What Is CNC Programming?

Computer numerically controlled (CNC) programming is used by manufacturers to instruct machines in producing parts. Read on to learn how CNC programming works and to find out the steps you might take to become a CNC programmer. Schools offering Machining & Manufacturing degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

CNC Programming in Manufacturing

CNC programmers write the instructions for the computing module that is used to run CNC machines. The machines are used to shape and cut precision products such as machine, car, and aviation parts. The programmers plot out each step of how machines make these parts. They convert that information into a form that's usable to the machine.

Important Facts About Careers in Computer Numerically Controlled Programming

Work EnvironmentFactories, typically in a production line
Key SkillsTroubleshoot malfunctioning equipment, prevent production downtime and quality control issues, resolve programming issues, measure performance
Similar OccupationsAssemblers, fabricators, computer programmers, machinists, industrial machinery mechanics
SpecializationsPrimarily plastics and metals

How It Works

To determine the sequence of actions needed to make a part, CNC programmers evaluate the specifications for a particular part that is to be machine-made. The programmers make calculations based on raw material and physical production such as what kind of material is being used, how quickly it should be fed into the machine, where holes or other fabrications need to be placed, and so on. The programmers then turn those specifications into a series of numbered, sequential instructions for the machine to follow.

Once a CNC set-up operator downloads the program onto a machine and tests it, any necessary modifications and improvements are made. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), CNC programming may be performed by CNC programmers or in some companies, by machine operators. These professionals will also typically keep an eye on the production process so as to intervene if any adjustments need to be made to the program.

Training and Credentialing Options

There are a number of ways that you can become a CNC programmer. Some CNC programming professionals complete apprenticeships that include both classroom and shop training. Another option is to obtain a certificate or associate's degree in CNC operation and programming. While a bachelor's degree in engineering is preferred for some specialized programming positions, according to the BLS, employers also take into account your work experience (www.bls.gov). Another option is for you to major in machine tool technology, which exposes you to working with both hand tools and CNC tools, according to College Board (www.collegeboard.org).

You may voluntarily earn Machining Level I credentials from the National Institute for Metalworking Skills, Inc. (NIMS). A number of colleges and other training facilities now offer courses that incorporate NIMS standards. Testing in both theory and performance is required.

Employment and Salary Info

According to the BLS, CNC programmers are projected to see a 19% increase in employment from 2014-2024, which is much faster than the average. In May 2014, CNC programmers earned mean wages of $50,200, the BLS reported.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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