Precision Assemblers Career Information
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Significant Points· Virtually all assemblers and fabricators
work in plants that manufacture durable goods, such as computers and automobile
· A high school diploma is preferred for most positions; applicants need specialized training for some assembly jobs.
· Projected slower-than-average employment growth reflects increasing automation and the shift of assembly to countries with lower labor costs.
Nature of the WorkAssemblers and fabricators
produce a wide range of finished goods from manufactured parts or subassemblies.
They produce intricate manufactured products, such as aircraft, automobile engines,
computers, and electrical and electronic components.
Assemblers may work on subassemblies or the final assembly of an array of finished products or components. For example, electrical and electronic equipment assemblers put together or modify missile control systems, radio or test equipment, computers, machine-tool numerical controls, radar, or sonar, and prototypes of these and other products. Electromechanical equipment assemblers prepare and test equipment or devices such as appliances, dynamometers, or ejection-seat mechanisms. Coil winders, tapers, and finishers wind wire coil used in resistors, transformers, generators, and electric motors. Engine and other machine assemblers construct, assemble, or rebuild engines and turbines, and office, agricultural, construction, oilfield, rolling mill, textile, woodworking, paper, and food wrapping machinery. Aircraft structure, surfaces, rigging, and systems assemblers put together and install parts of airplanes, space vehicles, or missiles, such as wings or landing gear. Structural metal fabricators and fitters align and fit structural metal parts according to detailed specifications prior to welding or riveting.
Assemblers and fabricators involved in product development read and interpret engineering specifications from text, drawings, and computer-aided drafting systems. They also may use a variety of tools and precision measuring instruments. Some experienced assemblers work with engineers and technicians, assembling prototypes or test products.
As technology changes, so too does the manufacturing process. For example, flexible manufacturing systems include the manufacturing applications of robotics, computers, programmable motion control, and various sensing technologies. These systems change the way in which goods are made, and affect the jobs of those who make them. The concept of cellular manufacturing, for example, places a greater premium on the teamwork of and communication within "cells" of workers than it does on the old assembly line process. Team assemblers perform all of the assembly tasks assigned to their teams, rotating through the different tasks, rather than specializing in a single task. They also may decide how the work is to be assigned and how different tasks are to be performed. Some aspects of team assembly, such as rotating tasks, are becoming more common to all assembly and fabrication occupations. As the U.S. manufacturing sector continues to evolve in the face of growing international competition and changing technology, the nature of assembly and fabrication will change along with it.
Working ConditionsThe working conditions
for assemblers and fabricators vary from plant to plant and from industry to
industry. Conditions may be noisy and many assemblers may have to sit or stand
for long periods. Both electronic
and electromechanical equipment assemblers, for example, sit at tables in rooms
that are clean, well-lit, and free from dust. Some electrical and electronics
assemblers come in contact with soldering fumes, but ventilation systems and
fans normally minimize this problem. Aircraft assemblers, however, usually come
in contact with oil and grease, and their working areas may be quite noisy.
They also may have to lift and fit heavy objects. In many cases, developments
in ergonomics have improved working conditions through changes in workstation
design and the increased use of robots or other pneumatically powered machinery
to lift heavy objects.
Most full-time assemblers work a 40-hour week, although overtime and shiftwork is fairly common in some industries. Work schedules of assemblers may vary at plants with more than one shift.
EmploymentVirtually all of the 2.7 million assembler and fabricator jobs in 2009 were in plants that manufacture durable goods. Team assemblers, the largest specialty, accounted for 55 percent of assembler and fabricator jobs. The distribution of employment among the various types of assemblers was as follows:
Team assemblers 1,458,000
All other assemblers and fabricators 439,000
Electrical and electronic equipment assemblers 379,000
Structural metal fabricators and fitters 101,000
Electromechanical equipment assemblers 73,000
Engine and other machine assemblers 67,000
Coil winders, tapers, and finishers 56,000
Fiberglass laminators and fabricators 48,000
Aircraft structure, surfaces, rigging, and systems assemblers 20,000
Timing device assemblers, adjusters, and calibrators 12,000
Durable goods manufacturing industries employ 72 percent of assemblers and fabricators. Assembly of electronic and electrical equipment, including electrical switches, welding equipment, electric motors, lighting equipment, household appliances, and electronic devices accounted for 19 percent of all jobs. Assembly of transportation equipment, such as aircraft, autos, trucks, and buses accounted for 15 percent of all jobs. Other industries that employ many assemblers and fabricators were industrial machinery (diesel engines, steam turbine generators, farm tractors, and office machines), fabricated metal products, and instruments manufacturing.
The following tabulation shows the wage and salary employment of assemblers and fabricators in durable goods manufacturing in 2009 by industry.
