Metal and Plastic Machine Workers

by Kate Williams

What Metal and Plastic Machine Workers Do

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

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=176-HGCTLqE

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 a Metal or Plastic Machine Worker

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.

Pay

The median annual wage for metal and plastic machine workers was $36,990 in May 2019.

Job Outlook

Employment of metal and plastic machine workers is projected to decline 7 percent from 2019 to 2029. Employment is expected to decline due to advances in technology and foreign competition.

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

Duties

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).

Metal and plastic machine workers held about 1.1 million jobs in 2019. 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 195,700
Molding, coremaking, and casting machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 173,400
Computer numerically controlled tool operators 152,400
Multiple machine tool setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 150,500
Extruding and drawing machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 77,400
Grinding, lapping, polishing, and buffing machine tool setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 77,100
Plating machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 42,100
Welding, soldering, and brazing machine setters, operators, and tenders 37,200
Rolling machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 32,600
Lathe and turning machine tool setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 28,200
Computer numerically controlled tool programmers 25,700
Heat treating equipment setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 20,100
Milling and planing machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 19,200
Foundry mold and coremakers 17,600
Metal-refining furnace operators and tenders 17,100
Forging machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 16,400
Drilling and boring machine tool setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 11,200
Pourers and casters, metal 8,000
Model makers, metal and plastic 4,400
Patternmakers, metal and plastic 3,100

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

Fabricated metal product manufacturing 26%
Plastics and rubber products manufacturing 16
Transportation equipment manufacturing 14
Primary metal manufacturing 12
Machinery manufacturing 10

Injuries and Illnesses

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.

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.

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of metal and plastic machine workers.

Occupation Job Duties Entry-Level Education Median Annual Pay, May 2019

Assemblers and fabricators

Assemblers and Fabricators

Assemblers and fabricators assemble finished products and the parts that go into them.

High school diploma or equivalent $33,710

Computer Programmers

Computer programmers write and test code that allows computer applications and software programs to function properly.

Bachelor’s degree $86,550

Industrial Machinery Mechanics, Machinery Maintenance Workers, and Millwrights

Industrial machinery mechanics, machinery maintenance workers, and millwrights install, maintain, and repair factory equipment and other industrial machinery.

High school diploma or equivalent $52,860

Machinists and tool and die makers

Machinists and Tool and Die Makers

Machinists and tool and die makers set up and operate machine tools to produce precision metal parts, instruments, and tools.

See How to Become One $45,750

Painting and coating workers

Painting and Coating Workers

Painting and coating workers paint and coat a wide range of products, often with the use of machines.

See How to Become One $37,770

For more information about metal and plastic machine workers, including training and certification, visit 

Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, International (FMA)

National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS)

For information about manufacturing careers, machinery, and equipment, visit

Association for Manufacturing Technology (AMT)

National Tooling and Machining Association (NTMA)

Precision Machined Products Association (PMPA)

Precision Metalforming Association (PMA)

O*NET

Computer Numerically Controlled Machine Tool Programmers, Metal and Plastic

Computer-Controlled Machine Tool Operators, Metal and Plastic

Cutting, Punching, and Press Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Metal and Plastic

Drilling and Boring Machine Tool Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Metal and Plastic

Extruding and Drawing Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Metal and Plastic

Forging Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Metal and Plastic

Foundry Mold and Coremakers

Grinding, Lapping, Polishing, and Buffing Machine Tool Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Metal and Plastic

Heat Treating Equipment Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Metal and Plastic

Lathe and Turning Machine Tool Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Metal and Plastic

Metal-Refining Furnace Operators and Tenders

Milling and Planing Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Metal and Plastic

Model Makers, Metal and Plastic

Molding, Coremaking, and Casting Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Metal and Plastic

Multiple Machine Tool Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Metal and Plastic

Patternmakers, Metal and Plastic

Plating and Coating Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Metal and Plastic

Pourers and Casters, Metal

Rolling Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Metal and Plastic

Welding, Soldering, and Brazing Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders


Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Metal and Plastic Machine Workers,
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/production/metal-and-plastic-machine-workers.htm (visited ).


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