In these down economic times, many fabrication companies are turning towards a technology known as CNC (Computer Numerical Control) routing. This technological transition has made CNC router operators one of the most in demand careers in America. But what exactly is a CNC router, who uses them, and what does it take to become an operator?
What is a CNC Router?
By definition, a CNC router is a machine-guided cutting or milling tool which can precisely and accurately carve materials in all three dimensions. The device does so by leveraging the power of a computer to position a tiny tool accurately along three different axes while simultaneously spinning that tool at upwards of 20,000 revolutions per minute. Thanks to the computer backing the system, a CNC router is thus capable of not only crafting intricate works such as fine wooden mantel pieces, but also highly valued orthopedic supplies.
Common materials used in CNC routers include, but are not limited to, woods, metals, and plastics. Each material has its own special type of CNC router, and thus has its own set of special operating instructions. CNC wood routers, for instance, typically have smaller tool tips and spin faster than their steel counterparts.
CNC routers also have other differences. For instance, some have multiple milling tips or routing tools. Some routers hold their materials to the work bench with clamps, others special pods which hold materials via suction, and others have the entire workbench as a suction device. Some use measurements in the American system; others rely on the metric system. The variety between devices is typically indicative of a specialized work need.
Programming the Router
The strength of the CNC router lies in its computer. Once a machine is properly programmed for the task at hand, the operation is a largely hands off experience. Programming the machine is by no means an easy task, requiring exacting knowledge of the material and its dimensions not to mention a wealth of experience with what cuts work well and what cuts are likely to destroy the material. Once you have a program set, a loaded router can continue to churn out exact copies of the original piece, which can increase the output of an operation equipped with a CNC router.
Education and Job Opportunities
Because operating a CNC router requires the ability to program the device, becoming a CNC router operator is not the same as taking an untrained manufacturing job. In modern terms, a CNC router operator is as much a knowledge-based job as it is skills-based, and it’s this educational requirement that has made being a router operator an increasingly popular job despite the recent down economic times.
The NPR radio show “All Things Considered” addressed this in a recent segment regarding the economic devastation in Elkhart, Indiana following the collapse of the recreational vehicle trade. The local community college has taken to educating future CNC router operators, a skill set which is asked for by over 40% of the facilities in the area which make everything from high tech surgical tools to replacement hips.
In addition to education, many people are turning towards becoming CNC router operators because, as the job requires the combination of both knowledge and location, it’s a relatively secure job. The operator has already made the investment in their own future, which appeals to companies, and having a highly skilled workforce makes a job harder to ship overseas. Combining this with the sheer variety of applications which a CNC router is ideal for has created a marketplace for CNC operators in many places nationwide.
Agee Woodworks provides CNC router services and is a manufacturer of fine custom wood fireplace mantles. All their products are crafted to order in their woodshop and shipped directly to you.