Machinery Manufacturing Industry

Significant Points

Nature of the Industry[About this section] [To Top]

Goods and services. The development and deployment of machinery was responsible for one of the great advances in human history, the industrial revolution. Machinery encompasses a vast range of products, ranging from huge industrial turbines costing millions of dollars to the common lawn mower, but all machinery has one common defining feature: it either reduces or eliminates the amount of human work required to accomplish a task. Machinery is critical to the production of many of the Nation's goods and services because nearly every workplace in every industry uses some form of machinery. From the farm tractor to the commercial refrigerator in use by your favorite restaurant, machinery is necessary for the way we live today. Thus, while people never use or even see most of the machinery that makes their lifestyles possible, they use the products it makes every day.

Industry organization. The machinery manufacturing industry comprises seven more detailed industry segments, as shown in table 1. Three of these make machinery designed for a particular industry—called special purpose machinery: agriculture, construction, and mining machinery manufacturing, industrial machinery manufacturing, and commercial and service machinery manufacturing. The other four segments make machinery used by many different industries—called general purpose machinery: ventilation, heating, air-conditioning, and commercial refrigeration equipment manufacturing, metalworking machinery manufacturing, engine, turbine, and power transmission equipment manufacturing; and other general purpose machinery manufacturing.

Table 1. Percent distribution of employment and establishments in machinery manufacturing by detailed industry sector, 2008
Industry segment Employment Establishments
Total 100.0 100.0
Agriculture, construction, and mining machinery manufacturing 20.0 11.9
Metalworking machinery manufacturing 16.0 32.6
Ventilaton, heating, air-conditioning, and commercial refrigeration equipment manufacturing 12.6 7.0
Industrial machinery manufacturing 10.2 13.3
Commercial and service industry manufacturing 9.0 9.3
Engine, turbine, and power transmission equipment manufacturing 8.8 3.8
Other general purpose machinery manufacturing 23.3 22.1

The metalworking machinery industry segment makes the machinery and tools that form, cut, and shape metals. The same properties that make metal a desirable component in many goods—strength and durability—also make it a difficult material to form. The specialized drills, grinders, molds, presses, and rollers needed to form metal, as well as the accessories used by these machines, are made in this industry. Metalworking machinery manufacturing has a disproportionately large share of the establishments that make up the machinery manufacturing industry because many such shops are small, with over half employing fewer than 20 workers.

The agriculture, construction, and mining machinery manufacturing industry segment is made up of much larger establishments that produce both large, sophisticated machines and common household equipment. Examples include leaf blowers and tillers, for personal and commercial use; bulldozers and backhoes, used in construction of roads and buildings; grinders and borers, used for both surface and underground mining; and oil and gas field drilling machinery and derricks, used for extracting these resources.

The ventilation, heating, air-conditioning, and commercial refrigeration equipment manufacturing industry segment makes climate-control machinery for residential and commercial buildings. In addition to heating and cooling equipment, this industry makes air purification equipment, which is increasingly common in new construction, and commercial refrigeration equipment, which is used primarily for food storage.

The commercial and service machinery manufacturing industry segment produces the machinery that is used by firms that provide services. For example, firms in this segment produce commercial versions of household appliances—such as laundry equipment used in laundromats, coffee makers, and microwave ovens used by restaurants, and vacuum cleaners used by cleaning services. Other large components of this industry are manufacturers of automatic vending machines, non-electronic office machinery like typewriters and mail sorters, non-digital cameras, photocopiers, and machinery used to make optical lenses.

The industrial machinery manufacturing industry segment makes machinery used to produce finished goods from raw materials. The materials processed by this segment's products include wood, plastics, rubber, paper, textiles, food, glass, and oil. Machinery manufactured in this segment also is used in printing and bookbinding and in making semiconductors and circuit boards.

The engine, turbine, and power transmission equipment manufacturing segment includes a variety of machines that transfer one type of work into another. Turbines use the energy from the motion of steam, gas, water, or wind to create mechanical power by turning a drive shaft. Along with gears, speed changers, clutches, drive chains, and pulleys—all also made in this segment—turbines put assembly lines and other industrial machinery in motion. Attached to a generator, turbines also create electrical power. This industry segment also produces diesel and other internal combustion engines and their components that are used to power portable generators, air compressors, pumps, and other equipment. Aircraft and motor vehicle engines are made by the aerospace product and parts manufacturing and motor vehicle and parts manufacturing industries, respectively, which appear elsewhere.

