cnc career

6 CNC Degrees New Machinists Should Consider

Interested in a machinist career but not sure where to start? Train to be a machinist at one of these top programs and join a rapidly-expanding field with nearly-limitless possibilities.

What is a machinist?

A machinist is one of the classic blue-collar jobs. A machinist is any person who operates advanced machine tools as part of production line or small machine shop. Traditionally, the job wasn’t a glamorous one, requiring at least basic maths and a working knowledge of the physical properties of different materials. In the days of manually-operated machine tools, machinists spent long days tending noisy and sometimes-dangerous equipment, striving to produce consistently-cut parts with minimal variation.

Understandably, not many people are drawn to that kind of career today. While there are nearly 400,000 machinists across the USA today, the average wage is comparable to other low-income jobs; somewhere between $40-60k per year.

So why write an article outlining the best education programs to become a certified machinist?

Why Study Machining?

The answer lies in the growing adaptation of CNC technology.

Computer Numerical Control, or CNC, allows operators to program a set of operations into a CNC-equipped machine. Those instructions are incredibly precise, and can be as long and complicated as necessary. In contrast to manual machining, manufacturing companies can use CNC machine tools to automate and streamline their manufacturing processes.

With CNC machines, trained operators can oversee more than one machine and more than one operation at a time. And while traditional machinist jobs don’t command unusually high salaries, annual income for CNC machinists can be much higher.

Nearly any machine tool can be outfitted with CNC technology. Lathes, CNC mills, and routers are only the start. Machine tools from grinders to EDMs and 3D printers rely on similar technology, meaning that a trained CNC operator will never lack for potential tools.

Beginners just starting out with CNC machining are always encouraged to learn by doing – it’s hard to beat a good real-world internship or training program. But formal classroom instruction is also necessary to help understand some of the mechanics of machining. Metallurgy instruction can also help a budding machinist to gain extra insight into how metals work and how they respond to different cutting operations.

Six Top Machine Tool Programs

There are hundreds of universities and colleges across the United States that offer machinist training. Frequently, these courses will be offered as Machine Tool Technology courses, metallurgy courses, and of course CNC certification courses.

Settling on which course is clearly the best is nearly impossible. That said, here are several popular and well-regarded choices, along with two more unusual options that are well-worth considering. In each case, the end goal is to equip budding machinists to find the best CNC machinist jobs available.

It’s worth noting that the minimum requirements for almost all of these programs are quite low – usually just a basic high school education.

University of Cincinnati

It makes perfect sense that a city in the heartland of America – and American industry – would be the home of a well-regarded machine tool technology program. The university boasts a top reputation as one of the top 200 universities in the USA.

U. of C.’s course focuses on basics of mechanical engineering as well as familiarity with common machine tools. Graduates will be equipped to pursue careers in a number of industries, from aerospace to automotive.

Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology

Thaddeus Stevens, a 19th-century statesman in Pennsylvania, invested heavily in educating the local workforce. That tradition lives on in the school that bears his name, where the emphasis remains on training and equipping workers to pursue relevant and rewarding careers.

The school’s Computer Integrated Machining program not only teaches students the basics of common machine tool operation, but also outfits them to handle the latest technologies. That includes CNC, Computer Assisted Design (CAD/CAM), and a number of other relevant techniques that are commonplace in today’s high-end manufacturing world. Thaddeus Stevens College is based in Pennsylvania, long a key player in American manufacturing and industry.

Lake Area Technical College

The American West is the home to a number of industries that still rely on the skills of trained machinists to find success in today’s markets. Lake Area Technical College is one school dedicated to equipping a modern workforce of trained machinists to meet that need.

Their flagship program is the Precision Machining E-Degree. A hybrid degree, designed to combine in-person education and remote learning, the machining e-degree is suited not just for young machinists but for people already in the workforce who might be looking to expand their knowledge. It’s also perfect for anyone interested in breaking into a new field while maintaining their current job.

The e-degree doesn’t skimp on hands-on learning, with required lab qualifications to ensure that students finish the program with more than just a theoretical knowledge. That includes training on CNC lathes and all the necessary information to become a skilled CNC programmer.

Rochester Institute of Technology

New York may not seem like a center of American manufacturing, but at least historically speaking, that was exactly the case. New England in general was home to many of the industries that built America, and several of the universities and training centers founded to support those efforts continue to train workers today.

Rochester Institute of Technology fits solidly in that mold. With a cutting-edge machine tool laboratory, RIT aims to teach students more than just the basics of machining. There are programs in mechanical engineering as well as an entire center dedicated to modern manufacturing solutions.

