Metalworking Machine Operator - What They Do

Light metalworking machine operators operate metalworking machines which shape and form sheet or other light metal into parts or products. Heavy metalworking machine operators operate metalworking machines which shape and form steel or other heavy metal into parts or products. Forging machine operators operate forging machines to form and shape metal into various shapes and sizes and impart desired strength, hardness or other characteristics. Light metalworking machine operators are employed by sheet metal products manufacturing companies, sheet metal shops and other light metal products manufacturing establishments. Heavy metalworking machine operators are employed by structural steel fabrication, boiler and platework manufacturing companies, heavy machinery manufacturing companies and in the shipbuilding industry. Forging machine operators are employed primarily in the fabricated metal products, machinery and transportation equipment manufacturing industries.

Job duties

This group performs some or all of the following duties:

Metalworking machine operators

  • Read specifications or follow verbal instructions
  • Lay out, set up and operate one or more light or heavy metalworking machines such as shears, power presses, saws, plate rolls, drills, brakes, slitters, punch presses, computer numerically controlled (CNC) equipment, and other hand tools to cut, bend, roll, ream, punch and drill, weld or otherwise shape and form metal stock into parts or products
  • Operate machines or equipment which weld, solder, bolt, screw or rivet metal parts together
  • Check products for correct shapes, dimensions and other specifications
  • Troubleshoot and perform corrective action or minor repairs
  • May select and transport material to work area manually or using crane or hoist
  • May document work completed
  • May build staging or erect scaffolding as required for heavy metalworking jobs
  • May clean or lubricate equipment and replace parts as required.

Forging machine operators

  • Operate gas or oil fired furnaces to heat metal to proper temperature prior to forging
  • Place metal pieces in furnace using hand tongs or overhead cranes and remove from furnace when colour of metal indicates proper forging temperature, or load and unload furnace with automatic conveyor
  • Position heated or cold metal pieces, on die of press or other forging machinery
  • Operate presses or other forging machines to perform hot or cold forging by flattening, straightening, twisting, forming, drawing, upsetting, splitting, cutting, punching, piercing, bending, coining, or other operations to shape or form metal
  • Position and adjust dies on anvil of forging machinery using overhead cranes or other hoisting devices and hand tools.

Job titles

  • punch press setter - metalworking
  • electric arc cutter - metal products manufacturing
  • bending press operator - metal fabrication
  • metal-forming machine set-up operator
  • forging press operator
  • cold press operator - metal forging
  • sheet metal roll operator - metal fabrication
  • power brake operator - metal fabrication
  • drop hammer operator - metal forging
  • metalworking machine operator
  • saw operator - metal fabrication
  • power press operator - metal fabrication
  • disk flange operator - metal fabrication
  • shear setter - metal fabrication
  • roll operator - metal fabrication
Employment Requirements

This is what you typically need for the job:

  • Completion of secondary school education may be required.
  • Previous experience as a labourer or helper in the same company may be required.
  • On-the-job training is usually provided.

Essential Skills


  • Read routine memos and notices about safety posted around work areas to stay up-to-date on related company policies and recommended practices. (1)
  • May read a newsletter to stay informed about industry trends. (2)
  • May read reports from head office to obtain information on production problems and corresponding set up changes which need to be implemented. (2)
  • Read various manuals to find information about operating forging machines or about quality assurance. (3)

Document use

  • May complete checklist forms to provide standardized orientation for new workers. (1)
  • Read labels on gas pipes and water lines to operate furnaces. (1)
  • Read Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) labels to obtain safety information. (2)
  • Read work orders to obtain such product information as quantity, dimensions and type and gauge of steel to use. (2)
  • Interpret sketches, drawn by co-workers, to learn how to set up machines for a specific order. (2)
  • Read tables to obtain data such as the temperature requirements for forging pipes, die code numbers and corresponding shelf numbers indicating where they are stored. (3)
  • Interpret isometric drawings to bend metal according to the customer's specifications and blueprints to set up the machine for the required tolerances. (4)


  • Write brief comments on a work order, such as an explanation of why a customer's order cannot be met in full. (1)
  • Maintain log books to record production data including product numbers, quantities produced, dates, shifts and the number of each drawing used. (1)
  • May complete progress report forms after every 100 pieces produced to comply with quality control procedures set by the International Standards Organization (ISO). (1)
  • Complete rejection tags or nonconformance reports of up to a paragraph in length to describe why defective materials do not meet quality control standards. (1)
  • May prepare accident investigation forms requiring more than one paragraph to record the results of accident investigations. (2)


Measurement and Calculation Math

  • Measure dimensions, such as the diameter and length of pipes, and measure furnace temperatures to perform routine job tasks. (1)
  • Take a variety of measurements to ensure that pipe dimensions are as specified. (1)
  • Calculate the number of steel rods needed to make 600 18-inch steel bolts. (2)
  • Take precise measurements, using callipers and micrometers, to obtain some of the data needed for identifying whether the item is within tolerance limits. (3)
  • May calculate how much pipe will be required to complete bends, which are given as degrees of rotation around a circle with a fixed radius. (3)

