There are just under 410,000 industrial machinery mechanics and millwrights working in the United States. Job growth projections indicate a slightly slower than average increase in jobs over the next decade. However, workers with a broad range of experience and knowledge, as well as those who have completed postsecondary training, are likely to find numerous employment opportunities.
Most industrial machinery mechanics and millwrights work in manufacturing jobs. Machinery maintenance workers typically learn their trade on the job, while industrial machinery mechanics often pursue postsecondary training. Most millwrights enroll in a formal apprenticeship program to gain skills.
Manufacturing companies operate immense, complex machinery. Millwrights are responsible for putting these machines together and making sure they are functional. Millwrights are highly trained and work with engineers and floor managers regarding machinery placement. The millwright oversees transportation of parts to the site to make sure nothing is damaged. Experience with electronics, pneumatics, and computers is essential. Hydraulic torque wrenches, welding tools, and levels are used to put the machines together. If the machinery is exceptionally large, cranes might be used for assembly. In the event of a major malfunction, it is also the millwright’s job to disassemble the machine for repair.
Once manufacturing machinery is up and running, industrial machinery mechanics take over. Machinery mechanics combine their knowledge and experience with manufacture manuals when a minor problem occurs. Computerized diagnostic tools along with vibration analysis can help the machinery mechanic pinpoint the location and nature of the problem. When the source of the malfunction is located, the industrial machinery mechanic repairs the failing parts. In some cases, replacing a part is necessary. Industrial machinery mechanics need a strong background in electrical systems, electronics, and computer programming. A third responsibility given to the industrial machinery mechanic is preventive maintenance. Equipment must be periodically inspected, adjusted, or calibrated.
Machinery maintenance workers assist or perform maintenance work. Among their tasks are lubricating machinery, executing simple diagnostic tests, and determining if damaged components can be repaired. It is important for machinery maintenance workers to attend carefully to machine specifications and inspection schedules. Both industrial machinery mechanics and machinery maintenance workers use hand tools, lathes, drills, drill presses, jigsaws, grinders, and other floor tools. Sometimes a part is in stock and can be replaced, but if it is not, the machinery mechanic may have to create a new part to replace the damaged one.
Among the hazards industrial machinery mechanics and millwrights are subject to are cuts, burns, and muscle strain or sprain. On-site, they must be aware of heavy machinery at all times. There will be times when they are expected to mount heights, work in a cramped position for an extended period, or carry heavy tools and parts. Hard hats, safety glasses, steel-tipped shoes, and ear protectors along with following safety procedures will minimize these hazards. This type of work can involve frequent overtime, evening, and weekend work—in short, whenever there is a breakdown.
Millwrights are usually apprenticed for a number of years, undergoing formal classroom instruction and training on the job. Industrial machinery mechanics need a high school diploma and most have additional training as well. Machinery maintenance workers can usually get a job with a high school diploma or GED and primarily learn their trade while working. Those who are trained in industrial technology will be first among new hires. Millwrights and some mechanics work for several years in an apprenticeship sponsored by a union, the state labor department, or the business itself. Industrial machinery mechanics typically obtain at minimum a year or two of postsecondary training before going to work. Among their options is a two-year associate’s degree in industrial maintenance, where they study basic shop mathematics, blueprints, welding, electronics, and computers. Production workers with strong mechanical aptitude often are promoted to maintenance work. Machinery maintenance workers are trained in basic, routine tasks for up to a year before being given more complex tasks. Training may be an apprenticeship, attendance in a formal classroom, or seminars given by equipment manufacturer trainers.
Qualities that good industrial mechanics and millwrights possess include strong problem-solving abilities, manual dexterity, understanding written instructions, mechanical ability, strength, and flexibility. Machinery maintenance workers who pursue additional training and show aptitude might be promoted to industrial machinery mechanics or supervisors. Industrial machinery mechanics that work with complex machinery and undergo further training might be promoted to a supervisory, master mechanic, or millwright position. Advancement for millwrights comes in the form of becoming a team leader.
The median hourly pay for millwrights is around $23 an hour. At the low end, pay is less than $15 per hour, while at the high end, it is slightly higher than $30 per hour. Machinery maintenance workers’ median hourly pay is about $18 per hour. The low end of the pay scale is under $12 per hour, and the high end is more than $28.