Turner Job Description - Duties, Skills, Requirements and Careers
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Turner Job Description
A turner (or turning lathe operator) is a worker who operates a machine tool called a turning lathe, which is widely used in industry.
Turning is a machining operation, in which excess material is removed from a rotating workpiece. This distinguishes it from milling and drilling, where the workpiece remains stationary and the tool bit rotates. In turning operations, a workpiece is held in place by a chuck mounted on a rotating spindle or tailstock driven by a motor. The cutting edge of the tool bit - which may be made of various materials depending on the machining operation - is fed into the workpiece, thus cutting away the unwanted material in the form of chips (also known as swarf).
There are four main types of turning lathe featuring varying levels of automation. These are the manual lathe, the semi-automatic lathe (the operator is required to position and guide the cutting tool), the automatic lathe (the operator is responsible for the initial setup of the machine) and the CNC (or computer numerical control) lathe, which automatically executes the instructions contained in programs selected by the operator. Lathes can also be classified on the basis of structure. The most important types are: centre (or universal) lathes, which are the most common kind, ram-type and saddle-type turret lathes, copy lathes, facing lathes, vertical lathes, single spindle and multi-spindle lathes.
Although the actual tasks of a turning lathe operator may vary according to the degree of automation of the specific machine being used, the objective remains essentially the same: to bring the workpiece to the desired shape and dimensions in accordance with the specifications outlined in the technical drawings. To achieve this, the operator first mounts the workpiece (typically a block of metal, wood or plastic) on the spindle and begins to ‘rough cut’ the workpiece, adjusting the rotation speed as required and selecting the appropriate cutting tools. Once rough turning has been completed, the finishing operations can be carried out. This is followed by a series of quality control checks performed by the operator using measuring equipment, to ensure that the finished piece meets the relevant tolerance specifications.
Any defects or issues observed are reported to the production manager. Turner lathe operators are responsible for keeping their machine and the work area clean and tidy and for performing minor maintenance operations on the lathe. In some cases, operators may also be required to carry out minor repair jobs on the lathe or tools in the event of malfunctions.
Turners are specialist workers, who are employed mainly in the metalworking industry. However, turning is also widely used for a range of other materials besides metal, including plastics, ceramics, wood and stone. Turning lathes are also used in the production of handcrafted products and art pieces, such as plates and vases.
The working hours of a turning lathe operator depend largely on production requirements. For example, they may work standard full-time hours or a 2 or 3 shift pattern including nights, weekends and public holidays.
Turner: Responsibilities and Tasks
The main tasks of a turning lathe operator include:
- Selecting the cutting tools for machining operations using CNC or conventional lathes
- Mounting and dismounting workpieces on/from lathe
- Performing roughing and finishing operations
- Checking finished pieces to ensure compliance with technical drawings
- Carrying out maintenance of turning lathe and tools
- Cleaning turning lathe and work area, e.g. removing swarf / chips
How to become a Turner - Training and Requirements
To become a turning lathe operator typically requires a high school diploma or professional qualification with a focus on technical and mechanical skills. Essential requirements include a familiarity with the main types of turning operations (i.e. face turning, taper turning, cylinder turning, thread cutting, profile turning, internal turning and external turning) and knowledge of the various cutting tools available and when to use them. Some mechanical knowledge is important too - operators need to understand how a turning lathe works so that they can perform repairs in the event of minor failures.
Another essential requirement for lathe operators is a familiarity with the properties of the materials being cut, as this will help them to carry out precise, accurate turning work. Finally, for operators of CNC and automatic lathes, some knowledge of IT and electronics is also indispensable.
In addition to learning the theoretical principles behind lathe turning, aspiring lathe operators also need to acquire practical experience. This can be achieved by serving an apprenticeship under the supervision of an expert machinist. Finally, lathe turners must also be familiar with the relevant health and safety in the workplace regulations and ensure they use the correct personal protective equipment at all times.
Turner Skills and Qualifications
Job advertisements for turning lathe operators typically require ask for the following skills:
- Ability to read and interpret mechanical drawings
- Ability to use manual and CNC turning lathes
- Knowledge of industrial machining techniques
- Ability to use measuring equipment for quality control checks
- Knowledge of mechanical maintenance practices and procedures for machine tools
- Strong manual skills
- Reliability, precision and attention to detail
- Ability to work with minimal supervision and to follow instructions
- Flexible approach to work hours and willingness to work shifts
Turner Career Path
A career as a lathe operator typically starts with an apprenticeship. This provides junior turners with an opportunity to acquire the skills they need to be able to work productively and safely without supervision.
In terms of subsequent career advancement, an experienced lathe machinist may progress to a position as shift supervisor or department supervisor and eventually rise to become production manager. An alternative career path is to learn other machining techniques. A turner-miller, for example, is capable of operating manual and CNC turning lathes and milling machines.
Another option open to turning lathe operators looking to advance their careers is to study electromechanical maintenance and become a maintenance technician for turning lathes, mills and other machine tools. This career route could eventually lead to promotion to a managing and coordinating role, such as maintenance manager.
Top Reasons to Work as a Turner
A job as a turning lathe operator is an excellent starting point for a career in industry or manufacturing. The position, which is particularly suited to precise, methodical, practically-minded individuals, offers the opportunity to develop strong manual skills that can be used to operate a wide range of other conventional and CNC machine tools, including mills and grinders.
The widespread use of turning lathes by industrial companies of all types and sizes, from small local concerns (e.g. job shops specializing in contract machining work), right through to large production facilities, means that employment prospects for turning lathe operators are very good, with work relatively easy to come by, even close to home.