High productivity growth is expected to cause employment to decline, but many openings will result from the need to replace workers who retire.
Production workers, who account for over half of all jobs in the industry, increasingly need training beyond high school.
Machinery manufacturing has some of the most highly skilled—and highly paid—production jobs in manufacturing.
Job prospects should be good for high school graduates with strong communication, basic math, and problem solving skills who can be trained for highly skilled production jobs.
Nature of the Industry
The development and implementation of machinery was responsible for one of the great advances in human history, the industrial revolution. Machinery encompasses a vast range of products, ranging from huge industrial turbines costing millions of dollars to the common lawn mower, but all machinery has one common defining feature: it either reduces or eliminates the amount of human work required to accomplish a task. Machinery is critical to the production of much of the Nation’s goods and services because nearly every workplace in every industry uses some form of machinery. From the oil derrick that pumps out oil to the commercial refrigerator in use by your favorite restaurant, machinery is necessary for the way we live today. Thus while people never use or even see most of the machinery that makes their lifestyles possible, they use the products it makes every day.
Goods and services. Most machinery is made of metal, which gives the end product strength and durability, but which necessitates specialized procedures in production. Each part needs to be designed to exacting specifications to ensure proper function of the finished product. Techniques such as forging, stamping, bending, forming, and machining are used to create each piece of metal, thousands of which then need to be welded or assembled together in the largest machines. At each stage of production and assembly, extensive testing takes place to maintain quality control standards. Due to the great variety of machinery produced by this industry, firms specialize in designing and producing certain types of equipment for specific applications.
Industry organization. The machinery manufacturing industry is comprised of seven more detailed industry segments, as shown in table 1. Three of these make machinery designed for a particular industry—called special purpose machinery: agriculture, construction, and mining machinery manufacturing; industrial machinery manufacturing; and commercial and service machinery manufacturing. The other four segments make machinery used by many different industries—called general purpose machinery: ventilation, heating, air-conditioning, and commercial refrigeration equipment manufacturing; metalworking machinery manufacturing; engine, turbine, and power transmission equipment manufacturing; and other general purpose machinery manufacturing.
The metalworking machinery industry segment makes machinery that forms metal in its molten state and that cuts or shapes metal as a solid. Although the growth in the use of plastics has reduced the prevalence of metals, a wide variety of products have some metal parts, all of which have to be precisely formed from raw metal. The same properties that make metal a desirable component—strength and durability—also make it a difficult material to form. The specialized drills, grinders, molds, presses, and rollers needed to form metal, as well as the accessories used by these machines, are made in this industry. Metalworking machinery manufacturing has a disproportionately large share of the establishments that make up the machinery manufacturing industry because many are small, averaging fewer than 20 workers.
The agriculture, construction, and mining machinery manufacturing industry segment is made up of much larger establishments that produce both large, sophisticated machines and common household equipment. Examples include farm combines, large self-propelled machines that harvest and thresh grains; bulldozers and backhoes, used in construction of roads and buildings; grinders and borers, used for both surface and underground mining; and oil and gas field drilling machinery and derricks, used for extracting these resources. This segment also makes lawnmowers, leaf blowers, and other lawn and garden equipment for residential and commercial use.
The ventilation, heating, air-conditioning, and commercial refrigeration equipment manufacturing industry segment makes climate-control machinery for residential and commercial buildings. In addition to heating and cooling equipment, this industry makes air purification equipment, which is increasingly common in new construction, and commercial refrigeration equipment, which is used primarily for food storage.
The commercial and service machinery manufacturing industry segment produces the machinery that is used by firms that provide services. For example, firms in this segment produce commercial versions of household appliances—such as laundry equipment used in laundromats, coffee makers and microwave ovens used by restaurants, and vacuum cleaners used by cleaning services. Other large components of this industry are manufacturers of automatic vending machines, non-electronic office machinery like typewriters and mail sorters, non-digital cameras, photocopiers, and machinery used to make optical lenses.
