The median annual wages for metal and plastic machine workers in the top industries in which they work are as follows:

Machinery manufacturing $39,580
Primary metal manufacturing $38,290
Transportation equipment manufacturing $37,890
Fabricated metal product manufacturing $36,520
Plastics and rubber products manufacturing $31,480

Most metal and plastic machine workers are employed full time. Overtime is common, and because many manufacturers run their machinery for extended periods, evening and weekend work also is common.

Job Outlook for Metal and Plastic Machine Workers[About this section] [To Top]

Employment of metal and plastic machine workers is projected to decline 8 percent over the next ten years. Employment declines are expected to stem from continued advances in technology and foreign competition.

One of the most important factors influencing employment of these occupations is the use of labor-saving machinery. Many firms are adopting technologies such as computer numerically controlled (CNC) machine tools and robots to improve quality and lower production costs. The switch to CNC machinery requires computer programmers instead of machine setters, operators, and tenders. Therefore, demand for manual machine tool operators and tenders is likely to be reduced by these new technologies, and conversely, demand for CNC machine programmers is expected to be strong.

The demand for metal and plastic machine workers is also affected by the demand for the parts they produce. Both the plastic and metal manufacturing industries face foreign competition that limits the orders for parts produced in this country. Some U.S. manufacturers have moved their production to foreign countries, reducing jobs for machine setters and operators. However, some companies are bringing jobs back to the United States from overseas, and this is expected to continue over the coming decade.

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Job Prospects for Metal and Plastic Machine Workers

Most job opportunities will result from the need to replace workers who leave these occupations.

Workers who are able to operate CNC machines and have industry certifications should also have best job prospects.

Employment projections data for Metal and Plastic Machine Workers, 2018-28
Occupational Title Employment, 2018 Projected Employment, 2028 Change, 2018-28
Percent Numeric
Metal and plastic machine workers 1,073,900 990,100 -8 -83,800
  Computer-controlled machine tool operators, metal and plastic 151,600 138,800 -8 -12,800
  Computer numerically controlled machine tool programmers, metal and plastic 24,300 29,200 20 4,900
  Extruding and drawing machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 76,500 68,900 -10 -7,600
  Forging machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 18,600 15,000 -20 -3,600
  Rolling machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 27,100 23,800 -12 -3,300
  Cutting, punching, and press machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 188,800 172,800 -8 -16,000
  Drilling and boring machine tool setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 11,600 9,200 -20 -2,400
  Grinding, lapping, polishing, and buffing machine tool setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 75,400 68,200 -10 -7,200
  Lathe and turning machine tool setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 29,900 26,400 -12 -3,500
  Milling and planing machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 19,800 15,700 -21 -4,100
  Metal-refining furnace operators and tenders 18,100 16,900 -6 -1,100
  Pourers and casters, metal 8,000 6,700 -17 -1,400
  Model makers, metal and plastic 5,300 4,800 -9 -500
  Patternmakers, metal and plastic 2,900 2,600 -13 -400
  Foundry mold and coremakers 15,900 13,200 -16 -2,600
  Molding, coremaking, and casting machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 166,000 150,500 -9 -15,500
  Multiple machine tool setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 135,900 138,700 2 2,800
  Welding, soldering, and brazing machine setters, operators, and tenders 37,700 34,800 -8 -2,900
  Heat treating equipment setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 20,000 17,700 -12 -2,300
  Plating and coating machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 40,600 36,100 -11 -4,400


*Some content used by permission of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.

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