Press Brake Operator at work

What is a Press Brake Operator?

Press brake operators use press brake machines to bend and shape sheet and plate metal. Manufacturing companies hire press brake operators to work full time, primarily during first and second shifts, with some overtime required. Press brake operators work in factory environments and report directly to the shift supervisor. Press brake operators work in a team environment with many other workers and perform their duties inside the factory itself, rarely (if ever) traveling outside the factory in the course of a normal work day.

Daily Responsibilities

Daily work duties for press brake operators vary based on the manufacturing projects they work on and the various metals they use to make items. These core job tasks, however, are common across most work environments:

Shaping Metal

Press brake operators use the press brake machine to shape multiple types of metal, primarily sheet metal. To do so, the operators load pieces of metal into the machine for shaping or straightening, aligning and positioning the material to achieve specific shapes.

Press Brake Maintenance

Press brake operators set up and maintain the press brake machine to keep it in good working order. This includes changing the machine’s oil and filters and degreasing various parts of the press brake.

Reading Blueprints

Press brake operators read and follow detailed blueprints and schematics.

Sheet Metal Inspection

Press brake operators monitor sheet metal as it’s being shaped, inspecting pieces of fresh sheet metal for imperfections and overall quality.

Press Brake Operators Must Follow Safety Regulations

Press brake operators follow company, state, and federal safety regulations. This includes wearing proper protective equipment and keeping their work areas clean and well organized.

Skills and Qualifications Needed

Press brake operators load and run press brake machines to shape metal to exacting specifications, following precise calculations using their talents for mathematics and measuring. Employers seek press brake operators who have the following essential job skills:

  • Physical fitness – press brake operators work with their hands, lifting and moving large pieces of metal, and stand for hours at a time, all of which requires physical strength and stamina
  • Analytical thinking – press brake operators use analytical skills to monitor work processes and inspect various types of metal
  • Mathematics – press brake operators use math skills to read and interpret blueprints that contain precise measurements and to make the calculations necessary to shape metal to match these specific designs
  • Communication skills – press brake operators use verbal communication skills to work in a collaborative environment with other manufacturers and factory workers
  • Measuring – press brake operators work with multiple measuring tools and make precise measurements using metric and US measuring systems, which requires strong measuring skills
  • Time management – press brake operators use time management skills to work within deadlines and complete tasks efficiently
  • Computer skills – because the press brake machine accepts programmed instructions and many companies use digital work order systems, some knowledge of industry software and basic computer skills are a necessity

Tools of the Press Brake Operator

Press brake operators frequently work with the following tools:

  • Measuring tools (calipers, tape measures, micrometers, height gauges)
  • Hand tools (grinders, sanders)
  • Metals (aluminum, steel, stainless steel)

Education and Training

Many companies require candidates to have a high school diploma or GED. A majority of employers also seek press brake operators who have previous manufacturing or press brake experience.

Some training is provided to press brake operators, but this is not usually considered an entry-level job. Many employers expect press brake operators to have the necessary skills and knowledge to operate the press brake successfully, so training is typically brief. While in training, press brake operators are closely monitored by shift supervisors and may work with a senior press brake operator before performing tasks alone.