The industrial machinery manufacturing industry segment makes machinery used to produce finished goods from raw materials. The materials processed by this segment’s machinery include wood, plastics, rubber, paper, textiles, food, glass, and oil. Machinery manufactured in this segment also is used in printing and bookbinding and in making semiconductors and circuit boards.
The engine, turbine, and power transmission equipment manufacturing segment includes a variety of machines that transfer one type of work into another. Turbines use the energy from the motion of steam, gas, water, or wind to create mechanical power by turning a drive shaft. Along with gears, speed changers, clutches, drive chains, and pulleys—all also made in this segment—turbines put assembly lines and other industrial machinery in motion. Attached to a generator, turbines also create electrical power. This industry segment also produces diesel and other internal combustion engines and their components that are used to power portable generators, air compressors, pumps and other equipment. Aircraft and motor vehicle engines are made by the aerospace product and parts manufacturing and motor vehicle and parts manufacturing industries, respectively, which appear elsewhere in the Guide.
The last segment—other general purpose machinery manufacturing—produces miscellaneous machines used primarily by manufacturing industries. These include pumps, compressors, welding and soldering equipment, and packaging machinery. This segment also makes a variety of materials handling equipment—such as industrial trucks and tractors, overhead cranes and hoists, conveyors, and many types of hydraulic equipment—used in manufacturing and other industries. Other common machinery produced by this segment includes scales and balances, power-driven handtools, and elevators, escalators, and moving walkways.
The machinery manufacturing industry also includes companies that make parts for larger manufacturers. Some of these parts manufacturers specialize in creating items that require particular skill to make and they sell them to a wide variety of other manufacturers. Companies contract with these parts manufacturers because doing so is often cheaper than if they made the parts themselves. Cost is a primary selling point for these parts manufacturers and many of their parts are generally small and easy to transport, so these companies are particularly threatened by foreign competition.
The wide range of products made in the machinery manufacturing industry means that it includes establishments of all sizes. In general, however, the larger and more complicated the machinery is, the larger the manufacturing facility must be to produce it. Thus, large establishments tend to be a characteristic of the agriculture, construction, and mining machinery and the ventilation, heating, air-conditioning, and commercial refrigeration equipment segments, while the metalworking machinery segment has the smallest ones.
The size of an establishment also contributes to how some machinery is produced. Large firms involved in manufacturing machinery tend to have a multistage production process, with separate teams of individuals responsible for design and testing, manufacture of parts, and for assembly of the finished product. Nonetheless, there is considerable interaction between the various types of workers; for example, design offices are often located near the factory floor to promote interaction with production workers. Small establishments, in contrast, may have a handful of workers responsible for the entire production process.
Recent developments. The machinery manufacturing industry, like all U.S. manufacturers, continues to evolve. Domestic and foreign competition has required the industry to adopt new technologies and techniques to lower costs and raise the productivity of its workforce. For example, using high-technology production techniques, including robots, computers, and programmable equipment results in productivity gains and helps to maximize the use of available equipment and workers. Increasing technology and automation also reduces the number of unskilled workers needed in the production process.
Pressures to reduce costs and maximize profits have also caused manufacturers in the industry to adopt new business practices. One example is the practice of contracting out support functions, such as janitorial and security jobs, and increasingly some administrative services and warehouse and shipping jobs. Rather than employ workers directly for these jobs, a manufacturer will often contract with another company that specializes in providing these services. This practice reduces costs by forcing service providers to compete for the work, allows manufacturers to focus on their core design and production activities, and increases manufacturers’ flexibility by letting them add and subtract contract workers more easily than they could hire and fire employees.
These changes have had a profound effect on the machinery manufacturing workforce. By automating many of the production processes and outsourcing many of the administrative and support functions, it has reduced the need for many less skilled workers and increased the skill level required for the remaining workers. These changes are allowing the industry to remain competitive and meet the demand for machinery that other industries rely on.