Pasadena City College

From east coast to west coast, American industries need employees fully trained to handle all the technology found in modern manufacturing solutions. For workers on the west coast, Pasadena City College offers a Machine Shop Technology degree.

The degree equips students to handle all the common CNC equipment and finish the degree as a complete CNC machine operator. There are also courses and certifications available within the degree to customize a student’s approach and skillset.

The school’s location in Pasadena, close to major Californian cities and manufacturing hubs, means that students can earn their degree in the middle of a prime market.

Your Local Community College

Wherever you live in the United States, the chances are very good that there’s a nearby technical school or community college. Several of the schools listed above are just that – local community schools with above-average programs. But while not every community college will have amazing programs, most will feature some sort of entry-level certification or basic mechanical engineering degree. They also have the advantages of being local and usually very affordable. For aspiring machinists, those factors may well prove to be decisive.

YouTube (Seriously)

Never underestimate the potential of a completely-free, crowdsourced curriculum. There are thousands of how-to videos and machining tutorials available on YouTube, some as part of “official” courses, and others the work of skilled tradesmen or hobbyists. A YouTube education doesn’t come with a formal degree, but it offers dedicated students the possibility of complete customization. Learn techniques from accomplished machinists, follow along with endlessly repeatable step-by-step instructions, and even find resources that will introduce you to some of the deeper concepts behind modern machining.

YouTube can be even be used for CNC programming training. A “YouTube degree” may never appear on a job description, but the skills learned there can still help anyone become an experienced CNC machinist.

There’s a wealth of resources to learn modern machining techniques. Looking for a program? Consider what sort of resources you can afford to spend, and find a compatible program that will provide the training you need.

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MX Software – Easy to Use, Easy to Learn – Included with your machine purchase
The MX software is designed to work seamlessly with your CNC Masters machine. It is made to work with Windows PC – desktop, laptop, or an all in one – on standard USB. Use it on Windows 8 or 10 64-bit operating systems.
No internal conversion printer/serial port to USB software or additional conversion hardware is used with the MX.

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2. Clutter Free Interface
The MX is engineered for the CNC MASTERS machine so you do not have to fiddle with a detailed complicated configuration that can be overwhelming. Just load in the MX and start machining!2. Clutter Free Interface
The MX is engineered for the CNC MASTERS machine so you do not have to fiddle with a detailed complicated configuration that can be overwhelming. Just load in the MX and start machining!

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3. Features Tour and Tutorials Included
The Features Tour will give you a quick run-down on all the features the MX can do for you. The Tutorials are easy to follow even for the first time CNC machinist.
Feel free to download the MX on any of your computers. We recommend downloading the MX along with your CAD and CAM software there at the comfort of your office computer to generate your tool path programs. You don’t need to be hooked up to the machine either to test your program in simulation mode.

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4. Navigate and Edit Your Program through the MX interface with Ease
With a few clicks of the mouse or using touch screen technology, you can easily navigate through the MX interface importing saved programs into the Editor from the File drop down menu. Using standard windows features to edit your program you can then lock the Editor Screen to avoid accidental editing, and if you need to insert a line in the middle of a program, just click on [ReNum] to re-number your tool path list.
You can create a program or import CAM generated G-code tool paths into the Editor
The X Y and Z W arrow jog buttons are displayed from the point of view of the cutter to avoid confusion when the table and saddle are moving. You can also adjust your spindle speed and coolant control while jogging each axis.

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5. Feed Hold – Pause in the Middle of your Program
Feed Hold lets you pause in the middle of a program. From there you can step through your program one line at time while opting to shut the spindle off and then resume your program.
You can also write PAUSE in the middle of your program and jog each axis independently while your program is in pause mode.

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6. Hot Keys
Hot Keys is an alternative method to easily control your machine using your hard or touch screen keyboard. One can press P to pause a program, press S to turn Spindle On, G to run a program, Space Bar to Stop, J to record your individual movements one line at a time to create a program in teach mode.

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7. Pick Menu – for conversational mode programming
Write FANUC style G-codes directly into the Editor or select commands off the [Pick] menu and write your tool path program in conversational mode such as what is written in the Editor box. You can even mix between conversation commands and G-codes in the same program.

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8. Pick Menu List of Options
Use commands such as MOVE, SPINDLE ON/OFF, COOLANT ON/OFF, PAUSE, DELAY, GO HOME…. to write your tool path programs in conversational mode.

