Tumbling machine operator


Tumbling machine operators set up and operate tumbling machines, often wet or drie tumbling barrels, designed to remove excess material and burrs of heavy metal workpieces and precious metals and to improve surface appearance, by rotating the metal pieces in a barrel together with grit and potentially water, allowing for the friction between the pieces mutually and with the grit to cause a rounding, smooth effect.

Working conditions

Work schedules

Tumbling machine operators are employed full time. Some work more than 40 hours per week. Because many manufacturers run their machinery for extended periods, evening and weekend work is also common.

Injuries and illnesses

These workers often operate powerful, high-speed machines that can be dangerous and must observe safety rules. Operators usually wear protective equipment, such as safety glasses, earplugs, and steel-toed boots, to guard against flying particles of metal or plastic, machine noise, and heavy objects, respectively.

Other required safety equipment varies by work setting and machine. For example, respirators are common for those who work near materials that emit dangerous fumes or dust.

Other titles

The following job titles also refer to tumbling machine operator:

tub washer
machine washing operative
washer engineer
precipitate washer
washing machine operator
tub washer operative
production washer
deflash and wash operative
wash equipment operator
precipitate machine washer
washing machine operative
machine washer
production machine washer
machine washing operator
deflash and wash operator

Minimum qualifications

No formal educational credential is generally required to work as a tumbling machine operator.

ISCO skill level

ISCO skill level is defined as a function of the complexity and range of tasks and duties to be performed in an occupation. It is measured on a scale from 1 to 4, with 1 the lowest level and 4 the highest, by considering:

  • the nature of the work performed in an occupation in relation to the characteristic tasks and duties
  • the level of formal education required for competent performance of the tasks and duties involved and
  • the amount of informal on-the-job training and/or previous experience in a related occupation required for competent performance of these tasks and duties.

Tumbling machine operator is a Skill level 2 occupation.

Tumbling machine operator career path

Similar occupations

These occupations, although different, require a lot of knowledge and skills similar to tumbling machine operator.

metal polisher
chain making machine operator
nailing machine operator
laser marking machine operator

Long term prospects

These occupations require some skills and knowledge of tumbling machine operator. They also require other skills and knowledge, but at a higher ISCO skill level, meaning these occupations are accessible from a position of tumbling machine operator with a significant experience and/or extensive training.

automated assembly line operator
pulp control operator
metal production supervisor
welding inspector
product development engineering technician

Essential knowledge and skills

Essential knowledge

This knowledge should be acquired through learning to fulfill the role of tumbling machine operator.

  • Quality and cycle time optimisation: The most optimal rotation or cycle time and over-all quality of a tool or a machine’s processes.
  • Tumbling machine parts: Various parts of a tumbling machine, such as a deburr tub, tumbling barrel, tumbling compound and steel media ceramic polishing pins, their qualities and applications. 
  • Types of metal: Qualities, specifications, applications and reactions to different fabricating processes of various types of metal, such as steel, aluminium, brass, copper and others.
  • Quality standards: The national and international requirements, specifications and guidelines to ensure that products, services and processes are of good quality and fit for purpose.

Essential skills and competences

These skills are necessary for the role of tumbling machine operator.

  • Remove inadequate workpieces: Evaluate which deficient processed workpieces do not meet the set-up standard and should be removed and sort the waste according to regulations.
  • Troubleshoot: Identify operating problems, decide what to do about it and report accordingly.
  • Spot metal imperfections: Observe and identify various kinds of imperfections in metal workpieces or finished products. Recognise the best fitted manner of fixing the problem, which could be caused by corrosion, rust, fractures, leaks, and other signs of wear.
  • Remove processed workpiece: Remove individual workpieces after processing, from the manufacturing machine or the machine tool. In case of a conveyor belt this involves quick, continuous movement.
  • Monitor moving workpiece in a machine: Monitor the processing of a workpiece in motion, such as a piece of metal or wood moved linearly over a static manufacturing machine.
  • Perform test run: Perform tests putting a system, machine, tool or other equipment through a series of actions under actual operating conditions in order to assess its reliability and suitability to realise its tasks, and adjust settings accordingly.
  • Wear appropriate protective gear: Wear relevant and necessary protective gear, such as protective goggles or other eye protection, hard hats, safety gloves.
  • Ensure equipment availability: Ensure that the necessary equipment is provided, ready and available for use before start of procedures.
  • Monitor automated machines: Continuously check up on the automated machine’s set-up and execution or make regular control rounds. If necessary, record and interpret data on the operating conditions of installations and equipment in order to identify abnormalities.
  • Supply machine: Ensure the machine is fed the necessary and adequate materials and control the placement or automatic feed and retrieval of work pieces in the machines or machine tools on the production line.
  • Smooth burred surfaces: Inspect and smooth burred surfaces of steel and metal parts.
  • Tend tumbling machine: Tend a machine designed to smoothen metal or stone surfaces by having the different pieces rub against each other inside a tumbling barrel, monitor and operate it according to regulations.

Optional knowledge and skills

Optional knowledge

This knowledge is sometimes, but not always, required for the role of tumbling machine operator. However, mastering this knowledge allows you to have more opportunities for career development.

  • Wet tumbling: Process of tumbling, employing water and other agents inside a wet tumbling barrel to clean and remove burrs from metal parts and stones in order to smoothen them.
  • Manufacturing of cutlery: The manufacture of different cutlery items, such as forks, spoons, knives, razors or scissors.
  • Ferrous metal processing: Various processing methods on iron and iron-containing alloys such as steel, stainless steel and pig iron.
  • Characteristics of precious metals: Variations of precious metals according to density, corrosion resistance, electrical conductivity, light reflectivity and quality.
  • Manufacturing of metal assembly products: The manufacture of rivets, washers and similar non-threaded products, screw machine products, screws, nuts and similar threaded products.
  • Types of metal manufacturing processes: Metal processes linked to the different types of metal, such as casting processes, heat treatment processes, repair processes and other metal manufacturing processes.
  • Dry tumbling: The process of tumbling, not employing water to clean and remove burrs, but tumbling metal parts in a dry media and compound mixture in order to smoothen them, creating a hand-buffed appearance.
  • Metal smoothing technologies: The various technologies used for the smoothening, polishing and buffing of fabricated metal workpieces.
  • Processes performed by tumbling: The various usages of the metal tumbling process, such as the cleaning, burnishing, deburring, descaling, rust-removing, surface hardening, de-flashing, polishing, brightening, and others, of metal work pieces.
  • Precious metal processing: Various processing methods on precious metals such as gold, silver and platinum.

Optional skills and competences

These skills and competences are sometimes, but not always, required for the role of tumbling machine operator. However, mastering these skills and competences allows you to have more opportunities for career development.

  • Inspect quality of products: Use various techniques to ensure the product quality is respecting the quality standards and specifications. Oversee defects, packaging and sendbacks of products to different production departments.
  • Record production data for quality control: Keep records of the machine’s faults, interventions and irregularities for quality control.
  • Perform machine maintenance: Perform regular maintenance, possibly including corrections and alterations, on a machine or machine tool to ensure it remains in a proper productive state.
  • Provide advice to technicians: Offer advice to service technicians in case of machinery malfunctions and other technical repair tasks.
  • Measure flatness of a surface: Measure the evenness of a workpiece’s surface after it has been processed by checking for deviations from the desired perpendicular state.
  • Keep records of work progress: Maintain records of the progress of the work including time, defects, malfunctions, etc.

ISCO group and title

8122 – Metal finishing, plating and coating machine operators

  1. ESCO
  2. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Last updated on July 7, 2022

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