Hours. Most workers in machinery manufacturing work 8 hour shifts, 5 days a week. Overtime can be common, especially during periods of peak demand. As a result, the average production worker worked 42.4 hours per week in 2006, with about 35 percent of all workers in the industry averaging more than 40 hours a week, and 20 percent of workers over 50 hours per week. Opportunities for part time work are rare, as less than 4 percent of workers were employed part time in 2006. Some plants are capable of operating 24 hours a day, but some shifts are able to operate with a reduced workforce because of the automated nature of the production process.
Work environment. Production workers in the machinery manufacturing industry generally encounter conditions that are much improved from the past. New facilities in particular tend to be clean, well lighted, and temperature controlled. Noise can still be a factor, however, especially in larger production facilities. Most of the labor-intensive work is now automated, but some heavy lifting may still be required. Some workers may also have to work with oil and grease or chemicals that require special handling. Certain types of machinery also require special care in their use. Nevertheless, injuries are rare when proper safety procedures are observed. In 2006, the rate of work related injuries and illnesses per 100 workers was 6.2, compared with 6.0 for all manufacturing industries. The rate for the private sector as a whole was 4.4.
The machinery manufacturing industry provided 1.2 million wage and salary jobs in 2006. Employment was relatively evenly distributed among all segments of the industry (table 1). There were about 31,000 establishments in the industry; about half employed fewer than 10 workers (chart 1). However, 39 percent of workers were employed in establishments of 250 workers or more.
Although machinery manufacturing jobs are located throughout the country, certain States account for the greatest numbers of jobs. About a third of all jobs were located in the Midwestern States of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Populous states such as California, Texas, New York, and Pennsylvania also had large numbers of jobs.
Occupations in the Industry
It takes a wide variety of occupations to create and produce a machine, including engineers, technicians, production and assembly workers, supervisors and managers, and support personnel (table 2).
Professional and related occupations. Before any work can begin on the production of a particular piece of machinery, an extensive process to create and test the design must be completed. This process can take up to several years, depending on the complexity of the machinery. The work is done primarily by engineers and technicians, although because of the range of tasks involved, different types of these workers are required.
Engineering managers oversee the entire design process. Much of the design work is done by engineers, who first develop a concept of what a new machine should do or how an existing one could be improved. Starting with this concept, they use computer modeling and simulating software to design the machine. Using software and prototypes, they also test performance, cost, reliability, ease of use, and other factors important to both producers and consumers of the final product.
Most engineers specialize in a particular facet of design. Mechanical engineers design the moving parts of the machine, such as the gears, levers, and pistons in engine and hydraulic systems. They also direct the work of mechanical engineering technicians, who run tests on materials and parts before they are assembled into the final product. For machines with complicated electric or electronic systems, electrical and electronics engineers also assist in the design and testing process. Industrial engineers determine how best to allocate the resources of the factory—both workers and equipment—for optimal production.
Once a design is finished and simulation testing complete, mechanical drafters create the plans that production workers use in the assembly of the machine. They provide specifications and diagrams for each part required, as well as assembly instructions for the final product.
Production occupations. Production workers account for over half of all jobs in the machinery manufacturing industry. First-line supervisors and managers of production and operating workers oversee all workers in the production process and ensure that equipment and supplies are available when needed. They usually report to industrial production managers, who watch over all activities on the factory floor.
Metal workers and plastic workers create all the various parts that are needed in the production and assembly processes. As production becomes more automated, the jobs of most metal and plastic workers are becoming more complex. Fewer workers simply operate machines; most are now also responsible for programming and performing minor repairs on the machine tools.
Among the most skilled metal and plastic workers are tool and die makers, and machinery manufacturing has about 28 percent of the Nation’s jobs for these workers. Tool and die makers create precision tools and machines, often using computer-aided design software, that are used to cut, shape, and form metal and other materials to exact specifications. Operating computer-controlled machine tools, they produce devices, such as jigs and fixtures, to hold metal while it is being worked on. They also produce gauges and other measuring devices, and dies that are used to shape the metal.
Tools, dies, and jigs are used by machine tool cutting setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic who set up and operate machines that make parts out of the raw materials. Because most machines now operate automatically, machine tool operators primarily monitor the machine and perform minor repairs as needed.