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9. Draw the Tool Path to verify it before pressing Go
Hit Draw to view your tool path program drawing, check out its run time, or even simulate the tool path in 3D mode. This can be helpful to quickly verify your program before running it. You can also slow down or speed up the drawing or simulation process.
You can also hit Go within the Draw Window itself to verify the cutter’s position on the machine. The current tool path will be highlighted and simultaneously draw out the next path so you can verify what the cutter will be doing next on the program.

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10. Run each tool path independently to study its movement
1. Run the machine on Trace mode. You can run each tool path independently, one line at a time to study the tool path movement on the machine to verify the position of the application and if any fixture/vise is in the way of the cutter’s path.

2. You can also verify your program by clicking on the Trace and Draw buttons together. This will allow you to view each tool path independently one line at a time in the Draw Window.

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11. Counters display in Inches or Millimeters – Continuous Feed
1. When running a program, the counters will display a “real-time” readout while the machine is in CNC operation without counting ahead of the movement.
2. The current tool path is highlighted while the machine is in operation without causing slight interruptions/pauses as the software feeds the tool path to the machine. The MX internally interprets a program ten lines ahead to allow for “continuous machining” avoiding slight interruptions as the machine waits for its next tool path command.
3. “Run Time” tells you how long it takes to run your tool path program.

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12. Use the “Go From Line” command to start in the middle of your program
If you ever need to begin your program from somewhere in the middle of it, use [Go From Line] which you can find under Tools. The Help guide will walk you through how to position the cutter without losing its position on the machine.

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13. Exact Motion Distance without over-stepping on an axis while jogging
Use “Relative ON” to enter a specific coordinate to jog any of your axes to an exact location without having to write a program. It’s like using “power feed” but easier. You can jog an exact distance on any of the axes without needing to keep the key pressed down and mistakenly over-step the movement releasing your finger too slowly off the jog button.
Let’s say you need to drill a hole exactly 0.525” using the Z. So you enter 0.525 in the Z box. Next, adjust the JOG FEED RATE slider for the desired feed rate. Then “click once” on the +Z or -Z button to activate the travel. In this case you click once the -Z button first to drill the hole exactly 0.525”. Then click once on the +Z button to drive the axis back up 0.525”.

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14. Teach Mode – Jog Input
You can create a tool path program by storing each point-to-point movement by simply jogging an axis one at a time. Click on either of the Jog Input buttons to store each movement on the Editor Screen. You can then add Spindle ON, feed commands, and press GO to run the new program as needed. This is a great feature to help you learn to create a program by the movements you make on the machine without necessarily writing out an entire program first.

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15. Override on the fly to adjust the Jog Feed to Rapid or the Spindle Speed during the middle of a program
1. Jog Feed and Rapid with Override: You can adjust feeds using the slider from slow minimum 0.1″ per minute to a rapid of 100″ per minute of travel. You can even micro-step your jog as low as 0.01”/min. The [-][+] buttons allow you to fine tune feeds in 5% increments while the program is in motion.
2. Spindle Speed with Override: You can adjust speeds using the slider from a slow minimum RPM to the max RPM according to the machine setup. The [-][+] buttons allow you to fine tune feeds in 5% increments while the program is in motion.

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16. Adjust Counters using Pre-Set if you cannot begin the program from 0.00
In a situation where you cannot begin your cutter at it’s 0.00 location, you can “Pre-Set” directly into the counters by typing in your beginning coordinate. You can press Go from here to run your program. You can also “zero all” or “zero” your counters independently. With one click of the [Return to 0.0] button, all axes will travel back to its respective 0.0 on the machine.

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17. Set and Save your 0.00 position for future runs
Set and save your 0.00 position on the machine. These coordinates will be recorded as the first line of the program in the Editor Screen. Should you desire to return to this program at a later date, you only have to click on the Set Zero Return button. This will command the machine to automatically jog each axis to its saved “set” 0.00 position according to the recorded coordinates at the first line of the program.

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18. Create a “Home” position to clear your application and run multiple times
Let’s say you need to machine one application times 100 pieces. This usually requires a jig to retain that physical 0.00 position. But in this case, you want the program to end with a clearance of the axes to easily switch out the next piece of stock and start again. With Save Home, you have the ability to save this offset (home) position while still retaining your Set Zero position where the machine will mill your part out. Pressing [Save Home] will record this new position under the Set Zero line in your program.
Pressing [Go Home] will jog your axes back to your “saved home” position where you originally pressed the Save Home command. You can also input GO_HOME from the Pick Menu as its own tool path in your program. At the completion of your program the axes will end at your Home position. Replace your part, then press [Return to 0.0] button to allow the axes to return to its zero position, and press Go to start your next run.

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19. Disable the axis motors to manually hand crank each axis into place
Easily de-energize the axis motors by clicking [Disable Motors] to crank each axis by hand, and then press [Reset Control] to re-energize the axis motors.

