If you are interested in a career as a tool programmer, you can test your interest and aptitude by taking shop and other vocational classes. You can also visit firms that employ numerical control tool programmers and talk directly with them to gain practical information about their jobs. Summer or part-time work at manufacturing firms and machine shops is a great way to find out more about the job and gain hands-on experience.
Numerical control tool programmers write the programs that direct machine tools to perform functions automatically. Programmers must understand how the machine tools operate and know the working properties of the metals and plastics that are used in the process.
Writing a program for a numerically controlled tool involves several steps. Before tool programmers can begin writing a program, they must analyze the blueprints of whatever function is to be performed or item to be made. Programmers then determine the steps and tools needed. After all necessary computations have been made, the programmers write the program.
Programmers almost always use computers to write the programs, using computer-aided design (CAD) systems. The growing use of this technology has increased productivity, translating designs directly into machine instructions without the need for coded programming. CAD systems allow programmers to more easily modify existing programs for other jobs with similar specifications.
To ensure that a program has been properly designed, tool programmers often perform a test or trial run. Trial runs help ensure that a machine is functioning properly and that the resulting product is according to plan. However, because problems found during a trial run could damage expensive machinery and tools, tests are increasingly done using computer simulations.