Computer control programmers and operators manage the automatic metalworking machines that can mass produce individual parts. They also write programs based upon the specifications of the part that defines what operation the machine should perform. Machinists produce precision parts that require particular skill or that are needed in quantities too small to require the use of automated machinery. Welding, soldering, and brazing workers operate machines that join two or more pieces of metal together; they may also weld manually as well.
Once all of the parts have been made, it is the responsibility of assemblers and fabricators to put them all together to finish the product. Some assemblers specialize in one particular stage of the process, while others, such as team assemblers, work as a group and may contribute to an entire subassembly process. While there has been increased automation of the assembly process, many parts of the products still have to be put together and fastened by hand. When assembly is complete, painting workers apply paint or a protective coating to the exterior of the machine.
While quality control is a responsibility of all production workers, it is the primary focus of inspectors, testers, samplers, and weighers. These workers monitor the entire production stage, making sure that individual parts, as well as the finished product, meet the standards set by the company.
Other occupations. Other occupations in the industry provide support to production activities. Industrial machinery installation, repair, and maintenance workers are skilled mechanics who make sure that all the machines and other equipment used in the production process are regularly serviced and function properly. Production, planning, and expediting clerks produce records and reports related to various aspects of production, such as materials and parts used, products produced, and defects encountered. They also make sure customer orders are completed, deliveries are scheduled, and shipments are made on time. Purchasing agents use the data provided by production, planning, and expediting clerks to procure supplies needed in production.
In addition to production-specific occupations, this industry has various managers and administrative support personnel to handle functions such as human relations, accounting, and general management. The sales function for many companies is increasingly important. Sales representatives and sales engineers often work together to market the company’s machines to potential buyers, demonstrating how the machine may reduce costs or increase sales. They also explain how to operate the machine and answer buyer’s questions. Sales engineers in particular use their technical background to advise clients on how the machine can best be applied in their individual circumstances and to suggest custom designs or modifications to the equipment as needed.
Training and Advancement
The composition of employment in machinery manufacturing continues to evolve as automation of labor-intensive tasks raises the skill level required of production workers. Nearly all jobs now require that entry-level workers have at least a high school diploma. Employers also seek people who have good communication and problem solving skills, since new manufacturing processes, such as lean manufacturing, require workers to be able to perform many different tasks depending on where they are most needed. Strong basic mathematical skills are also essential.
Production occupations. Skilled production workers, such as tool and die makers and machinists, usually must have previous experience or must have completed a training program at a local college. Some companies also train workers entering the field in apprenticeship programs that can last between 1 and 5 years, depending on the specialty. These programs combine on-the-job training with classroom instruction, either within the company or at local technical schools. Apprenticeship topics include mechanical drawing, tool designing, programming of computer-controlled machines, blueprint reading, mathematics, hydraulics, and electronics. Workers also learn about company policies on quality control, safety, and communications.
Experienced workers may advance into higher skilled positions within their field or into supervisory positions. Because advancement is based on experience and merit, even those workers who enter in low skilled positions can advance to significantly higher skilled jobs by working to improve their skills.
Management and professional occupations. Management and professional occupations generally require workers who have a bachelor’s degree in the particular field, although some management positions are filled by experienced production workers. Most engineer jobs in the industry require that workers have a degree in mechanical or electrical engineering or one of their specialties. Because engineers usually are familiar with both design and production issues within a company, they may be able to advance into the upper management positions.
Employment in machinery manufacturing is expected to continue its long-term decline as productivity increases allow companies to produce more goods with fewer workers.
Employment change. Wage and salary employment in the machinery manufacturing industry is expected to decrease 12 percent over the 2006-16 period compared with an 11 percent increase for all industries combined. As shown in table 3, all segments of the industry are expected to experience some employment declines.
The main factor affecting the level of employment in the machinery manufacturing industry is the high rate of productivity growth. Increases in productivity allow companies to produce more goods with the same number of workers. Even though output in machinery manufacturing is expected to increase significantly, firms will be able to meet the increase through higher productivity of existing workers, rather than by creating new jobs.
