The Millwright

A history

Cartwright, Wheelwright, Boatwright, Arkwright – these names originated in the Middle Ages when English people first felt the need for more than just first names. For last names, many men took the names of their occupations. Wright means “worker” or “maker”. The first people who took these names made carts, wheels, boats and arks (chests). They manufactured these products by hand. While their names continue to exist, their occupation has for the most part disappeared.

The Industrial Revolution, which took manufacturing away from the home and the individual craftsman and made it a factory process, began in the British textile industry. Oddly enough, a man named Cartwright, another named Arkwright, and a group of craftsmen called Millwrights helped to bring about the downfall of their brother wrights. In 1769 Mr. Arkwright, a barber, patented the spinning frame. In 1785 Mr. Cartwright, a minister, patented the power loom. These two inventions made the factory manufacture of textiles possible. A group of occupational specialists, the Millwrights, built the new textile factories (or mills) and set up the machinery with them.

Today’s millwright no longer build mills, but they do move, install, dismantle, repair and maintain machinery in many kinds of factories. A millwright also works in power plants, pumping stations and nuclear reactors. The millwrights are versatile workers. They are machinists, mechanics, carpenters, cement masons and welders.

The majority of the millwright work is in factories that use heavy machinery and equipment. The automotive, steel machinery, paper, chemical and food & grain industries all utilize millwright. Some millwrights work for rigging companies (companies that move and install machinery on a contract basis). Some install machinery in customer’s plants for manufacturers.

The specific duties of millwrights depend on the company they work for. The millwright is a skilled craftsman with varied tasks.

If new equipment is to be installed in a factory, the millwrights’ job includes:

  1. Laying out and overseeing the construction of the concrete pad or platform that the equipment will be placed on.
  2. Unloading and moving the equipment to the point of installation;
  3. Placing the equipment on the pad or platform, leveling the equipment and bolting it in place;
  4. Assembling the remaining parts of the machinery, installing electric motors, shaft, belts and alignment of the equipment.

The varied work requires the millwright to use both knowledge and judgment. In building a foundation, installing machinery or assembling and hooking up parts they follow blueprints, diagrams and written or oral instructions. They must know if the pad or platform is of proper construction to suit the location and function of the equipment. They must understand the properties of concrete, wood, steel and other materials. To install the machinery they will probably need knowledge of hydraulics, electricity and pneumatics. Some jobs require welding.

Millwrights use not only the basic tools of carpentry, but a wide variety of precision tools to build, set and align machinery. Some of the precision tools used on the job include inside and outside diameter micrometers, laser opt-aligns, dial indicators and precision levels that measure within a tenth of a thousandths of an inch. In essence, millwrights are a combination of multiple trades acquiring many skills, such as welding and fabrication of metals, rigging for heavy loads involving several tons, possibly hundreds of tons.

Aside from the specific duties related to machine installation, experienced millwrights may be consulted about the future arrangement of machinery in a plant. They often assist industrial engineers in making the decision of how machines should be placed to assure efficient production procedures.

Machine installation is not the only part of the millwrights work. Millwrights also dismantle older equipment, move it and reassemble it in another location. They also install and repair bins, chutes, conveyors and other steel structures. A millwright can also do maintenance work which includes plumbing, pipe work, rough carpentry and painting. Millwrights may also install and repair metal handrails and platforms.

Working Conditions

Millwrights employed by companies that move and install equipment may find themselves in many situations and locations. One job may be in a laboratory, one in a printing plant, another in a pharmaceutical company or other industrial establishment. Sometimes they work with other millwrights, while other times they may work alone. When they have enough experience and knowledge they may be the foreman or supervisor.

Millwrights must supply all the necessary hand tools to do the job at hand. Upon completion of your four year apprentice program you will have approximately $4,000, or more, invested in your tools.

Millwright work is strenuous and can be hazardous. They must be careful to avoid accidents. Pinched fingers, cuts, bruises can result from moving and installing equipment. There is the possibility of falls from high places. Objects may fall from overhead and cause injury. Millwrights must use hard hats, steel toed shoes, safety harnesses, welding hoods, leather gloves and Z87 safety glasses.

Dirt and grease are part of the millwright’s environment. New machines come packed in grease to protect the metal. Old machines may be caked with grease combined with an accumulation of metal filings or similar debris.

Many millwrights continue to regard independence as one of the greatest advantages of their jobs, plus the opportunity to learn and use a variety of skills.

Personal Requirements

A millwright needs mechanical aptitude and ability. They must understand the structure and operation of industrial machinery in order to repair it. They must have all around skill in welding, sheet metal work, electrical repair and carpentry.

They must be able to read complicated blueprints and specifications. They must have a good mind for details and be able to use measuring instruments. They must be able to communicate well with other workers, both orally and through written directions.

Millwrights must be capable of making plans and solving problems on their own. They should enjoy constantly being faced with and finding answers to new situations. Millwrights must be able to both give and take orders.

Educational Requirements

Millwrights must have a high school diploma or GED. Courses in science, mathematics, mechanical drawing and woodworking are helpful. Shop courses relating to machine operation or repair are also valuable. Following high school an applicant must enter an organized apprenticeship training program with four years of classes and on the job training.