There are many different paths a machinist can take in their career. From just starting out in a apprenticeship to leading a machining department, its diversity in opportunities are immense. An example of this is a opportunity that was offered to me several years ago, after completing a tool and die making apprenticeship and becoming a journeyman. My career goal at the time was to make coining dies for the US mint in Denver Colorado. It turned out that I was offered the position but I had to decline for certain reasons.
While I thought that making dies that make coins was a great career opportunity, I was busy at the time programming and running machines at a medical manufacturer. These machines were very complex and posed their own challenges. Operating a machine with 7-11 axis is a challenge in itself. The ability to make parts complete in one setup is the future of manufacturing and requires great skill.
A great and growing career path in machining is swiss or sliding headstock lathe machining. These machines have the ability to make small and long parts complete in one setup, from turning, milling, drilling, gear hobbing, and broaching. The machines capabilities allow for parts to be made very quickly. In the picture above these mechanical watch movement parts that could be made complete in these machines.
Other great machining career paths are 5-axis milling and mill/turn machining. A 5 axis mill allows for a reduction in the number of machining setups and also allows for complex parts to be machined. In mill/ turn lathe machining the machines can also allow for setup reductions and some machines can also do full five axis machining as well.
Another great skill to have and career path of a machinist is specializing in hard turning and hard milling. In hard machining, typically the workpiece is up to 60 R/C. The machinists that can effectively hard cut are highly skilled at their jobs as well. These career opportunities are typically available in tool and die shops.