Numerical Estimation

  • Estimate how many pieces are in a box or on a lift, in case they need to make set up adjustments such as splitting up a lot. (1)
  • Estimate heating times for metal to ensure that it reaches the correct temperature, considering such variables as the size of steel and complexity of the dies. (2)

Oral communication

  • Speak to suppliers to make sure that the required sizes of pipes are available. (1)
  • Communicate with other forging machine operators to co-ordinate shared access to machines, to give instructions to junior operators and to exchange job-related information. (2)
  • May communicate with partners to jointly accomplish tasks or with helpers to provide information and oversee their work. (2)
  • May interact with co-workers in the capacity of group leader to provide explanations and assist workers who are having problems. (2)
  • Interact with their supervisors to obtain work assignments, provide progress reports and discuss production problems. (2)
  • Interact with millwrights to discuss the symptoms of equipment problems. (2)
  • Interact with workers in other departments, such as engineering and quality control, to exchange information and to obtain feedback. (2)


Problem Solving

  • May notice that metal "brightens up" when going by on the line, a sign of a particular problem. They address the problem, measuring edges and making welds. (1)
  • May notice temperature fluctuations in the furnace which threaten the quality of the final product. They make temperature adjustments to the furnace at various intervals, drawing on their experience to time the adjustments so that an even temperature is consistently maintained. (2)
  • May deal with defective materials, such as faulty pipe seams which break when bent. They identify whether they should modify the bending process to perform a more gradual bend or whether the pipe needs to be upgraded to a heavier type. (2)
  • May observe that a machine was running too hot, scarring the eye nuts under production. They use their judgement in recommending whether the scarred pieces are in conformance with quality control standards and, if not, write a non-conformance report. They then identify the cause of the problem, using a process of elimination, and make the necessary corrections, such as removing a piece of metal stuck in the machine. (3)
  • May be informed that stress tests show cracks in the weld. They collaborate with their foreperson to assess the probable cause of the problem, which may relate to whether the pipe was formed correctly. Together they decide on what corrective measures to take, such as changing the angle of a fin, and have a second stress test taken to determine the success of the actions taken. (3)

Decision Making

  • Decide when the colour of metal indicates proper forging temperature. (1)
  • Decide whether to obtain a new die or improvise with a similar die when it is worn out or missing, justifying their actions to their supervisor. (2)
  • Decide what constitutes safe working practices at all times to protect the well being of themselves and others. (2)
  • Decide whether the metal products that they have produced meet quality assurance standards. (3)

Job Task Planning and Organizing

Forging machine operators perform repetitive tasks but the content of the tasks may vary depending on the work at hand. Work priorities and related deadlines are tied to customer demand and forepersons provide most forging machine operators with work order assignments detailing this information. Forging machine operators whose companies have adopted team principles may allocate work as a team at the beginning of each shift. Most forging machine operators have wide scope to determine the order of tasks, sequencing multiple tasks for efficiency by, for example, ensuring that machines, equipment and supplies are available when needed. Some co-ordinate with the work plans of other machine operators to arrange shared access to machines and to arrange for assistance in performing heavy job tasks. (2)

Significant Use of Memory

  • Remember procedures to operate heaters and forging machines and to troubleshoot minor problems.
  • Memorize tool codes to identify when the use of various hand tools is specified.

Finding Information

  • Refer to blueprint books to verify the product specifications for a particular job. (1)
  • Speak with their supervisor to find information needed to troubleshoot process problems. (2)
  • Refer to manuals to find information on how to set up forging machines for various jobs. This may be deemed mandatory as a quality assurance measure. (2)
  • Speak with journeypersons working in the plant, such as electricians and millwrights, to seek electrical or mechanical information needed to troubleshoot quality control problems which may be equipment related. (3)

Digital technology

  • Use computer or computer-controlled machinery or equipment with no knowledge of software required. For example, they may use computer-controlled forging machines or they may use customized programs for just-in-time (JIT) inventory systems. (1)

Other Essential Skills:

Working with Others

Most forging machine operators work independently to form and shape metal under the direction of a supervisor. Some forging machine operators, working for companies which have adopted team principles, work independently as a team under the direction of a group leader. They co-ordinate with: supervisors or group leaders to troubleshoot production problems; co-workers to exchange/arrange shared access to machines; quality control staff to ensure that products meet quality assurance standards; and, workers in other classifications, such as millwrights to provide information about machine problems. They may work with another forging machine operator or a helper to complete large or complex tasks.

Continuous Learning

Forging machine operators have a need for ongoing learning to acquire information about new products, machining procedures, quality assurance and to maintain safety skills and knowledge. Some forging machine operators may have an additional need for ongoing learning to operate computer-controlled forging machines. New learning is acquired through informal means as part of regular work activities and by participating in training sessions primarily offered in the workplace.