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Tool and die makers are highly skilled workers who produce tools, dies, and special guiding and holding devices that are used in machines that produce a variety of productsfrom clothing and furniture to heavy equipment and parts for aircraft.
Toolmakers craft precision tools which 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. Diemakers 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. In addition, tool and die makers may repair worn or damaged tools, dies, gauges, jigs, and fixtures, and design tools and dies.
Tool and die makers must have a much broader knowledge of machining operations, mathematics, and blueprint reading than most other machining workers. They use many types of machine tools and precision measuring instruments and must be familiar with the machining properties, such as hardness and heat tolerance, of a wide variety of common metals and alloys.
Working from blueprints or instructions, tool and die makers plan the sequence of operations necessary to manufacture the tool or die. They measure and mark the pieces of metal that will be cut to form parts of the final product. They then cut, bore, or drill the part as required. They also check the accuracy of what they have done to ensure that the final product will meet specifications. Then they assemble the parts and perform finishing jobs such as filing, grinding, and smoothing surfaces.
Modern technology is helping to change tool and die makers' jobs. Firms commonly use computer aided design (CAD) to develop products. Specifications from the computer program can then be used to develop designs electronically for the required tools and dies. The designs can then be sent to computer numerically controlled (CNC) machines to produce the die. Programs can also be electronically stored and adapted for future use. This saves time and increases productivity of the workers.
In shops that use numerically controlled (NC) machine tools, tool and die makers' duties may be slightly different. For example, although they still manually check and assemble the tool or die, each of its components may be produced on an NC machine. In addition, they often assist in the planning and writing of NC programs.
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. Machines have guards and shields that minimize the exposure of workers to moving parts. Tool and die makers, however, must follow safety rules and wear protective equipment, such as safety glasses to shield against bits of flying metal and earplugs to protect against noise. They also may be exposed to hazardous lubricants and cleaners. In addition, they spend much of the day on their feet and may do moderately heavy lifting.
Companies employing tool and die makers traditionally operate one shift per day. However, as the cost of new machinery and technology has increased, many employers now have more than one shift. Overtime and Saturday work are common, especially during peak production periods.
Tool and die makers held about 142,000 jobs in 1994. Most worked in industries that manufacture metalworking machinery and equipment, motor vehicles, aircraft, and plastics products. Although they are found throughout the country, jobs are most plentiful in the Midwest and Northeast, where many of the metalworking industries are located.
Tool and die makers learn their trade through formal apprenticeship and postsecondary programs or informal on-the-job training. The best way to learn all aspects of tool and die making, according to most employers, is a formal apprenticeship program that combines classroom instruction and job experience. A growing number of tool and die makers, however, receive most of their formal training from community colleges.
Courses in math, blueprint reading, metalworking, and drafting, as well as machine shop experience, provide a helpful background.
During the 4 or 5 years of a tool and die apprenticeship, apprentices learn to operate milling machines, lathes, grinders, and other machine tools. They also learn to use handtools in fitting and assembling tools, gauges, and other mechanical and metal forming equipment, and they study metalworking processes such as heat treating and plating. Classroom training usually consists of mathematics, mechanical drawing, tool designing, tool programming, and blueprint reading.
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. In fact, tool and die makers are often considered highly specialized machinists. (See the statement on machinists and tool programmers elsewhere in the Handbook.)
Because tools and dies must meet strict specificationsprecision to one ten-thousandth of an inch is not uncommonthe work of tool and die makers requires a high degree of patience and attention to detail. Good eyesight is essential. Persons entering this occupation should also be mechanically inclined, able to work independently, and capable of doing work that requires concentration and physical effort.
There are several ways for skilled workers to advance. Some move into supervisory and administrative positions in their firms; others become tool designers or tool programmers; and a few may open their own shops.
Employment of tool and die makers is expected to decline through the year 2005. Nevertheless, jobseekers with the appropriate skills and background should find excellent opportunities, as employers across the Nation report difficulties in finding skilled workers to hire as tool and die makers. Many openings will be created each year by tool and die makers who retire. Three out of 10 tool and die makers are 50 years or older. As older workers begin to leave the occupation in larger numbers, employers in certain parts of the country may face more pronounced shortages.
The projected decline in employment reflects advancements in automation, including computer numerically controlled machine tools and computer aided design. CNC machine tools have made tool and die makers more productive, while CAD has allowed some functions of these workers to be carried out by a computer and tool programmer. In addition, because precision metal products are a primary component of manufacturing machinery, increased imports of finished goods and precision metal products may lessen the demand for tool and die makers. These workers, however, are highly skilled and play a key role in the operation of many firms. This fact, coupled with a growing demand for motor vehicles, aircraft, machinery, and other products that use machined metal parts, should help to moderate the decline in employment.
Median weekly earnings for tool and die makers who worked full time were $660 in 1994. Most earned between $490 and $860 a week. Ten percent earned less than $380 a week, and the 10 percent with the highest weekly earnings made more than $1,130. In addition to their hourly wage, most workers receive health and life insurance, a pension plan, paid vacations, and sick leave.
The occupations most closely related to the work of tool and die makers are the other machining occupations. These include machinist, mold maker, instrument maker, metalworking and plastics-working machine operator, and tool programmer.
Other occupations that require precision and skill in working with metal include blacksmith, gunsmith, locksmith, metal patternmaker, and welder.
For general information about tool and die makers, contact:
The Association for Manufacturing Technology, 7901 Westpark Dr., McLean, VA 22102.
The National Tooling and Machining Association, 9300 Livingston Rd., Ft. Washington, MD 20744.
The Tooling and Manufacturing Association, ATTN: Education Department, 1177 South Dee Rd., Park Ridge IL 60068.
Precision Metalforming Association, 27027 Chardon Rd., Richmond Heights, OH 44143.
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