machining is now coding

Marketplace has a brief, but intriguing story about how computing is transforming manufacturing in the United States. As they explain, machinists used to work with their hands, physically manipulating mechanical machines to shape and shred metal and other materials into the basic components of all kinds of engineered materials, from small plastic trinkets to airplane parts.

Today, however, machining is less about operating machines, and more about writing code that operates machines (CNC machines, in particular, standing for computer numerically controlled). To learn the CNC programming language, workers typically take an 18-week course before their ready to operate CNC machines, but then they can make a reasonable manufacturing wage without getting their hands dirty or risking injury. This is a classic example of end-user programming, where someone has to write code as a means to an end (a physical object).

What’s even more fascinating is the economic discussion surrounding this jobs. Apparently, the problem isn’t training the machinists, but finding people who want to be trained. The Manufacturing Institute found in a survey that there are as many 600,000 manufacturing jobs going unfilled, the majority of which are jobs that require these kinds of technical computing skills. This is therefore as much a training problem as it is a recruiting problem.

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