Metal and Plastic Machine Workers

Career, Salary and Education Information

Top 3 metal machine worker Jobs

  • Lead CNC Machinist - Val-Matic - Elmhurst, IL

    Set up and operate special purpose multi-axis DMG and SHW CNC machining centers to fabricate complex metallic valve components. Interpret CAD

  • Production Worker 1st and 2nd shift - MDC Vacuum Products - San Jose, CA

    Measure completed work pieces to verify conformance to specifications, using micrometers, gauges, calipers, templates, or rulers. • Set up

  • Metal Worker - Focus Workforces - Payson, UT

    A large manufacturing company in the Payson, UT area is seeking qualified candidates in the following areas: -Production -Machine Operators -Metal

See all metal machine worker jobs

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, however, many workers perform both tasks.

Although many workers both set up and operate 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 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, new 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.

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 million jobs. Nearly all work in manufacturing industries.

Employment in the detailed occupations that make up this group is distributed as follows:

Cutting, punching, and press machine setters, operators,
and tenders, metal and plastic
192,200
Computer-controlled machine tool operators, metal and plastic 148,800
Molding, coremaking, and casting machine setters, operators,
and tenders, metal and plastic
129,500
Multiple machine tool setters, operators, and tenders,
metal and plastic
99,800
Extruding and drawing machine setters, operators, and tenders,
metal and plastic
73,400
Grinding, lapping, polishing, and buffing machine tool setters,
operators, and tenders, metal and plastic
71,400
Welding, soldering, and brazing machine setters, operators,
and tenders
59,500
Lathe and turning machine tool setters, operators, and tenders,
metal and plastic
42,900
Plating and coating machine setters, operators, and tenders,
metal and plastic
36,100
Rolling machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 33,700
Computer numerically controlled machine tool programmers,
metal and plastic
25,100
Milling and planing machine setters, operators, and tenders,
metal and plastic
22,400
Forging machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 21,600
Heat treating equipment setters, operators, and tenders,
metal and plastic
21,300
Metal-refining furnace operators and tenders 21,200
Drilling and boring machine tool setters, operators, and tenders,
metal and plastic
17,800
Foundry mold and coremakers 12,000
Pourers and casters, metal 9,800
Model makers, metal and plastic 6,200
Patternmakers, metal and plastic 3,800

Metal and plastic machine workers are employed mostly in factories.

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.

Metal and Plastic Machine Worker Work 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!

A few months of on-the-job training is enough for most workers to learn basic machine operations, but 1 year or more is required to become proficient. Computer-controlled machine workers may need more training.

Metal and Plastic Machine Worker Education

Employers prefer metal and plastic machine workers who have a high school diploma. Prospective workers can improve their employment opportunities by completing high school courses in computer programming and vocational technology, and by gaining a working knowledge of the properties of metals and plastics. Having a sturdy math background, including taking courses in algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and basic statistics, is also useful.

Some community colleges and other schools offer courses and certificate programs in operating metal and plastics machines.

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 and help newer operators.

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

Some employers prefer to hire workers who either have completed or are enrolled in a training program.

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

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Certification can show competence and professionalism 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 must often 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 $34,080. 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 $21,740, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $53,310.

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

Computer numerically controlled machine tool programmers, metal and plastic $48,990
Model makers, metal and plastic 45,980
Metal-refining furnace operators and tenders 42,240
Patternmakers, metal and plastic 40,960
Rolling machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 40,590
Milling and planing machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 38,250
Computer-controlled machine tool operators, metal and plastic 37,030
Lathe and turning machine tool setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 36,810
Heat treating equipment setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 36,600
Welding, soldering, and brazing machine setters, operators, and tenders 36,150
Drilling and boring machine tool setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 35,480
Forging machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 35,070
Multiple machine tool setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 33,950
Pourers and casters, metal 33,850
Extruding and drawing machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 33,120
Grinding, lapping, polishing, and buffing machine tool setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 32,840
Foundry mold and coremakers 32,680
Cutting, punching, and press machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 31,280
Plating and coating machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 30,550
Molding, coremaking, and casting machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 29,340

Wages vary by the size of the company, union status, industry, abilities, and experience of the operator.

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 13 percent over the next ten years. Employment declines stem from 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 sent 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.

Metal and Plastic Machine Workers Job Prospects

Workers who are able to operate CNC machines are expected to have the best job prospects. Workers who have an extensive background in machine operations, industry certifications, and good knowledge of the properties of metals and plastics should also have good job opportunities.

A high number of job openings should be created by the need to replace workers who leave these occupations.

Employment projections data for Metal and Plastic Machine Workers, 2014-24
Occupational Title Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24
Percent Numeric
Metal and plastic machine workers 1,048,700 914,700 -13 -133,900
  Computer-controlled machine tool operators, metal and plastic 148,800 174,800 17 26,000
  Computer numerically controlled machine tool programmers, metal and plastic 25,100 29,900 19 4,800
  Extruding and drawing machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 73,400 55,500 -24 -17,900
  Forging machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 21,600 17,000 -21 -4,600
  Rolling machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 33,700 29,100 -14 -4,600
  Cutting, punching, and press machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 192,200 152,700 -21 -39,500
  Drilling and boring machine tool setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 17,800 14,100 -21 -3,700
  Grinding, lapping, polishing, and buffing machine tool setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 71,400 55,800 -22 -15,700
  Lathe and turning machine tool setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 42,900 34,300 -20 -8,600
  Milling and planing machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 22,400 17,800 -21 -4,600
  Metal-refining furnace operators and tenders 21,200 20,200 -5 -1,000
  Pourers and casters, metal 9,800 7,200 -27 -2,600
  Model makers, metal and plastic 6,200 4,900 -22 -1,300
  Patternmakers, metal and plastic 3,800 2,900 -23 -900
  Foundry mold and coremakers 12,000 8,700 -28 -3,300
  Molding, coremaking, and casting machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 129,500 97,200 -25 -32,300
  Multiple machine tool setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 99,800 97,300 -2 -2,500
  Welding, soldering, and brazing machine setters, operators, and tenders 59,500 48,800 -18 -10,700
  Heat treating equipment setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 21,300 17,200 -20 -4,200
  Plating and coating machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 36,100 29,400 -18 -6,700


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

Explore more careers: View all Careers or Browse Careers by Category

Search for jobs: