Engineering or Machining — Why Not Both?

Our website recently published an article looking into issues which may arise between engineers and machinists in manufacturing companies, and possible solutions. The author came to a conclusion that one of the most important factors is a knowledge gap between engineers and machinists, which does not allow them to understand each other fully. In today’s part of the article we will look into what can be done to eliminate this gap.

I’m able to do more on both fronts. It’s also showed the sharp divide between the two sides. Both are better when they are combined. A machinist is better when they know engineering. An engineer is better when they understand machining.

Two of the results from our survey are particularly interesting when placed side-by-side. We asked engineers how often they are required to work with machinists, as well how much hands-on machining experience they have. Here are the results:


More than half our respondents work with machinists frequently, and more than half have less than three years of hands-on machining experience, or no experience at all. There seems to be an obvious disconnect here—a gap in knowledge that affects how engineers and machinists communicate. These results would certainly explain why machinists so frequently cite impossible features and incomplete drawings as their biggest complaint with engineers. Without at least some hands-on experience with a machine, how can you know what it’s truly capable of?

Not surprisingly, many engineers have taken this heart and chosen to improve their knowledge of machining. Then there are the machinists who choose to become engineers. We surveyed respondents from both groups.

As you might expect, this group’s answers to the question ‘How much hands-on machining experience do you have?’ were significantly different. Here are the results:


We asked the respondents who were engineers and machinists to tell us how being both affected their career. Here’s what some of those who started their careers as engineers had to say:

“It’s very interesting to push the limits of design, whether for parts I will make, or parts I am making for someone else. Being a machinist allowed me to quickly adopt better design principles.”
“Knowing what can and can’t be done puts you ahead of the competition. It also made me blatantly aware of what engineers ask for that can’t be done, and how often or ridiculous it can be.”
“I’m at a small company where I do the design and machining. Doing both gives me a better perspective on the design process. During the design process I can look at it from a machinist’s point of view and design according to how hard it will be to manufacture.”

Learning Machining as an Engineer

“I graduated engineering in 2001 when the Tech Bubble burst and was laid off several times trying to get employment as an engineer. I went back to school for a one-year machinist program and was hired as an engineer at a small manufacturing company while looking for machinist jobs. The machinist background made me much more useful to the production floor, while at the same time I could work on smaller projects myself as I could produce the one-off parts on my own.”
If you’re considering an upgrade to your machining IQ, there are plenty of options available. For example, many machine tool manufacturers offer their own courses, either independently or in partnership with colleges and universities.

Of course, much of the educational offerings from machine tool manufacturers will focus on their own brand. That’s great if you’re looking to learn about machining to get more out of a particular machine or brand of machines, but for companies that utilize a host of different machine tool brands, a more brand-agnostic program may be preferable. Tooling U-SME offers online, instructor-led or blended learning courses with a focus on manufacturing workforce development.

“We’re the learning and development group within the Society of Manufacturing Engineers,” said John Hindman, Director of Learning and Performance Improvement at Tooling U-SME. “We assist manufacturers in building sustainable and repeatable training and development programs. We offer over 400 online classes geared toward technical skills, and a good portion of our catalogue is geared toward machining and the engineering side of things.”

Regarding the course offerings that would be most relevant to engineers looking to learn more about machining, Hindman noted two in particular: “We have a basic cutting theory class that’s a really good starting point for folks who want to learn more about machining,” he said. “We have content that’s based around specific controls—FANUC, Mazak, Okuma, etc.—but for engineers who want to learn more about the machining process, I think the most important thing is workholding. That’s where the experienced machinists and operators really stand out, and we do have workholding classes as well.”

In fact, the educational resources available from Tooling U-SME go beyond classes, as Hindman explained: “A lot of the engineering programs we have are almost creating a library of content that engineers can refer to if they’re not familiar with a process,” he said, “So, you might have an engineering department that needs to brush up for machining because they’re going to be making a part with CNC machining and they’ve never used that process before.”

The simple fact is that your engineering education doesn’t end when you’re handed your degree. Of course, for many in the profession, that’s no doubt part of what makes a career in engineering so appealing. “Life-long learning is part of what it means to be an engineer,” Hindman said. If you agree with that sentiment but have found yourself struggling to work with machinists, it may be time to explore your education options for machining.

Engineers & Machinists – Manufacturing’s Dynamic Duo

“Not many people know their way around a machine shop. [Learning machining] has made me that much better of an engineer.”
When engineers and machinists come together, they can accomplish great things in manufacturing. By the same token, a breakdown in communication between the two groups can spell disaster. Both sides seem to agree that communication is essential—whether that means getting feedback during the design phase or thoroughly annotating drawings—and yet the tension between them often remains.

One of the best ways to resolve this sort of relationship roadblock is to try and see things from both perspectives, which for engineers means learning more about machining. As one of our survey respondents put it:

“Knowing how stuff is made allows me to design better stuff.”

Author: Ian Wright, engineering.com

IMA Information:

  • The article lists knowledge difference as the main problem of understanding between engineers and operators. However, all the employees of a production company should broaden and improve their knowledge, which is essential to a manufacturer that looks onto keeping his position on the market.  Italian Machinery Association can offer manufacturers a proper machine operation training tailored to their needs.
  • If you are looking for other engineering materials, please read:

Why every engineer should learn machining?

The critical path to manufacturing efficiency

What is more important — cutting machine utilization or process throughput?

  • If the time has come to upgrade or enhance your production capabilities, you can also get a new machine from a reliable Italian manufacturer. Our catalog’s range of equipment from our members can satisfy needs of any manufacturing, from a small job shop to an automated multi-tasking plant.
  • In some cases, the existing machines boost their productivity when setup with new tooling of some of the most popular styles. Please go here to see what Italian Machinery Association can offer.
  • You also might need some repair, installation, re-launch or training services for your existing machines. IMA‘s maintenance team has enough skills and experience to solve any problem you might have.
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