The last segment—other general purpose machinery manufacturing—produces miscellaneous machines used primarily by manufacturing industries. These include pumps, compressors, welding and soldering equipment, and packaging machinery. This segment also makes a variety of materials handling equipment—such as industrial trucks and tractors, overhead cranes and hoists, conveyors, and many types of hydraulic equipment—used in manufacturing and other industries. Other common machinery produced by this segment includes scales and balances, power-driven handtools, and elevators, escalators, and moving walkways.

The wide range of products made in the machinery manufacturing industry means that it includes establishments of all sizes. In general, however, the larger and more complicated the machinery is, the larger the manufacturing facility must be to produce it. Thus, large establishments tend to be a characteristic of the agriculture, construction, and mining machinery and the ventilation, heating, air-conditioning, and commercial refrigeration equipment segments, while the metalworking machinery segment has the smallest ones.

The size of an establishment also contributes to how some machinery is produced. Large firms involved in manufacturing machinery tend to have a multistage production process, with separate teams of individuals responsible for design and testing, manufacture of parts, and for assembly of the finished product. Nonetheless, there is considerable interaction between the various types of workers; for example, design offices are often located near the factory floor to promote interaction with production workers. Small establishments, in contrast, may have a handful of workers responsible for the entire production process.

Recent developments. The machinery manufacturing industry, like all U.S. manufacturers, continues to evolve. Domestic and foreign competition has required the industry to adopt new technologies and techniques to lower costs and raise the productivity of its workforce. For example, using high-technology production techniques, including robots, computers, and programmable equipment results in productivity gains and helps to maximize the use of available equipment and workers. Increasing technology and automation also reduces the number of unskilled workers needed in the production process.

Pressures to reduce costs and maximize profits have also caused manufacturers in the industry to adopt new business practices. One example is the practice of contracting out support functions, such as janitorial and security jobs, and increasing numbers of administrative services and warehouse and shipping jobs. Rather than employ workers directly for these jobs, a manufacturer will often contract with another company that specializes in providing these services. This practice reduces costs by forcing service providers to compete for the work, allows manufacturers to focus on their core design and production activities, and increases manufacturers' flexibility by letting them add and subtract contract workers more easily than they could hire and fire employees.

These changes have had a profound effect on the machinery manufacturing workforce. By automating many of the production processes and outsourcing many of the administrative and support functions, it has reduced the need for many less skilled workers and increased the skill level required for the remaining workers. These changes are allowing the industry to remain competitive and meet the demand for machinery that other industries rely on.

Working Conditions[About this section] [To Top]

Hours. Most workers in machinery manufacturing work 8 hour shifts, 5 days a week. Overtime can be common, however, especially during periods of peak demand. As a result, the average production worker worked 42.3 hours per week in 2008, with about 31 percent of all workers in the industry averaging more than 40 hours a week, and 17 percent of workers over 50 hours per week. Opportunities for part-time work are rare, as only about 3 percent of workers were employed part time in 2008. Some plants are capable of operating 24 hours a day, but some shifts are able to operate with a reduced workforce because of the automated nature of the production process.

Work environment. Production workers in the machinery manufacturing industry generally encounter conditions that are much improved from the past. New facilities in particular tend to be clean, well lighted, and temperature controlled. Noise can still be a factor, however, especially in larger production facilities. Most of the labor-intensive work is now automated, but some moderate lifting may still be required. Some workers may also have to work with oil and grease or chemicals that require special handling. Certain types of machinery also require special care in their use. Nevertheless, injuries are rare when proper safety procedures are observed.

Employment[To Top]

The machinery manufacturing industry provided 1.2 million wage and salary jobs in 2008. Employment was relatively evenly distributed among all segments of the industry (table 1). There were about 30,500 establishments in the industry; about 15,100 employed fewer than 10 workers. However, 40 percent of workers were employed in establishments of 250 workers or more.

Table 1. Percent distribution of employment and establishments in machinery manufacturing by detailed industry sector, 2008
Industry segment Employment Establishments
Total 100.0 100.0
Agriculture, construction, and mining machinery manufacturing 20.0 11.9
Metalworking machinery manufacturing 16.0 32.6
Ventilaton, heating, air-conditioning, and commercial refrigeration equipment manufacturing 12.6 7.0
Industrial machinery manufacturing 10.2 13.3
Commercial and service industry manufacturing 9.0 9.3
Engine, turbine, and power transmission equipment manufacturing 8.8 3.8
Other general purpose machinery manufacturing 23.3 22.1

Although machinery manufacturing jobs are located throughout the country, certain States account for the greatest numbers of jobs. About a third of all jobs were located in the Midwestern States of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Populous states such as California, Texas, New York, and Pennsylvania also had large numbers of jobs.