Electronic and other electrical equipment 502,000
Transportation equipment 403,000
Industrial machinery and equipment 319,000
Fabricated metal products 197,000
Instruments and related products 165,000
Training, Qualifications, Adv.New assemblers and fabricators
are normally entry-level employees. The ability to do accurate work at a rapid
pace and to follow detailed instructions are key job requirements. A high school
diploma is preferred for most positions.
Applicants need specialized training for some assembly jobs. For example, employers may require that applicants for electrical or electronic assembler jobs be technical school graduates or have equivalent military training. Other positions require only on-the-job training, sometimes including employer-sponsored classroom instruction, in the broad range of assembly duties that employees may be required to perform.
Good eyesight, with or without glasses, is required for assemblers and fabricators who work with small parts. Plants that make electrical and electronic products may test applicants for color vision, because many of their products contain many differently colored wires. Manual dexterity and the ability to carry out complex, repetitive tasks quickly and methodically also are important.
As assemblers and fabricators become more experienced, they may progress to jobs that require more skill and be given more responsibility. Experienced assemblers may become product repairers if they have learned the many assembly operations and understand the construction of a product. These workers fix assembled articles that operators or inspectors have identified as defective. Assemblers also can advance to quality control jobs or be promoted to supervisor. Experienced assemblers and fabricators also may become members of research and development teams, working with engineers and other project designers to design, develop, build prototypes, and test new product models. In some companies, assemblers can become trainees for one of the skilled trades. Those with a background in math, science, and computers may advance to programmers or operators of more highly automated production equipment.
of assemblers and fabricators is expected to grow more slowly than the average
for all occupations through the year 2010, reflecting increasing automation
and the shift of assembly to countries with lower labor costs. As manufacturers strive for greater precision
and productivity, automated machinery increasingly will be used to perform work
more economically or more efficiently. Recent advancements have made robotics
more applicable and more affordable in manufacturing. Advances in automation
should continue raising the productivity of assembly workers and adversely affecting
their employment. In addition to those stemming from growth, many job openings
will result from the need to replace workers leaving this large occupational
The effects of automation will be felt more acutely among some types of assemblers and fabricators than among others. Flexible manufacturing systems are expensive, and a large volume of repetitive work is required to justify their purchase. Also, where the assembly parts involved are irregular in size or location, new technology only now is beginning to make inroads. For example, much assembly in the aerospace industry is done in hard-to-reach locations unsuited for robots—inside airplane fuselages or gear boxes, for example—and replacement of aircraft assemblers by automated processes will be slower and less comprehensive than replacement of other workers such as welders and painters. On the other hand, automation increasingly will be used in the precision assembly of electronic goods, in which a significant number of electronics assemblers are employed.
Many producers send their assembly functions to countries where labor costs are lower. This trend in assembly, promoted by more liberal trade and investment policies, results in shifts in the composition of America's manufacturing workforce. Decisions by American corporations to move assembly to other nations should limit employment growth for assemblers in some industries, such as electronics assembly, but a freer trade environment also may lead to growth in the export of goods assembled in the United States, resulting in the creation of additional jobs in other industries, such as aircraft assembly.
EarningsEarnings vary by industry, geographic region, skill, educational level, and complexity of the machinery operated. In 2009, median hourly earnings were $19.64 for aircraft structure, surfaces, rigging, and systems assemblers; $13.47 for engine and other machine assemblers; $9.77 for coil winders, tapers, and finishers; $10.82 for fiberglass laminators and finishers; $10.11 for all other assemblers; $10.78 for timing device assemblers, calibrators, and adjusters; and $11.16 for electromechanical equipment assemblers.
Median hourly earnings of team assemblers were $10.32 in 2009. The middle 50 percent earned between $8.39 and $13.11. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $7.05, and the highest 10 percent earned $16.95. Median hourly earnings in the manufacturing industries employing the largest numbers of team assemblers in 2009 are shown below:
Motor vehicles and equipment $13.15
Medical instruments and supplies 10.30
Fabricated structural metal products 10.05
Miscellaneous plastics products, not elsewhere classified 9.49
Personnel supply services 7.93
Median hourly earnings of electrical and electronic equipment assemblers were $10.31 in 2009. The middle 50 percent earned between $8.44 and $12.97. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $7.10, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $16.28. Median hourly earnings in the manufacturing industries employing the largest numbers of electrical and electronic equipment assemblers in 2009 are shown below:
Computer and office equipment $11.68
Measuring and controlling devices 11.43
Electrical industrial apparatus 10.61
Communications equipment 10.23
Electronic components and accessories 9.93
Many assemblers and fabricators are members of labor unions. These unions include the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers; the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America; the United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America; the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; and the United Steelworkers of America.
Related OccupationsOther occupations
that involve operating machines and tools and assembling products include welding, soldering, and brazing
workers; ophthalmic laboratory technicians; and machine setters, operators,
and tenders—metal and plastic.
Sources of Additional InformationInformation about employment
opportunities for assemblers is available from local offices of the State employment
service and from locals of the unions mentioned earlier.