Metal Worker Job Description - Duties, Skills and Career Path
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Metal Worker Job Description
A metal worker is somebody who works with metals to create individual parts, assemblies, or large-scale structures.
Metal workers work in plants, factories, and fabrication shops that produce metal structures, parts and components in a variety of materials, including steel, iron, cast iron, aluminium and copper, for a wide range of applications.
The main areas of the metalworking industry are:
- Steel works and foundries: processing of metal ores and production of semi-finished metal goods, such as rolled and drawn profiles, tubes and sheet metal
- Metal fabrication: production of metal components, such as cable, netting and mesh, screws, nails, bolts and other small metal parts
- Machine tool manufacturing: construction of machinery and machine tools for the production and machining of metals, plastics, wood etc.
- Structural steelwork (light, medium, heavy), production of metal structures, bars, tubes and wire and load-bearing elements for the construction industry
- Electromechanical engineering: production of electric equipment and electro-mechanical components and manufacturing of electrical appliance
- Vehicle manufacturing: production of cars, motorbikes trains, ships and aircraft
- Arms industry: fabrication of weapons and ammunition
“Metal worker” is an umbrella term that can be used to refer to anybody working in the metalworking industry. Many metal workers (particularly those who perform cold working operations) operate machine or benchtop tools in their job and are thus often referred to in relation to the machine they operate, i.e. mill machinists, turners and welders. Some of the machines operated by metal workers include presses, milling machines, turning lathes, boring mills, cutting saws, slotters, grinding machines, bending machines. Other metal workers do work related to hot forming processes, such as forging, casting, extrusion, stamping and deep drawing of metals.
The main job of a metal worker is to program and operate the manual or automated machinery used to melt, form, cut and join metal and to finish and assemble metal components.
Metal workers work on workpieces of all sizes, ranging from the very large - such as those produced for the construction industry - to the very small, such as those used in precision mechanics. Working from a mechanical drawing, they use machine tools and other equipment to fabricate the required part or component and also load and unload workpieces and perform quality control procedures to make sure that the finished product is compliant with the required production standards. Metal workers may also be required to manually assemble components, carry out finishing operations and perform inspections on finished pieces. Although metal workers are mainly responsible for the production of metal component parts, they may also be required to perform polishing, assembling and packing operations.
Other tasks of a metal worker include carrying out planned and unplanned maintenance and showing less experienced workers (e.g. newly-recruited, junior and apprentice metal workers) how to operate the machine tools.
The metalworking industry is at present undergoing a radical process of industrial automation, with the introduction of technologies such as mechatronics and robotics. As a result, there is an increasing demand for metal workers who specialize in programming and operating semi-automated, automated and computerized machinery. One example of this development is the spread of CNC or ‘computer numerical control’ machines, which are machines designed to execute programmes created by CNC programmers. The job of a CNC machine operator is to enter the required commands, load the workpieces and ensure that the work has been carried out according to the relevant production standards.
Metal workers are mainly employed in factories, engineering plants, fabrication shops and foundries. Such work environments are often noisy due to the presence of large numbers of machines operating simultaneously and may expose workers to extreme temperatures, particularly in the case of hot working processes, such as casting and forging. Given the health and safety risks involved, metal workers must make sure that they are aware of and follow all of the applicable health and safety regulations and use the required personal protective equipment (PPE), such as gloves, safety shoes, face masks, safety glasses, ear plugs and overalls. The work may also be physically very demanding, involving long periods spent standing and lifting heavy loads.
The working hours of a metal worker vary according to the shop, factory or plant in which they are employed. In larger factories and plants, workers often work to a 2 or 3 shift pattern, including night shifts, to allow the plants to operate round-the-clock.
Workers may be required to do overtime on a regular basis and, in some cases, on weekends and public holidays. Finally, some jobs may involve national or international travel.
Metal Worker Responsibilities and Tasks
The duties of a metal worker tend to vary significantly based on the type of plant, factory or shop they work in and the work they are individually assigned. Some of the most common tasks include:
- Performing machining operations on metal workpieces based on mechanical designs
- Programming, setting and operating machine tools
- Loading and unloading workpieces
- Ensuring products meet production specifications
- Finishing and assembling metal components
- Carrying out maintenance of machine tools
- Providing apprentices and junior metal workers with training and support in the use of machine tools
How to Become a Metal Worker - Training and Requirements
Candidates for metalworking vacancies typically require some form of high school diploma in mechanics or mechatronics or a professional qualification in a related field, such as machine tool operator or CNC machinist. In some cases, metal workers may also require specific technical qualifications, such as TIG welding certification or a forklift or gantry crane operator license. Other key qualities for a metal worker include good manual skills, a reliable, responsible professional attitude, the ability to work as part of a team and previous experience in a machine shop environment or in mechanical maintenance.
A substantial proportion of the training required by a junior metal worker is delivered on the job, often as part of an apprenticeship.
Because of the conditions in which they work, it is essential for metal workers to have a strong understanding of the relevant workplace health and safety regulations. Metalworking operations often require extremely high temperatures and may produce toxic fumes and dust, while other hazards to which metal workers may be exposed include high noise levels and the presence of dangerous and/or highly inflammable chemical substances. In view of the working conditions, it is vital for all metal workers to be aware of the risks associated with their work and to take all necessary precautions, including using personal protective equipment and following all best practices.
Metal Worker Skills and Qualifications
Metal workers require the following skills:
- Ability to perform metalworking operations
- Ability to use machine tools and benchtop tools
- Ability to read mechanical drawings
- Ability to use measuring instruments
- Strong manual skills and precision
- Ability to work as part of a team
- Strength and physical fitness
- Flexibility and ability to work with minimum supervision
Metal Worker Career Path
A career in metalworking typically begins with an entry-level position in a fabrication shop (e.g. junior or apprentice metalworker). New hires with little experience generally start out working on simple workpieces to enable them to improve their manual skills and precision and learn how to perform the most common machining operations (e.g. turning, milling, grinding). Later, as they gradually acquire experience, they move on to more complicated tasks, such as cutting, bending, boring, countersinking, finishing and assembly of metal parts.
The subsequent development of the career of a metal worker depends largely on the area of specialization they choose. Some of the possible areas of specialization include boring mill operator, assembler, welder, mill operator, turning lathe operator, slotter, painter, CNC machinist, inspector and maintenance mechanic.
In addition to specializing, metal workers may also of course further their careers by gaining promotion, rising for example to a coordinating role as shift foreman or department supervisor. From here, subsequent career options include progressing to a position as quality control and inspection manager and eventually advancing to become head of production.
Top Reasons to Work as a Metal Worker
A job as a metal worker is suited to anybody with an interest in fields such as steel and metal production, mechanics or mechatronics, who enjoys working in a fabrication shop environment and using manual tools and conventional or CNC machine tools.
Thanks to the spread of automated technology, which has led to significant gains in terms of worker efficiency and productivity, the job is becoming increasingly specialized. As a result, the metalworking industry is now one of the areas of manufacturing that offers the most employment opportunities, with skilled metal workers becoming a highly sought after commodity on the job market.