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20. Change up to 30 tools with compensation, and store your tool offsets for other programs
The MX supports…

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21. Use the optional ATC rack up to 8 tools for milling, drilling, and rigid tapping applications
The CNC Masters Automatic Tool Changer Rack and Tools (US Patent 9,827,640B2) can be added to any CNC Masters Milling Machine built with the rigid tapping encoder option. The tutorial will guide you through the set-up procedure using the ATC tools.

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22. Use the optional Rigid Tapping Wizard without the need for tapping head attachments
When you order your CNC Masters machine, have it built with the optional rigid tapping encoder. You can take any drill cycle program and replace the top line with a tapping code created by the wizard to tap your series of holes up to 1/2” in diameter.

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23. Use the optional Digital Probe to scan the profile and/or pockets of your fun/hobby type designs to write your tool path program and machine out a duplicate of your original design To “surface” scan an object, you can program the probe along the X or Y plane. The stylus will travel over the part starting on the left side front corner of the object and work its way to the end of the part on the right side. Depending on how the stylus moves, it will record linear and interpolated movements along the X, Y, and Z planes directly on the MX Editor.
To “pocket” scan an object containing a closed pocket such as circles or squares, the scan will start from the top front, work its way inside of the pocket, and scan the entire perimeter of the pocket.
Under the Setup of the MX software you will find the Probe Tab which will allow you to calibrate and program your probe. Your “Probe Step”, “Feed”, and “Data Filter” can also be changed on the fly while the probe is in the middle of scanning your object.

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24. Use work offsets G54-G59 for nesting applications
The work offsets offer you a way to program up to six different machining locations. It’s like having multiple 0.0 locations for different parts. This is very useful especially when using sub-routines/nesting applications.

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25. Create a Rectangular Pocket / Slot with our selection of Wizards to help you build a tool path program
The Cycle Wizards for the mill or lathe makes it easy to create a simple tool path without needing to use a CAD and CAM software.
On this Wizard, the Rectangular Pocket / Slots, can be used to form a deep rectangular pocket into your material or machine a slot duplicating as many passes needed to its total depth.

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26. Create a Circular Pocket Wizard
Input the total diameter, the step down, and total depth and the code will be generated.

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27. Do Thread Milling using a single point cutter Wizard

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28. Cut a gear out using the Cut Gear Wizard with the optional Fourth Axis

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29. Create a Peck Drilling Program in Circular or Rectangular Patterns
Using the Circular or Rectangular Drilling Wizards, you can program the machine to drill an un-limited series of holes along the X and Y planes. Program it to drill straight through to your total depth, use a high-speed pecking cycle, or deep hole pecking cycle. You can program the cut-in depth and return point for a controlled peck drill application to maximize chip clearance.

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30. The MX interface can easily be interchanged from Mill Mode to Lathe Mode
Use this interface for your CNC Masters Lathe. It contains all the same user-friendly features and functions that comes in Mill Mode. Simply go to the Setup page and change the interface.

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31. Use Tool Change Compensation or the optional Auto Tool Changer Turret if your application requires more than one tool in a single program
You can offset the length and angle of each tool and record it under Tools in your Setup. The program will automatically pause the lathe’s movement and spindle allowing you to change out your tool, or allowing the optional ATC Turret to quickly turn to its next tool and continue machining.
On the MX interface, you also have four Tool Position buttons. Select your desired T position, and the auto tool post will quickly turn and lock itself to that position.

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32. Use the Lathe Wizard Threading Cycle to help you program your lathe’s internal or external threads in inches or metric

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33. Use the Lathe Wizard Turning / Boring Cycle to help you program simple turning and boring cycles without having to go through a CAM or writing a long program with multiple passes

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34. Use the Lathe Wizard Peck Drilling Cycle to help you program your drill applications or for face grooving

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35. Facing / Grooving / Part Off Cycle Wizards – with Constant Surface Speed
These cycles can be used with Constant Surface Speed allowing the spindle speed to increase automatically as the diameter of the part decreases giving your application a consistent workpiece finish. With CSS built into the wizard, there is no need to break down the cycle into multiple paths and multiple spindle speed changes.

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36. This is our list of supported G and M codes which can be found under Tools > G Code/ M Code List in the MX
If you plan to use a third-party CAM software to generate your tool path program, use a generic FANUC post processor and edit it to match our list of codes. As an option, we also sell Visual mill/turn CAM software which comes with a guaranteed post processor for our machines to easily generate your tool path programs based on your CAD drawings.

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37. Our pledge to you…

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