Occupations in the Industry[To Top]

It takes a wide variety of occupations to create and produce a machine, including engineers, technicians, production and assembly workers, supervisors and managers, and support personnel (table 2).

Professional and related occupations. Before any work can begin on the production of a particular piece of machinery, an extensive process to create and test the design must be completed. This process can take up to several years, depending on the complexity of the machinery. The work is done primarily by engineers and technicians, although because of the range of tasks involved, different types of these workers are required.

Engineering managers oversee the entire design process. Much of the design work is done by engineers, who first develop a concept of what a new machine should do or how an existing one could be improved. Starting with this concept, they use computer modeling and simulating software to design the machine. Using software and prototypes, they also test performance, cost, reliability, ease of use, and other factors important to both producers and consumers of the final product.

Most engineers specialize in a particular facet of design. Mechanical engineers design the moving parts of the machine, such as the gears, levers, and pistons in engine and hydraulic systems. They also direct the work of mechanical engineering technicians, who run tests on materials and parts before they are assembled into the final product. For machines with complicated electric or electronic systems, electrical and electronics engineers also assist in the design and testing process. Industrial engineers determine how best to allocate the resources of the factory—both workers and equipment—for optimal production.

Once a design is finished and simulation testing is complete, mechanical drafters create the plans that production workers use in the assembly of the machine. They provide specifications and diagrams for each part required, as well as assembly instructions for the final product.

Production occupations. Production workers account for over half of all jobs in the machinery manufacturing industry. First-line supervisors and managers of production and operating workers oversee all workers in the production process and ensure that equipment and supplies are available when needed. They usually report to industrial production managers, who watch over all activities on the factory floor.

Metal workers and plastic workers create all the various parts that are needed in the production and assembly processes. As production becomes more automated, the jobs of most metal and plastic workers are becoming more complex. Fewer workers simply operate machines; many are now also responsible for programming and performing minor repairs on the machine tools.

Among the most skilled metal and plastic workers are tool and die makers, and machinery manufacturing has about over a quarter of the Nation's jobs for these workers. Tool and die makers create precision tools and machines, often using computer-aided design software, that are used to cut, shape, and form metal and other materials to exact specifications. Operating computer-controlled machine tools, they produce devices, such as jigs and fixtures, to hold metal while it is being worked on.

Tools, dies, and jigs are used by machine tool cutting setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic who set up and operate machines that make parts out of the raw materials. Because most machines now operate automatically, machine tool operators primarily monitor the machine and perform minor repairs as needed.

Computer control programmers and operators manage the automatic metalworking machines that can mass produce individual parts. They also write programs based upon the specifications of the part that defines what operation the machine should perform. Machinists produce precision parts that require particular skill or that are needed in quantities too small to require the use of automated machinery. Welding, soldering, and brazing workers operate machines that join two or more pieces of metal together; they may also weld manually as well.

Once all of the parts have been made, it is the responsibility of assemblers and fabricators to put them all together to finish the product. Some assemblers specialize in one particular stage of the process, while others, such as team assemblers, work as a group and may contribute to an entire subassembly process. While there has been increased automation of the assembly process, many parts of the products still have to be put together and fastened by hand. When assembly is complete, painting workers apply paint or a protective coating to the exterior of the machine.

While quality control is a responsibility of all production workers, it is the primary focus of inspectors, testers, samplers, and weighers. These workers monitor the entire production stage, making sure that individual parts, as well as the finished product, meet the standards set by the company.

Office and administrative support occupations. Office and administrative support workers account for 11 percent of employment in the machinery manufacturing industry. The most common occupations in this group are clerks, who handle a wide variety of support tasks for companies. Shipping, receiving and traffic clerks keep track of shipments entering and leaving a facility. Production, planning, and expediting clerks produce records and reports related to various aspects of production, such as materials and parts used, products produced, and defects encountered. Other types of clerks handle billing, payroll and payments—crucial roles to the production of machinery. Secretaries and administrative assistants work closely with professionals, keeping track of files, scheduling meetings, making travel arrangements, and various other tasks.

Other occupations. Other occupations in the industry provide support to production activities. Industrial machinery installation, repair, and maintenance workers are skilled mechanics who make sure that all the machines and other equipment used in the production process are regularly serviced and function properly. They also make sure customer orders are completed, deliveries are scheduled, and shipments are made on time. Purchasing agents use the data provided by production, planning, and expediting clerks to procure supplies needed in production.

