Heat Treatment Operator

The Job and What's Involved

Heat treatment operators are responsible for the machines and furnaces that apply heat treatments to clean, harden or temper metal and make it ready for use in products. The components produced are used in the construction of a range of items including cars, aircraft, trains, oil rigs and specialised items for the armed forces. Some are small components such as tools and cutting equipment, bearings and bicycle parts.

Heat treatment operators use and oversee a range of equipment, including:

- Vacuum Furnaces
- Gas Furnaces
- Oxyacetylene Torches
- Salt or Chemical Cleaning Baths

The specific duties involved in operating the machinery include:

  • Using computer-controlled equipment.
  • Setting times and temperatures, and making adjustments where necessary.
  • Using conveyor belts, hoists or forklift trucks to load the components ready for the furnaces.
  • Flame-hardening items.
  • Unloading the furnaces and dealing safely with any waste products.
  • Blasting components with a stream of shot to clean them.
  • Cooling (quenching) components in salt, oil or chemical baths.
  • Ensuring the machinery is in good repair, performing basic maintenance and calling for technical help if a problem arises.
  • Testing samples for quality.
  • Recording results on a computer.

Heat treatment operators typically work around 40 hours a week. They normally work shifts to provide 24-hour cover. Overtime opportunities may be available and weekend work is sometimes required.

Operators spend most of the time on their feet. They may have to occasionally lift and carry components, although this is usually carried out with the help of lifting equipment. Extractor fans remove harmful fumes, but the job may still involve working with hot furnaces and corrosive chemicals nearby. Protective clothing is provided when required.

Starting salaries for an apprentice may be in the region of £9,500 a year. Once trained, operators may earn up to £18,000 a year.

Experienced heat treatment operators in technical or managerial posts may earn up to £24,000.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

In the UK, the metals industry directly employs around 470,000 people, who produce, distribute and recycle over 16 billion tonnes of metal a year. Production is expected to grow by at least one per cent a year for the next 20 years.

Heat treatment operators work for various areas of the metals industry, and also for the manufacturing, engineering, construction, aviation, defence, automotive and petrochemical sectors. Some companies have in-house heat treatment plants, while other companies outsource work to specialist heat treatment firms.

Jobs are still mainly in the areas traditionally connected with the steel industry, in particular the Midlands and Yorkshire. MetSkill offers a complete service to recruit and train young people for employers in South Yorkshire and the West Midlands. There are also opportunities in North West and South East England, parts of Scotland, and London and Belfast.

Jobs may be advertised in local newspapers, in Jobcentre Plus offices and on the websites of individual employers.

Education and Training

Entrants usually start by pursuing an Apprenticeship. Formal qualifications are not necessary to become a heat treatment operator, although GCSE's (A*-C) in English, maths, ICT and science may be useful. The Diploma in engineering may be relevant for this area of work.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

Additional skills and qualifications such as a forklift licence, or previous manufacturing or engineering experience, may improve an individual's chances of moving into this area of work.

Due to health and safety regulations, some jobs are only available to people over 18.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Training is generally on the job and involves shadowing experienced members of staff under supervision. Employers provide training courses in relevant key skills such as health and safety awareness, and emergency first aid.

Apprenticeships are a combination of practical experience and day- or block-release study at college.

Apprentices usually work towards NVQ's and, in some cases, BTEC National and Higher National Awards and City & Guilds qualifications. Relevant NVQ's include:

  • NVQ Levels 1 and 2 in performing manufacturing operations.
  • NVQ Level 2 in performing engineering operations.
  • NVQ Levels 2 and 3 in materials processing and finishing, or metal processing and allied operations.
  • NVQ Levels 2 and 3 in technical services.

The Certificate of Metals Industry Awareness is also a recognised qualification for working in the metals industry.

The Wolfson Heat Treatment Centre offers a training course in understanding heat treatments for workers and supervisors.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Heat treatment operators should:

  • Be able to follow detailed instructions.
  • Have a responsible attitude towards safety.
  • Be physically fit.
  • Have excellent attention to detail.
  • Be able to use ICT.
  • Have mathematical and written skills to set equipment, complete forms and write reports.

Your Long Term Prospects

There may be opportunities for heat treatment operators to progress to technician or supervisory level.

Get Further Information

Engineering Connections - EEF West Midlands,
Reddings Lane, Tyseley, Birmingham,
West Midlands
Tel: 0121 7071414
Freephone 0800 917 1617
Website: www.apprentices.co.uk

The Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining,
1 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1Y 5DB
Tel: 020 7451 7300
Website: www.iom3.org

SEMTA (the Sector Skills Council for Science, Engineering
and Manufacturing Technologies),
14 Upton Road, Watford, Hertfordshire WD18 0JT
Tel: 01923 238441
Website: www.semta.org.uk

Women's Engineering Society
Tel: 01438 765506
Website: https://www.wes.org.uk/

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