Metal and Plastic Machine Workers

Summary

metal and plastic machine workers image
Metal and plastic machine workers set up and operate automated and computer-controlled machinery.
Quick Facts: Metal and Plastic Machine Workers
2014 Median Pay $33,550 per year
$16.13 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education High school diploma or equivalent
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training See How to Become One
Number of Jobs, 2014 1,048,700
Job Outlook, 2014-24 -13% (Decline)
Employment Change, 2014-24 -133,900

What Metal and Plastic Machine Workers Do

Metal and plastic machine workers set up and operate machines that cut, shape, and form metal and plastic materials or pieces.

Work Environment

Metal and plastic machine workers are employed mainly in factories. Workers must adhere to safety standards to protect themselves from workplace hazards. Most work full time, and some work evenings and weekends.

How to Become a Metal or Plastic Machine Worker

A few months of on-the-job training is enough for most workers to learn basic machine operations, but 1 year or more is required to become proficient. Computer-controlled machine workers may need more training.

Pay

The median annual wage for metal and plastic machine workers was $33,550 in May 2014.

Job Outlook

Employment of metal and plastic machine workers is projected to decline 13 percent from 2014 to 2024. Employment is expected to decline due to advances in technology and foreign competition.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for metal and plastic machine workers.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of metal and plastic machine workers with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about metal and plastic machine workers by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Metal and Plastic Machine Workers Do About this section

Metal and plastic machine workers
Metal and plastic machine workers monitor and adjust machines during operation.

Metal and plastic machine workers set up and operate machines that cut, shape, and form metal and plastic materials or pieces.

Duties

Metal and plastic machine workers typically do the following:

  • Set up machines according to blueprints
  • Monitor machines for unusual sound or vibration
  • Insert material into machines, manually or with a hoist
  • Operate metal or plastic molding, casting, or coremaking machines
  • Adjust machine settings for temperature, cycle times, and speed and feed rates
  • Remove finished products and smooth rough edges and imperfections
  • Test and compare finished workpieces to specifications
  • Remove and replace dull cutting tools
  • Document production numbers in a computer database

Consumer products are made with many metal and plastic parts. These parts are produced by machines that are operated by metal and plastic machine workers. In general, these workers are separated into two groups: those who set up machines for operation and those who operate machines during production, however, many workers perform both tasks.

Although many workers both set up and operate machines, some specialize in one of the following job types:

Machine setters, or setup workers, prepare the machines before production, perform test runs, and, if necessary, adjust and make minor repairs to the machinery before and during operation.

If, for example, the cutting tool inside a machine becomes dull after extended use, it is common for a setter to remove the tool, use a grinder or file to sharpen it, and reinstall it into the machine. New tools are produced by tool and die makers.

After installing the tools into a machine, setup workers often produce the initial batch of goods, inspect the products, and turn the machine over to an operator.

Machine operators and tenders monitor the machinery during operation.

After a setter prepares a machine for production, an operator observes the machine and the products it makes. Operators may have to load the machine with materials for production or adjust the machine’s speeds during production. They must periodically inspect the parts a machine produces. If they detect a minor problem, operators may fix it themselves. If the repair is more serious, they may have an industrial machinery mechanic fix it.

Setters, operators, and tenders are usually identified by the type of machine they work with. Job duties generally vary with the size of the manufacturer and the type of machine being operated. Although some workers specialize in one or two types of machinery, many are trained to set up or operate a variety of machines. Machine operators are often able to control multiple machines at the same time because of increased automation.

In addition, new production techniques, such as team-oriented “lean” manufacturing, require machine operators to rotate between different machines. Rotating assignments results in more varied work but also requires workers to have a wide range of skills.

Computer-controlled machine tool operators operate computer-controlled machines or robots to perform functions on metal or plastic workpieces.

Computer numerically controlled machine tool programmers develop computer programs to control the machining or processing of metal or plastic parts by automatic machine tools, equipment, or systems.

Extruding and drawing machine setters, operators, and tenders set up or operate machines to extrude (pull out) thermoplastic or metal materials in the form of tubes, rods, hoses, wire, bars, or structural shapes.

Forging machine setters, operators, and tenders set up or operate machines that shape or form metal or plastic parts.

