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What is a CNC Programmer?

Computer numerical control (CNC) programmers develop programs for precision CNC machines in order to cut and shape component parts for manufactured goods such as cars, airplanes, and medical devices. In a nutshell, their work instructs machines to produce parts.

“To determine the sequence of actions needed to make a part, CNC programmers evaluate the specifications for a particular part that is to be machined. 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.”

A Day in the Life of a CNC Programmer

In a normal workday, a CNC programmer will study specs and other documentation to determine requirements, be responsible for the production settings on the CNC machines, select the right equipment and materials, and program the machine to produce the component parts. In addition, they solve problems, ensure quality control, prevent downtime, and measure results.

If that sounds like a full day, it is. And most CNC programmers will tell you that it’s a very satisfying day. They use their head and their hands in their work. They apply critical thinking skills to read and interpret blueprints and specifications. They spend a lot of time analyzing job orders, drawings, and computer-generated diagrams. Then they get to work creating something tangible.

A CNC Programmer also:

  • Creates blueprints and diagrams using computer-assisted drafting software.
  • Determines the most efficient way to produce a part.
  • Makes sure that the CNC machine and the program function properly before beginning production.
  • Sets up and programs the CNC machines and verifies that the instructions for the machine’s moving, cutting, and shaping are correct.
  • Determines the sequence of machine operations.
  • Selects the proper cutting tools.
  • Adds and modifies tool paths.
  • Troubleshoots errors and retests the program to make sure that the issue has been resolved.
  • Conducts computer simulations to ensure that the component parts will meet specifications.
  • Inspects parts using visual and manual inspection equipment.
  • Performs general daily maintenance on machines.
  • Generates and implements ideas for continuous improvement.

CNC programmers are people who constantly think about the most efficient way to get things done. They work with machinery, math, and computers all day long, double checking work to make sure it’s accurate. They live in a world of ideas, data, and details, using facts to figure out solutions to problems. Then they create something intricate and beautiful.

A typical day looks like:

  1. Conducting pre-operations inspections, studying work orders, and planning the day’s work.
  2. Donning safety gear and programming the mills and lathes.
  3. Selecting the cutting tools, making sure they are set up correctly, and running a test batch.
  4. Loading the material into the machine and running the batch.
  5. Inspecting the finished parts.
  6. Completing production documentation.

At SPM, CNC machinists and programmers are valued team members. We know that they are the difference between a part that is good enough and one that is excellent. Our mission is to machine perfect quality component parts through industry leading technology & genuine experience. Precision is the name & the heart of our company. And we couldn’t do it without our fantastic people.

If you’re interested in a machining career, but not sure you can do everything in this article, don’t worry. We have an outstanding training program and, even if you have no experience, you’ll be programming these complex machines like an expert before you know it.