CNC Programming Certification: Program Outline

Computer Numerical Control (CNC) Programmer training can be found through certificate and associate degree programs often available in community colleges and trade schools. Some programs offer specialized training for a specific application, such as machining or press braking.

Essential Information

Computer numerically controlled (CNC) programmers write computer programs that control the motion of machines and tools used to cut and shape precision products, such as machine and automobile parts. Related professional certifications are available through the National Institute of Metalworking Skills. To enter a certificate or associate's degree program, students must have a high school diploma or a GED. Most individuals seeking a certificate in CNC programming already have basic knowledge of computers, electronics, and machine tools, and many have previously worked in machine shops. Students may have the opportunity to learn as an apprentice during their studies.

  • Program Levels: Associate's Degree, Bachelor's Degree
  • Program Fields: Computer Numerical Control Certificate, Associate of Applied Science in Computer Numerical Control Technology
  • Prerequisites: High school diploma or equivalent; may require experience
  • Program Specializations: Machining or press braking are a few options for specialties
  • Other Requirements: Apprenticeship opportunities

Computer Numerical Control Certificate

CNC programming certificate programs provide the skills needed to review computer-aided design (CAD) blueprints for a new item, calculate what cuts or borings must be made to produce the item from a solid block of material, select the appropriate tools for the job, and plan out the sequence of operations needed to complete the job. CNC programming certificates programs include courses that explain what CNC is and how it works. In addition to project management, required program courses may include:

  • Fundamentals of CNC technology
  • CNC programming and machine operation
  • CNC coordinates and offsets
  • CNC controlled lathes and milling machines
  • Intro to CAD/CAM
  • Industrial print reading

Associate of Applied Science in Computer Numerical Control Technology

These degree programs often include computer-aided design as a component of CNC technology. Students learn about computer engineering in relation to manufacturing, tool design and quality control. Students may find apprenticeships during their studies, although some programs require that students have a specific amount of experience in machining prior to enrollment into associate degree programs. In associate degree programs, CNC courses give students an opportunity to strengthen their skills for entry-level positions. Students may take courses in applied mathematics, manufacturing and measurement. Common courses include:

  • Print reading
  • CNC basics
  • CNC programming
  • Metallurgy
  • Jig and tool design

Popular Career Options

Careers involving computer numerical control skills can include management positions for individuals with experience and training. Popular careers include:

  • Industrial production manager
  • CNC machine programmers
  • Tool and die maker

Individuals with a certificate in computer numerical control programming can sometimes find entry-level jobs in metal-working shops. Common careers for graduates of certificate programs include:

  • Machinist
  • Computer control operators
  • Machine setters

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects job opportunities for CNC machine tool programmers (metal and plastic) to decline by 6% over the 2012-2022 decade (www.bls.gov). The BLS also reported that the median earnings for these programmers was $47,500 in May 2014.

Continuing Education

Individuals can earn professional certification through the National Institute of Metalworking Skills (NIMS); the organization offers a variety of certifications, including basic and advanced machining and levels 2 and 3 press braking (www.nims-skills.org). All five of these certifications include CNC skills. To earn each credential, individuals must register and gain approval of a sponsor or NIMS employee, complete an exam and a performance affidavit.

Some apprenticeship programs are available to students who have a certain level of experience (typically four years). Other apprenticeships are available through associate degree programs at community colleges and trade schools. For individuals seeking further education, a bachelor's degree in manufacturing engineering technology is one possibility. These programs are accredited through the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), and some include classes offered on an evening schedule.

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