Rolling machine setters, operators, and tenders set up or operate machines to roll steel or plastic or to flatten, temper, or reduce the thickness of materials.

Cutting, punching, and press machine setters, operators, and tenders set up or operate machines to saw, cut, shear, notch, bend, or straighten metal or plastic materials.

Drilling and boring machine tool setters, operators, and tenders set up or operate drilling machines to drill, bore, mill, or countersink metal or plastic workpieces.

Grinding, lapping, polishing, and buffing machine tool setters, operators, and tenders set up or operate grinding and related tools that remove excess material from surfaces, sharpen edges or corners, or buff or polish metal or plastic workpieces.

Lathe and turning machine tool setters, operators, and tenders set up or operate lathe and turning machines to turn, bore, thread, or form metal or plastic materials, such as wire or rod.

Milling and planing machine setters, operators, and tenders set up or operate milling or planing machines to shape, groove, or profile metal or plastic workpieces.

Metal-refining furnace operators and tenders operate or tend furnaces, such as gas, oil, coal, electric-arc or electric induction, open-hearth, and oxygen furnaces. These furnaces may be used to melt and refine metal before casting or to produce specified types of steel.

Pourers and casters operate hand-controlled mechanisms to pour and regulate the flow of molten metal into molds to produce castings or ingots.

Model makers set up and operate machines, such as milling and engraving machines to make working models of metal or plastic objects.

Patternmakers lay out, machine, fit, and assemble castings and parts to metal or plastic foundry patterns and core molds.

Foundry mold and coremakers make or form wax or sand cores or molds used in the production of metal castings in foundries.

Molding, coremaking, and casting machine setters, operators, and tenders set up or operate metal or plastic molding, casting, or coremaking machines to mold or cast metal or thermoplastic parts or products.

Multiple machine tool setters, operators, and tenders set up or operate more than one type of cutting or forming machine tool or robot.

Welding, soldering, and brazing machine setters, operators, and tenders (including workers who operate laser cutters or laser-beam machines) set up or operate welding, soldering, or brazing machines or robots that weld, braze, solder, or heat treat metal products, components, or assemblies.

Heat treating equipment setters, operators, and tenders set up or operate heating equipment, such as heat treating furnaces, flame-hardening machines, induction machines, soaking pits, or vacuum equipment, to temper, harden, anneal, or heat-treat metal or plastic objects.

Plating and coating machine setters, operators, and tenders set up or operate plating or coating machines to coat metal or plastic products with zinc, copper, nickel, or some other metal to protect or decorate surfaces (includes electrolytic processes).

Work Environment About this section

Metal and plastic machine workers
Metal and plastic machine workers usually wear protective equipment, such as safety glasses.

Metal and plastic machine workers held about 1 million jobs in 2014. Nearly all worked in manufacturing industries.

Employment in the detailed occupations that make up this group was distributed as follows in 2014:

Cutting, punching, and press machine setters, operators,
and tenders, metal and plastic
192,200
Computer-controlled machine tool operators, metal and plastic 148,800
Molding, coremaking, and casting machine setters, operators,
and tenders, metal and plastic
129,500
Multiple machine tool setters, operators, and tenders,
metal and plastic
99,800
Extruding and drawing machine setters, operators, and tenders,
metal and plastic
73,400
Grinding, lapping, polishing, and buffing machine tool setters,
operators, and tenders, metal and plastic
71,400
Welding, soldering, and brazing machine setters, operators,
and tenders
59,500
Lathe and turning machine tool setters, operators, and tenders,
metal and plastic
42,900
Plating and coating machine setters, operators, and tenders,
metal and plastic
36,100
Rolling machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 33,700
Computer numerically controlled machine tool programmers,
metal and plastic
25,100
Milling and planing machine setters, operators, and tenders,
metal and plastic
22,400
Forging machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 21,600
Heat treating equipment setters, operators, and tenders,
metal and plastic
21,300
Metal-refining furnace operators and tenders 21,200
Drilling and boring machine tool setters, operators, and tenders,
metal and plastic
17,800
Foundry mold and coremakers 12,000
Pourers and casters, metal 9,800
Model makers, metal and plastic 6,200
Patternmakers, metal and plastic 3,800

Metal and plastic machine workers are employed mostly in factories.