A second factor expected to cause some employment declines in machinery manufacturing is the growing number of imported parts. This industry is less likely to lose a large part of its output to imports from other countries than some other manufacturing industries. The large size and complexity of many of the types of machinery made by this industry and the relatively skilled workforce it requires is an advantage that many manufacturing industries do not share. However, while most finished machines are made in the United States, it is increasingly common for manufacturers to have some parts of the final product made in other countries and then shipped to U.S. manufacturers for final assembly. While still expected to account for only a small part of the total process, this increased offshore outsourcing of production will have a negative effect on machinery manufacturing employment.
Demand for machinery is expected to remain strong. Machinery is important for all industries because it boosts their productivity, and advances in technology will make machinery even more efficient and thus more desirable. Demand for machinery is highly sensitive to cyclical swings in the economy, however, causing employment in machinery manufacturing to fluctuate. During periods of economic prosperity, companies invest in new equipment, such as machinery, in order to boost production. When economic growth slows, however, many companies are reluctant to purchase new machinery. These changes in demand cause machinery manufacturers to replace fewer workers who leave or even lay off some workers.
Although overall employment in the machinery manufacturing industry is expected to decline, the outlook for occupations will vary; some will experience larger declines than others, while some will even experience growth instead. Increased automation and more efficient production processes will cause employment declines in assembler and fabricator occupations. Office and administrative support workers will also experience declines as a result of increased automation and contracting out. Employment in professional and management occupations will experience smaller declines relative to other occupations in the industry; engineers in particular will experience very good employment opportunities, as they are responsible for increasing innovation and competitiveness in the industry.
Job prospects. Despite the decline in employment projected for this sizeable industry, a significant number of job openings will become available because of the need to replace workers who retire or move to jobs outside of the industry. However, not all jobs that are vacated will be filled because attrition is one of the main ways that establishments reduce the number of employees. It is also a way the establishments upgrade the skill mix of their workforce. Machinery manufacturing establishments will continually be seeking to hire more highly skilled workers, especially persons with good basic educational skills that make good candidates to be trained for the high skilled jobs of twenty-first century manufacturing. Workers with these skills are expected to experience excellent job prospects.
Industry earnings. The earnings of workers in the machinery manufacturing industry are relatively high, primarily because of the high productivity of workers in this industry. Median weekly earnings in 2006 for production workers in machinery manufacturing were $729, compared with $691 for the manufacturing sector as a whole and $568 for all industries. Earnings vary by detailed industry segment (table 4). They also vary based upon a worker’s particular occupation, experience, and the size of the company employing them. Earnings of the largest occupations in machinery manufacturing appear in table 5.
Benefits and union membership. In 2006, about 9 percent of workers in machinery manufacturing were union members or were covered by union contracts, slightly less than the proportion for both the manufacturing industry as a whole and all industries combined. Major unions include the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers of America, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and the United Automobile, Aerospace, and Agricultural Implement Workers of America.
Sources of Additional Information
Disclaimer:Links to non-JA Internet sites are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement.
The Manufacturing Institute of the National Association of Manufacturers sponsors the Dream it, Do it campaign, which provides information on careers in manufacturing. More information is available from:
National Association of Manufacturers, 1331 Pennsylvania Ave., NW., Suite 600, Washington, DC 20004. Internet: http://www.dreamit-doit.org
Information on employment and training opportunities in the machinery manufacturing industry is available from State employment service offices, employment offices of machinery manufacturing firms, and locals of the unions listed above.
Detailed information on most occupations in this industry, including the following, appears in the 2008-09 edition of the Occupational Outlook Handbook:
Assemblers and fabricators
Computer control programmers and operators
Commercial and industrial designers
Industrial production managers
Inspectors, testers, sorters, samplers, and weighers
Machine setters, operators, and tenders (metal and plastic)
Material moving occupations
Tool and die makers
Welding, soldering, and brazing workers
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Career Guide to Industries, 2008-09 Edition, Machinery Manufacturing