The sales function for many companies is increasingly important; sales representatives and sales engineers often work together to market the company's machines to potential buyers, demonstrating how the machine may reduce costs or increase sales. They also explain how to operate the machine and answer buyer's questions. Sales engineers, in particular, use their technical background to advise clients on how the machine can best be applied in their individual circumstances and to suggest custom designs or modifications to the equipment as needed.

Table 2. Employment of wage and salary workers in machinery manufacturing, 2008 and projected change, 2008-2018. (Employment in thousands)
Occupation Employment, 2008 Percent Change,
Number Percent
All occupations 1,185.5 100.0 -7.6
Management, business, and financial occupations 110.4 9.3 -6.7
  Top executives 23.6 2.0 -16.4
  Purchasing agents, except wholesale, retail, and farm products 14.1 1.2 1.5
Professional and related occupations 130.2 11.0 -5.1
  Computer specialists 19.8 1.7 -7.7
  Industrial engineers 16.2 1.4 5.5
  Mechanical engineers 29.5 2.5 -3.3
  Mechanical drafters 13.1 1.1 -13.7
  Engineering technicians, except drafters 19.1 1.6 -5.4
Sales and related occupations 40.5 3.4 -8.9
  Sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing 28.7 2.4 -8.9
Office and administrative support occupations 129.2 10.9 -10.5
Installation, maintenance, and repair occupations 50.2 4.2 -2.0
  Industrial machinery installation, repair, and maintenance workers 34.2 2.9 0.6
Production occupations 653.1 55.1 -7.4
  First-line supervisors/managers of production and operating workers 43.2 3.6 -7.0
  Electrical, electronics, and electromechanical assemblers 25.8 2.2 -12.0
  Engine and other machine assemblers 19.5 1.6 -8.3
  Structural metal fabricators and fitters 18.3 1.5 -8.9
  Team assemblers 119.8 10.1 -6.9
  All other assemblers and fabricators 19.3 1.6 -1.8
  Computer-controlled machine tool operators, metal and plastic 30.0 2.5 11.1
  Machine tool cutting setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 66.6 5.6 -19.0
  Machinists 81.1 6.8 -5.3
  Multiple machine tool setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 13.6 1.1 -18.8
  Tool and die makers 24.3 2.1 -2.0
  Welding, soldering, and brazing workers 79.0 6.7 -6.7
  Inspectors, testers, sorters, samplers, and weighers 24.4 2.1 -8.6
Transportation and material moving occupations 48.3 4.1 -13.4
NOTE: Columns may not add to total due to omission of occupations with small employment.

Training and Advancement[About this section] [To Top]

The composition of employment in machinery manufacturing continues to evolve as automation of labor-intensive tasks raises the skill level required of production workers. Nearly all jobs now require that entry-level workers have at least a high school diploma. Employers also seek people who have good communication and problem-solving skills, since new manufacturing processes, such as lean manufacturing, require workers to be able to perform many different tasks depending on where they are most needed. Strong basic mathematical skills are also essential.

Management and professional occupations. Management and professional occupations generally require workers who have a bachelor's degree in the particular field, although some management positions are filled by experienced production workers. Most engineering jobs in the industry require that workers have a degree in mechanical or electrical engineering or one of their specialties. Because engineers usually are familiar with both design and production issues within a company, they may be able to advance into the upper management positions.

Production occupations. Skilled production workers, such as tool and die makers and machinists, usually need to have previous experience or must have completed a training program at a community college. Some companies also train workers entering the field in apprenticeship programs that can last between 1 and 5 years, depending on the specialty. These programs combine on-the-job training with classroom instruction, either within the company or at local technical schools. Apprenticeship topics include mechanical drawing, tool designing, programming of computer-controlled machines, blueprint reading, mathematics, hydraulics, and electronics. Workers also learn about company policies on quality control, safety, and communications. Many other production workers, such as assemblers and machine operators, may only need a high school diploma or GED and receive moderate on the job training after being hired.

Experienced workers may advance into higher skilled positions within their field or into supervisory positions. Because advancement is based on experience and merit, even those workers who enter in low skilled positions can advance to significantly higher skilled jobs by working to improve their skills.

Outlook[About this section] [To Top]

Employment in machinery manufacturing is expected to continue its long-term decline as productivity increases allow companies to produce more goods with fewer workers.

Employment change. Wage and salary employment in the machinery manufacturing industry is expected to decrease 8 percent over the 2008-18 period compared with an 11 percent increase for all industries combined. As shown in table 3, most segments of the industry are expected to experience a decline in employment.