These workers often operate powerful, high-speed machines that can be dangerous, so they must observe safety rules. Operators usually wear protective equipment, such as safety glasses, earplugs, and steel-toed boots to protect them from 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 in the plastics industry who work near materials that emit dangerous fumes or dust.

Work Schedules

Most metal and plastic machine workers are employed full time. Overtime is common, and because many manufacturers run their machinery for extended periods, evening and weekend work is also common.

How to Become a Metal or Plastic Machine Worker About this section

Metal and plastic machine workers
Metal and plastic machine workers must be able to stand for long periods and perform repetitive work.

A few months of on-the-job training is enough for most workers to learn basic machine operations, but 1 year or more is required to become proficient. Computer-controlled machine workers may need more training.

Education

Employers prefer metal and plastic machine workers who have a high school diploma. Prospective workers can improve their employment opportunities by completing high school courses in computer programming and vocational technology, and by gaining a working knowledge of the properties of metals and plastics. Having a sturdy math background, including taking courses in algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and basic statistics, is also useful.

Some community colleges and other schools offer courses and certificate programs in operating metal and plastics machines.

Training

Machine operator trainees usually begin by watching and helping experienced workers on the job. Under supervision, they may start by supplying materials, starting and stopping the machines, or by removing finished products. Then they advance to more difficult tasks that operators perform, such as adjusting feed speeds, changing cutting tools, and inspecting a finished product for defects. Eventually, some develop the skills and experience to set up machines and help newer operators.

The complexity of the equipment usually determines the time required to become an operator. Some operators and tenders learn basic machine operations and functions in a few months, but other workers, such as computer-controlled machine tool operators, may need a year or more to become proficient.

Some employers prefer to hire workers who either have completed or are enrolled in a training program.

As the manufacturing process continues to utilize more computerized machinery, knowledge of computer-aided design (CAD), computer-aided manufacturing (CAM), and computer numerically controlled (CNC) machines can be helpful.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Certification can show competence and professionalism and can be helpful for advancement. The National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS) offers certification in numerous metalworking specializations.

Advancement

Advancement usually includes higher pay and more responsibilities. With experience and expertise, workers can become trainees for more advanced positions. It is common for machine operators to move into setup or machinery maintenance positions. Setup workers may become industrial machinery mechanics and maintenance workers, or machinists or tool and die makers.

Experienced workers with good communication and analytical skills may move into supervisory positions.

Important Qualities

Computer skills. Metal and plastic machine workers must often be able to use programmable devices, computers, and robots on the factory floor.

Dexterity. Metal and plastic machine workers who work in metal and plastic machined goods manufacturing use precise hand movements to make the necessary shapes, cuts, and edges that designs require.

Mechanical skills. Metal and plastic machine workers set up and operate machinery. They must be comfortable working with machines and have a good understanding of how the machines and all their parts work.

Physical stamina. Metal and plastic machine workers must be able to stand for long periods and perform repetitive work.

Physical strength. Metal and plastic machine workers must be strong enough to guide and load heavy and bulky parts and materials into machines.

Pay About this section

Metal and Plastic Machine Workers

Median annual wages, May 2014

Total, all occupations

$35,540

Metal and plastic machine workers

$33,550

Production occupations

$31,720

 

The median annual wage for metal and plastic machine workers was $33,550 in May 2014. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $21,400, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $51,720.

Median annual wages for metal and plastic machine workers in May 2014 were as follows:

Computer numerically controlled machine tool programmers, metal and plastic $47,500
Model makers, metal and plastic 46,180
Patternmakers, metal and plastic 41,390
Metal-refining furnace operators and tenders 41,140
Rolling machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 39,900
Milling and planing machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 37,100
Computer-controlled machine tool operators, metal and plastic 36,440
Lathe and turning machine tool setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 36,260
Heat treating equipment setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 35,320
Welding, soldering, and brazing machine setters, operators, and tenders 35,180
Drilling and boring machine tool setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 34,500
Multiple machine tool setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 34,140
Forging machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 33,710
Grinding, lapping, polishing, and buffing machine tool setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 32,660
Extruding and drawing machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 32,610
Pourers and casters, metal 32,410
Foundry mold and coremakers 31,340
Cutting, punching, and press machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 30,680
Plating and coating machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 30,210
Molding, coremaking, and casting machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic 28,810

Wages vary by the size of the company, union status, industry, abilities, and experience of the operator.

