What Is a Plastic Extrusion Operator?

October 30, 2019

Extrusion operators, sometimes called extruding and drawing machine operators, control and monitor machines that shape thermoplastic materials. They work in a number of manufacturing industries, including general plastics manufacturing, automobile and automotive parts manufacturing, and aerospace manufacturing. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 74,490 extruding and drawing machine operators were employed in the United States in 2012.

Preparation Required

While some employers of plastic extrusion operators may hire candidates who don’t have a high school diploma or GED, many employers prefer to hire workers who do. Otherwise, there are no formal educational requirements for this job. However, new hires go through an on-the-job training process that involves starting with basic tasks, such as feeding the machine, under the supervision of experienced operators. As they learn more and more skills, they eventually begin to work independently. It can take a year or more to become highly skilled at operating an extruding machine.

Job Activities

Operating an extrusion machine requires workers to perform several basic tasks. In some cases, they must mix thermoplastic materials in the form of pellets or powder with colored dyes before feeding it into the extrusion machine. Extruding machine operators set the dials and controls on the machine to ensure that the created product is the right size, shape and thickness. Extruding machines are commonly used to produce items and shapes such as hoses, wires or tubes. Once the product is created, extruding machine operators measure and test it to make sure that it conforms to the requested specifications.

Average Pay

As of 2012, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that drawing and extruding machine operators earned an average wage of $16.37 per hour and an average salary of $34,060 per year. Half of all extruding machine operators reported wages ranging from $12.36 to $18.96 per hour, and annual salaries ranging from $25,720 to $39,440. Across the nation, average salaries by state ranged from a high of $52,610 in South Carolina to a low of $26,270 in New Mexico.

Job Outlook

Jobs in U.S. manufacturing have been disappearing the past few decades. Competition from manufacturers in foreign countries, many of whom supply manufactured goods more cheaply, and the increasing use of automation technology have combined to slow job growth in this sector. However, job seekers in manufacturing should benefit from the high rate of retirement expected over the next decade. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for extruding and drawing machine operators are expected to increase by 8 percent between 2010 and 2020, an increase of about 6,400 jobs.

2016 Salary Information for Metal and Plastic Machine Workers

Metal and plastic machine workers earned a median annual salary of $34,980 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, metal and plastic machine workers earned a 25th percentile salary of $27,980, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $43,770, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 1,039,600 people were employed in the U.S. as metal and plastic machine workers.

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