Table 3. Employment in machinery manufacturing by industry segment, 2008 and projected change, 2008-18 (Employment in thousands)
Industry segment 2008
Percent change
Machinery manufacturing, total 1,185.5 -7.6
  Agriculture, construction, and mining machinery manufacturing 242.1 3.1
  Metalworking machinery manufacturing 191.7 -1.0
  Ventilation, heating, air-conditioning, and commercial refrigeration equipment manufacturing 149.5 -24.6
  Industrial machinery manufacturing 120.8 -23.1
  Commercial and service industry machinery manufacturing 105.3 -0.5
  Engine, turbine, and power transmission equipment manufacturing 103.5 -6.5
  Other general purpose machinery manufacturing 272.6 -8.8

The main factor affecting the level of employment in the machinery manufacturing industry is the high rate of productivity growth. Increases in productivity allow companies to produce more goods with the same number of workers. Even though output in machinery manufacturing is expected to increase significantly, firms will be able to meet the increase through higher productivity of existing workers, rather than by creating new jobs. Import competition is not as big of a factor in machinery manufacturing as in other sectors of the manufacturing industry. Machines must be made precisely, requiring highly skilled employees; as a result, most production will continue to be located domestically.

In contrast to the projected declines in employment, demand for machinery is expected to remain strong. Machinery is important for all industries because it boosts productivity, and advances in technology will make machinery even more efficient and thus more desirable. Demand for machinery is highly sensitive to cyclical swings in the economy, however, causing employment in machinery manufacturing to fluctuate. During periods of economic prosperity, companies invest in new equipment in order to boost production. When economic growth slows, however, many companies are reluctant to purchase new machinery. These changes in demand cause machinery manufacturers to replace fewer workers who leave or even lay off some workers.

Although overall employment in the machinery manufacturing industry is expected to decline, the outlook for occupations will vary; some will experience larger declines than others, while some will even experience growth instead. Increased automation and more efficient production processes will cause employment declines in assembler and fabricator occupations. Office and administrative support workers will also experience declines as a result of increased automation and contracting out. Employment in professional occupations will experience smaller declines relative to other occupations in the industry, as these workers are responsible for increasing innovation and competitiveness in the industry.

Job prospects. Despite the decline in employment projected for this sizeable industry, a significant number of job openings will become available because of the need to replace workers who retire or move to jobs outside of the industry. Machinery manufacturing establishments will continually be seeking to hire more highly skilled workers, especially persons with good basic educational skills that make good candidates to be trained for the high skilled jobs of twenty-first century manufacturing. Workers with these skills are expected to experience good job prospects.

Earnings [About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

Industry earnings. The earnings of workers in the machinery manufacturing industry are relatively high, primarily because of the high productivity of workers in this industry. Average weekly earnings in 2008 for production workers in machinery manufacturing were $760, compared with $724 for the manufacturing sector as a whole and $608 for all industries. Earnings vary by detailed industry segment (table 4).

Table 4. Average earnings of production or nonsupervisory workers in machinery manufacturing by industry segment, 2008
Industry segment Hourly Weekly
Total, private industry $18.08 $608
Machinery manufacturing 17.97 760
  Turbine and power transmission equipment 20.90 894
  Commercial and service industry machinery 20.76 847
  Industrial machinery 19.40 801
  Metalworking machinery 18.73 788
  Other general purpose machinery 17.04 717
  Agricultural, construction, and mining machinery 16.90 737
  HVAC and commercial refrigeration equipment 15.90 670

They also vary based upon a worker's particular occupation, experience, and the size of the company employing them. Wages of the largest occupations in machinery manufacturing appear in table 5.

Table 5. Median hourly wages of the largest occupations in machinery manufacturing, May 2008
Occupation Machinery
All industries
Mechanical engineers $31.94 $36.02
Sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing, except technical and scientific products 27.69 24.68
First-line supervisors/managers of production and operating workers 25.66 24.25
Tool and die makers 20.72 22.32
Machinists 17.66 17.41
Computer-controlled machine tool operators, metal and plastic 17.37 16.03
Inspectors, testers, sorters, samplers, and weighers 16.93 15.02
Welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers 16.32 16.13
Cutting, punching, and press machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 14.40 13.54
Team assemblers 13.69 12.32

Benefits and union membership. In 2008, about 11 percent of workers in machinery manufacturing were union members or were covered by union contracts, slightly less than the proportion for both the manufacturing industry as a whole and all industries combined. Major unions include the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers of America, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and the United Automobile, Aerospace, and Agricultural Implement Workers of America.

*Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Used by permission.

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