Most metal and plastic machine workers are employed full time. Overtime is common, and because many manufacturers run their machinery for extended periods, evening and weekend work also is common.

Job Outlook About this section

Metal and Plastic Machine Workers

Percent change in employment, projected 2014-24

Total, all occupations

7%

Production occupations

-3%

Metal and plastic machine workers

-13%

 

Employment of metal and plastic machine workers is projected to decline 13 percent from 2014 to 2024. Employment declines stem from advances in technology and foreign competition.

One of the most important factors influencing employment of these occupations is the use of labor-saving machinery. Many firms are adopting technologies such as computer numerically controlled (CNC) machine tools and robots to improve quality and lower production costs. The switch to CNC machinery requires computer programmers instead of machine setters, operators, and tenders. Therefore, demand for manual machine tool operators and tenders is likely to be reduced by these new technologies, and conversely, demand for CNC machine programmers is expected to be strong.

The demand for metal and plastic machine workers is also affected by the demand for the parts they produce. Both the plastic and metal manufacturing industries face foreign competition that limits the orders for parts produced in this country. Some U.S. manufacturers have sent their production to foreign countries, reducing jobs for machine setters and operators. However, some companies are bringing jobs back to the United States from overseas, and this is expected to continue over the coming decade.

Job Prospects

Workers who are able to operate CNC machines are expected to have the best job prospects. Workers who have an extensive background in machine operations, industry certifications, and good knowledge of the properties of metals and plastics should also have good job opportunities.

A high number of job openings should be created by the need to replace workers who leave these occupations.

Employment projections data for metal and plastic machine workers, 2014-24
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Metal and plastic machine workers

1,048,700 914,700 -13 -133,900

Computer-controlled machine tool operators, metal and plastic

51-4011 148,800 174,800 17 26,000 [XLSX]

Computer numerically controlled machine tool programmers, metal and plastic

51-4012 25,100 29,900 19 4,800 [XLSX]

Extruding and drawing machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic

51-4021 73,400 55,500 -24 -17,900 [XLSX]

Forging machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic

51-4022 21,600 17,000 -21 -4,600 [XLSX]

Rolling machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic

51-4023 33,700 29,100 -14 -4,600 [XLSX]

Cutting, punching, and press machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic

51-4031 192,200 152,700 -21 -39,500 [XLSX]

Drilling and boring machine tool setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic

51-4032 17,800 14,100 -21 -3,700 [XLSX]

Grinding, lapping, polishing, and buffing machine tool setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic

51-4033 71,400 55,800 -22 -15,700 [XLSX]

Lathe and turning machine tool setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic

51-4034 42,900 34,300 -20 -8,600 [XLSX]

Milling and planing machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic

51-4035 22,400 17,800 -21 -4,600 [XLSX]

Metal-refining furnace operators and tenders

51-4051 21,200 20,200 -5 -1,000 [XLSX]

Pourers and casters, metal

51-4052 9,800 7,200 -27 -2,600 [XLSX]

Model makers, metal and plastic

51-4061 6,200 4,900 -22 -1,300 [XLSX]

Patternmakers, metal and plastic

51-4062 3,800 2,900 -23 -900 [XLSX]

Foundry mold and coremakers

51-4071 12,000 8,700 -28 -3,300 [XLSX]

Molding, coremaking, and casting machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic

51-4072 129,500 97,200 -25 -32,300 [XLSX]

Multiple machine tool setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic

51-4081 99,800 97,300 -2 -2,500 [XLSX]

Welding, soldering, and brazing machine setters, operators, and tenders

51-4122 59,500 48,800 -18 -10,700 [XLSX]

Heat treating equipment setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic

51-4191 21,300 17,200 -20 -4,200 [XLSX]

Plating and coating machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic

51-4193 36,100 29,400 -18 -6,700 [XLSX]

State & Area Data About this section

Occupational Employment Statistics (OES)

The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OES data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.com. Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.

