Tool and Die Makers
- Most tool and die makers train for 4 or 5 years in apprenticeships
or postsecondary programs; employers typically recommend apprenticeship
- Employment is projected to decline because of strong foreign
competition and advancements in automation.
- Excellent job opportunities are expected; employers in certain
parts of the country report difficulty attracting well-trained
Tool and die makers are among the most highly skilled workers
in manufacturing. These workers produce tools, dies, and special
guiding and holding devices that enable machines to manufacture
a variety of products we use daily—from clothing and furniture
to heavy equipment and parts for aircraft.
Toolmakers craft precision tools and machines that are used to
cut, shape, and form metal and other materials. They also produce
jigs and fixtures (devices that hold metal while it is bored,
stamped, or drilled) and gauges and other measuring devices. Die
makers construct metal forms (dies) that are used to shape metal
in stamping and forging operations. They also make metal molds
for diecasting and for molding plastics, ceramics, and composite
materials. Some tool and die makers craft prototypes of parts,
and then, working with engineers and designers, determine how
best to manufacture the part. In addition to developing, designing,
and producing new tools and dies, these workers also may repair
worn or damaged tools, dies, gauges, jigs, and fixtures.
To perform these functions, tool and die makers employ many types
of machine tools and precision measuring instruments. They also
must be familiar with the machining properties, such as hardness
and heat tolerance, of a wide variety of common metals, alloys,
plastics, ceramics, and other composite materials. As a result,
tool and die makers are knowledgeable in machining operations,
mathematics, and blueprint reading. In fact, tool and die makers
often are considered highly specialized machinists. The main difference
between tool and die makers and machinists is that machinists
normally make a single part during the production process, while
tool and die makers make parts and assemble and adjust machines
used in the production process. (See the statement on machinists elsewhere in the Handbook.)
Traditionally, tool and die makers, working from blueprints,
first must plan the sequence of operations necessary to manufacture
the tool or die. Next, they measure and mark the pieces of metal
that will be cut to form parts of the final product. At this point,
tool and die makers cut, drill, or bore the part as required,
checking to ensure that the final product meets specifications.
Finally, these workers assemble the parts and perform finishing
jobs such as filing, grinding, and polishing surfaces. While manual
machining has declined, companies still employ it for some simple
and low-quantity parts.
Most tool and die makers today use computer-aided design (CAD)
to develop products and parts. Specifications entered into computer
programs can be used to electronically develop blueprints for
the required tools and dies. Numerical tool and process control
programmers use computer-aided design or computer-aided manufacturing
(CAD/CAM) programs to convert electronic drawings into CAM-based
computer programs that contain instructions for a sequence of
cutting tool operations. (See the statement on computer control
programmers and operators elsewhere in the Handbook.) Once
these programs are developed, computer numerically controlled
(CNC) machines follow the set of instructions contained in the
program to produce the part. Computer-controlled machine tool
operators or machinists normally operate CNC machines; however,
tool and die makers are trained in both operating CNC machines
and writing CNC programs, and they may perform either task. CNC
programs are stored electronically for future use, saving time
and increasing worker productivity.
After machining the parts, tool and die makers carefully check
the accuracy of the parts using many tools, including coordinate
measuring machines (CMM), which use software and sensor arms to
compare the dimensions of the part to electronic blueprints. Next,
they assemble the different parts into a functioning machine.
They file, grind, shim, and adjust the different parts to properly
fit them together. Finally, the tool and die makers set up a test
run using the tools or dies they have made to make sure that the
manufactured parts meet specifications. If problems occur, they
compensate by adjusting the tools or dies.
Tool and die makers usually work in toolrooms. These areas are
quieter than the production floor because there are fewer machines
in use at one time. They also are generally kept clean and cool
to minimize heat-related expansion of metal workpieces and to
accommodate the growing number of computer-operated machines.
To minimize the exposure of workers to moving parts, machines
have guards and shields. Most computer-controlled machines are
totally enclosed, minimizing the exposure of workers to noise,
dust, and the lubricants used to cool workpieces during machining.
Tool and die makers also must follow safety rules and wear protective
equipment, such as safety glasses to shield against bits of flying
metal, earplugs to protect against noise, and gloves and masks
to reduce exposure to hazardous lubricants and cleaners. These
workers also need stamina because they often spend much of the
day on their feet and may do moderately heavy lifting.
Companies employing tool and die makers have traditionally operated
only one shift per day. Overtime and weekend work are common,
especially during peak production periods.
|Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Most tool and die makers learn their trade through 4 or 5 years
of education and training in formal apprenticeships or postsecondary
programs. Apprenticeship programs include a mix of classroom instruction
and on-the-job-training. According to most employers these apprenticeship
programs are the best way to learn all aspects of tool and die
making. A number of tool and die makers receive most of their
formal classroom training from community and technical colleges,
often in conjunction with an apprenticeship program.
Traditional apprenticeship programs allowed workers to advance
by completing a set number of hours of on-the-job-training and
successfully completing specific courses. The National Institute
of Metalworking Skills (NIMS) is developing new standards that
would replace the required number of hours with competency- based
tests. Whether competency tests will change the length of the
traditional training process will probably depend upon the apprentice’s
prior experience, dedication, and natural ability. However, the
required training courses for a journeyman tool and die maker
will continue to take 4-5 years to complete.
