Assemblers and fabricators assemble finished products and the parts that go into them. They use tools, machines, and their hands to make engines, computers, aircraft, ships, boats, toys, electronic devices, control panels, and more.
Assemblers and fabricators typically do the following:
- Read and understand schematics and blueprints
- Use hand tools or machines to assemble parts
- Conduct quality control checks
- Work closely with designers and engineers in product development
Assemblers and fabricators have an important role in the manufacturing process. They assemble both finished products and the pieces that go into them. The products encompass a full range of manufactured products, including aircraft, toys, household appliances, automobiles, computers, and electronic devices.
Changes in technology have transformed the manufacturing and assembly process. Modern manufacturing systems use robots, computers, programmable motion-control devices, and various sensing technologies. These systems change the way in which goods are made and affect the jobs of those who make them. Advanced assemblers must be able to work with these new technologies and use them to manufacture goods.
The job of an assembler or fabricator requires a range of knowledge and skills. Skilled assemblers putting together complex machines, for example, read detailed schematics that show how to assemble the machine. After determining how parts should connect, they use hand or power tools to trim, shim, cut, and make other adjustments to fit components together. Once the parts are properly aligned, they connect them with bolts and screws or weld or solder pieces together.
Quality control is important throughout the assembly process, so assemblers look for faulty components and mistakes in the assembly process. They attempt to help fix problems before defective products are made.
Manufacturing techniques are moving away from traditional assembly line systems toward lean manufacturing systems, which use teams of workers to produce entire products or components. Lean manufacturing has changed the nature of the assemblers’ duties.
It has become more common to involve assemblers and fabricators in product development. Designers and engineers consult manufacturing workers during the design stage to improve product reliability and manufacturing efficiency. Some experienced assemblers work with designers and engineers to build prototypes or test products.
Although most assemblers and fabricators are classified as team assemblers, others specialize in producing one type of product or perform the same or similar tasks throughout the assembly process.
The following are examples of types of assemblers and fabricators:
Aircraft structure, surfaces, rigging, and systems assemblers fit, fasten, and install parts of airplanes, space vehicles, or missiles, such as wings, fuselage, landing gear, rigging and control equipment, or heating and ventilating systems.
Coil winders, tapers, and finishers wind wire coils of electrical components used in a variety of electric and electronic products, including resistors, transformers, generators, and electric motors.
Electrical and electronic equipment assemblers build products such as electric motors, computers, electronic control devices, and sensing equipment. Automated systems have been put in place because many small electronic parts are too small or fragile for human assembly. Much of the remaining work of electrical and electronic assemblers is done by hand during the small-scale production of electronic devices used in all types of aircraft, military systems, and medical equipment. Production by hand requires these workers to use devices such as soldering irons.
Electromechanical equipment assemblers assemble and modify electromechanical devices such as household appliances, computer tomography scanners, or vending machines. The workers use a variety of tools, such as rulers, rivet guns, and soldering irons.
Engine and machine assemblers construct, assemble, or rebuild engines, turbines, and machines used in automobiles, construction and mining equipment, and power generators.
Structural metal fabricators and fitters cut, align, and fit together structural metal parts and may help weld or rivet the parts together.
Fiberglass laminators and fabricators laminate layers of fiberglass on molds to form boat decks and hulls, bodies for golf carts, automobiles, or other products.
Team assemblers work on an assembly line, but they rotate through different tasks, rather than specializing in a single task. The team may decide how the work is assigned and how different tasks are done. Some aspects of lean production, such as rotating tasks and seeking worker input on improving the assembly process, are common to all assembly and fabrication occupations.
Timing device assemblers, adjusters, and calibrators do precision assembling or adjusting of timing devices within very narrow tolerances.
Assemblers and fabricators held about 1.8 million jobs in 2012; most of these jobs were in manufacturing industries.
Employment in the detailed occupations that make up assemblers and fabricators was distributed as follows:
|Assemblers and fabricators, all other||277,700|
|Electrical and electronic equipment assemblers||198,300|
|Structural metal fabricators and fitters||79,700|
|Electromechanical equipment assemblers||50,500|
|Engine and other machine assemblers||42,000|
|Aircraft structure, surfaces, rigging, and systems assemblers||41,500|
|Fiberglass laminators and fabricators||18,200|
|Coil winders, tapers, and finishers||14,400|
|Timing device assemblers and adjusters||1,200|
Most assemblers and fabricators work in manufacturing plants, and working conditions vary by plant and by industry. Many physically difficult tasks have been automated or made easier through the use of power tools, such as tightening massive bolts or moving heavy parts into position. Assembly work, however, may still involve long periods of standing, sitting, or working on ladders, such as in the shipbuilding industry.
Injuries and Illnesses
Some assemblers may come into contact with potentially harmful chemicals or fumes, but ventilation systems normally minimize any harmful effects. Other assemblers may come in contact with oil and grease, and their work areas may be noisy. Fiberglass laminators and fabricators are exposed to fiberglass, which may irritate the skin. Therefore, fiberglass workers must wear gloves and long sleeves and must use respirators for safety.
Most assemblers and fabricators are employed full time, sometimes working evenings and weekends.
The education level and qualifications needed to enter these jobs vary depending on the industry and employer. Although a high school diploma is enough for most jobs, experience and additional training is needed for more advanced assembly work.
Most employers require a high school diploma or the equivalent for assembler and fabricator positions.
Workers usually receive on-the-job training, sometimes including employer-sponsored technical instruction.
Some employers may require specialized training or an associate’s degree for the most skilled assembly and fabrication jobs. For example, jobs with electrical, electronic, and aircraft and motor vehicle products manufacturers typically require more formal education through technical schools. Apprenticeship programs are also available.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
The Fabricators & Manufacturers Association International (FMA) offers the Precision Sheet Metal Operator Certification (PSMO) and the Precision Press Brake Certification (PPB). Although not required, becoming certified can demonstrate competence and professionalism. It also may help a candidate advance in the profession.
In addition, many employers that hire electrical and electronic assembly workers, especially those in the aerospace and defense industries, require certifications in soldering, such as those offered by the Association Connecting Electronics Industries.
Color vision. Assemblers and fabricators who make electrical and electronic products must be able to distinguish different colors because the wires they work with often are color coded.
Dexterity. Assemblers and fabricators should have a steady hand and good hand-eye coordination, as they must grasp, manipulate, or assemble parts and components that are often very small.
Math skills. Assemblers and fabricators must know basic math and must be able to use computers, as the manufacturing process continues to advance technologically.
Mechanical skills. Modern production systems require assemblers and fabricators to be able to use programmable motion-control devices, computers, and robots on the factory floor.
Physical stamina. Assemblers and fabricators must be able to stand for long periods and perform repetitious work.
Physical strength. Assemblers and fabricators must be strong enough to lift heavy components or pieces of machinery. Some assemblers, such as those in the aerospace industry, must frequently bend or climb ladders when assembling parts.
Technical skills. Assemblers and fabricators must be able to understand technical manuals, blue prints, and schematics for a wide range of products and machines to properly manufacture the final product.
The median annual wage for assemblers and fabricators was $28,580 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount, and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $18,400, and the top 10 percent earned more than $48,110.
In May 2012, the median annual wages for assemblers and fabricators were as follows:
- $45,950 for aircraft structure, surfaces, rigging, and systems assemblers
- $36,110 for engine and other machine assemblers
- $35,750 for structural metal fabricators and fitters
- $31,460 for electromechanical equipment assemblers
- $30,840 for coil winders, tapers, and finishers
- $28,830 for fiberglass laminators and fabricators
- $28,810 for electrical and electronic equipment assemblers
- $27,640 for team assemblers
- $25,600 for timing device assemblers and adjusters
- $25,920 for assemblers and fabricators, all other
Wages vary by industry, geographic region, skill, education level, and complexity of the machinery operated.
Most assemblers and fabricators are employed full time, sometimes working evenings and weekends.
Employment of assemblers and fabricators is projected to grow 4 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations.
Within the manufacturing sector, employment of assemblers and fabricators will be determined largely by the growth or decline in the production of certain manufactured goods. In general, overall employment is not expected to grow as fast as all other occupations because many manufacturing sectors are expected to become more efficient and able to produce more with fewer workers.
However, some individual industries are projected to have more jobs than others. The aircraft products and parts manufacturing industry is projected to gain jobs over the decade as demand for new commercial planes grow significantly. Thus, the need for assemblers for aircraft structures, surfaces, rigging, and systems is expected to grow.
In most other manufacturing industries, improved processes, tools, and, in some cases, automation will reduce job growth. Automation will replace workers in operations with a large volume of simple, repetitive work.
However, automation is not expected to have a large effect on the assembly of products that are low in volume or very complicated. Intricate product manufacturing and complicated techniques often cannot be automated.
The use of team production techniques has been one factor in the continuing success of the manufacturing sector, boosting productivity and improving the quality of goods. Thus, while the number of assemblers overall is expected to decline in manufacturing, the number of team assemblers should grow as more manufacturing plants convert to team production techniques.
Some manufacturers have sent their assembly functions to countries where labor costs are lower. Decisions by U.S. corporations to move manufacturing to other nations may limit employment growth for assemblers in some industries.
The largest increase in the number of assemblers and fabricators is projected to be in the employment services industry, which supplies temporary workers to various industries. Temporary workers are gaining importance in the manufacturing sector and other sectors, as companies facing cost pressures strive for a more flexible workforce to meet fluctuations in the market.
Qualified applicants, including those with technical vocational training and certification, are likely to have the best job opportunities in the manufacturing sector, particularly in growing, high-technology industries, such as aerospace and electro-medical devices.
Some employers report difficulty finding qualified applicants looking for manufacturing employment. Many job openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who leave or retire from this large occupation.
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