Career InfoNet

America’s Career InfoNet includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

Similar Occupations About this section

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of metal and plastic machine workers.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION Help 2014 MEDIAN PAY Help
Assemblers and fabricators

Assemblers and Fabricators

Assemblers and fabricators assemble finished products and the parts that go into them. They use tools, machines, and their hands to make engines, computers, aircraft, ships, boats, toys, electronic devices, control panels, and more.

High school diploma or equivalent $29,280
Computer programmers

Computer Programmers

Computer programmers write and test code that allows computer applications and software programs to function properly. They turn the program designs created by software developers and engineers into instructions that a computer can follow.

Bachelor's degree $77,550
Industrial machinery mechanics and maintenance workers

Industrial Machinery Mechanics, Machinery Maintenance Workers, and Millwrights

Industrial machinery mechanics and machinery maintenance workers maintain and repair factory equipment and other industrial machinery, such as conveying systems, production machinery, and packaging equipment. Millwrights install, dismantle, repair, reassemble, and move machinery in factories, power plants, and construction sites.

High school diploma or equivalent $47,450
Machinists and tool and die makers

Machinists and Tool and Die Makers

Machinists and tool and die makers set up and operate a variety of computer-controlled and mechanically controlled machine tools to produce precision metal parts, instruments, and tools.

High school diploma or equivalent $41,510
Painting and coating workers

Painting and Coating Workers

Painting and coating workers paint and coat, often with machines, a wide range of products, including cars, jewelry, and ceramics.

See How to Become One $33,740

Contacts for More Information About this section

For more information about metal and plastic machine workers, including training and certification, visit 

Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, International (FMA)

National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS)

For information about manufacturing careers, machinery, and equipment, visit

Association for Manufacturing Technology (AMT)

National Tooling and Machining Association (NTMA)

Precision Machined Products Association (PMPA)

Precision Metalforming Association (PMA)

O*NET

Computer Numerically Controlled Machine Tool Programmers, Metal and Plastic

Computer-Controlled Machine Tool Operators, Metal and Plastic

Cutting, Punching, and Press Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Metal and Plastic

Drilling and Boring Machine Tool Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Metal and Plastic

Extruding and Drawing Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Metal and Plastic

Forging Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Metal and Plastic

Foundry Mold and Coremakers

Grinding, Lapping, Polishing, and Buffing Machine Tool Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Metal and Plastic

Heat Treating Equipment Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Metal and Plastic

Lathe and Turning Machine Tool Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Metal and Plastic

Metal-Refining Furnace Operators and Tenders

Milling and Planing Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Metal and Plastic

Model Makers, Metal and Plastic

Molding, Coremaking, and Casting Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Metal and Plastic

Multiple Machine Tool Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Metal and Plastic

Patternmakers, Metal and Plastic

Plating and Coating Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Metal and Plastic

Pourers and Casters, Metal

Rolling Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Metal and Plastic

Welding, Soldering, and Brazing Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Metal and Plastic Machine Workers,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/production/metal-and-plastic-machine-workers.htm (visited February 06, 2016).

Publish Date: Thursday, December 17, 2015

What They Do

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Work Environment

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State & Area Data

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Job Outlook

The Job Outlook tab describes the factors that affect employment growth or decline in the occupation, and in some instances, describes the relationship between the number of job seekers and the number of job openings.

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Contacts for More Information

The More Information tab provides the Internet addresses of associations, government agencies, unions, and other organizations that can provide additional information on the occupation. This tab also includes links to relevant occupational information from the Occupational Information Network (O*NET).

2014 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey. In May 2014, the median annual wage for all workers was $35,540.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

Work experience in a related occupation

Work experience that is commonly considered necessary by employers, or is a commonly accepted substitute for more formal types of training or education.

Number of Jobs, 2014

The employment, or size, of this occupation in 2014, which is the base year of the 2014-24 employment projections.

Job Outlook, 2014-24

The projected percent change in employment from 2014 to 2024. The average growth rate for all occupations is 7 percent.

Employment Change, 2014-24

The projected numeric change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Employment Change, projected 2014-24

The projected numeric change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

Growth Rate (Projected)

The percent change of employment for each occupation from 2014 to 2024.

Projected Number of New Jobs

The projected numeric change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

Projected Growth Rate

The projected percent change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

2014 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey. In May 2014, the median annual wage for all workers was $35,547.