Even after completing the apprenticeship, tool and die makers
still need years of experience to become highly skilled. Most
specialize in making certain types of tools, molds, or dies.
Tool and die maker trainees learn to operate milling machines,
lathes, grinders, wire electrical discharge machines, and other
machine tools. They also learn to use handtools for fitting and
assembling gauges, and other mechanical and metal-forming equipment.
In addition, they study metalworking processes, such as heat treating
and plating. Classroom training usually consists of tool designing,
tool programming, blueprint reading, and, if needed, mathematics
courses, including algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and basic
statistics. Tool and die makers increasingly must have good computer
skills to work with CAD/CAM technology, CNC machine tools, and
computerized measuring machines.
Workers who become tool and die makers without completing formal
apprenticeships generally acquire their skills through a combination
of informal on-the-job training and classroom instruction at a
vocational school or community college. They often begin as machine
operators and gradually take on more difficult assignments. Many
machinists become tool and die makers.
Because tools and dies must meet strict specifications—precision
to one ten-thousandth of an inch is common—the work of tool and
die makers requires skill with precision measuring devices and
a high degree of patience and attention to detail. Good eyesight
is essential. Persons entering this occupation also should be
mechanically inclined, able to work and solve problems independently,
have strong mathematical skills, and be capable of doing work
that requires concentration and physical effort.
Employers generally look for someone with a strong educational
background as an indication that the person can more easily adapt
to change, which is a constant in this occupation. As automation
continues to change the way tools and dies are made, workers regularly
need to update their skills in order to learn how to operate new
equipment. Also, as materials such as alloys, ceramics, polymers,
and plastics are increasingly used, tool and die makers need to
learn new machining techniques to deal with the new materials.
There are several ways for skilled workers to advance. Some move
into supervisory and administrative positions in their firms or
they may start their own shop. Others may take computer courses
and become computer-controlled machine tool programmers. With
a college degree, a tool and die maker can go into engineering
or tool design.
Tool and die makers held about 103,000 jobs in 2004. Most worked
in industries that manufacture metalworking machinery, transportation
equipment (such as motor vehicle parts and aerospace products),
and fabricated metal products, as well as plastics product manufacturing.
Although they are found throughout the country, jobs are most
plentiful in the Midwest, Northeast, and West, where many of the
metalworking industries are located
Despite declining employment, excellent job opportunities are
expected. Employers in certain parts of the country report difficulty
attracting qualified applicants. The number of workers receiving
training in this occupation is expected to continue to be fewer
than the number of openings created each year by tool and die
makers who retire or transfer to other occupations. A major factor
limiting the number of people entering the occupation is that
many young people who have the educational and personal qualifications
necessary to learn tool and die making may prefer to attend college
or may not wish to enter production occupations.
Employment of tool and die makers is projected to decline over
the 2004-14 period because of strong foreign competition and advancements
in automation, including CNC machine tools and computer-aided
design, that should improve worker productivity. On the other
hand, tool and die makers play a key role in building and maintaining
advanced automated manufacturing equipment. As firms invest in
new equipment, modify production techniques, and implement product
design changes more rapidly, they will continue to rely heavily
on skilled tool and die makers for retooling.
Median hourly earnings of tool and die makers were $20.55 in
May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $16.70 and $25.93.
The lowest 10 percent had earnings of less than $13.57, while
the top 10 percent earned more than $31.19. Median hourly earnings
in the manufacturing industries employing the largest numbers
of tool and die makers in May 2004 are:
|Motor vehicle parts manufacturing
|Plastics product manufacturing
|Forging and stamping
|Metalworking machinery manufacturing
|Machine shops; turned product; and screw,
nut, and bolt manufacturing
Apprentice’s pay is tied to their skill level. As they gain more
skills and reach specific levels of performance and experience,
their pay increases.
The occupations most closely related to the work of tool and
die makers are other machining occupations. These include machinists;
computer control programmers and operators; and machine setters,
operators, and tenders—metal and plastic. Another occupation that
requires precision and skill in working with metal is welding,
soldering, and brazing workers.
Like tool and die makers, assemblers and fabricators assemble
complex machinery. When measuring parts, tool and die makers use
some of the same tools and equipment that inspectors, testers,
sorters, samplers, and weighers use in their jobs.
|Sources of Additional Information
For career information and to have inquiries on training and
employment referred to member companies, contact:
- Precision Machine Products Association, 6700 West Snowville
Rd., Brecksville, OH 44141-3292. Internet: http://www.pmpa.org/
For lists of schools and employers with tool and die apprenticeship
and training programs, contact:
- National Tooling and Machining Association, 9300 Livingston
Rd., Ft. Washington, MD 20744. Internet: http://www.ntma.org/
For information on careers, education and training, earnings,
and apprenticeship opportunities in metalworking, contact:
- Precision Metalforming Association Educational Foundation,
6363 Oak Tree Blvd., Independence, OH 44131-2500.
of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational
Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition