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Nature of the Work
* Tool and die makers learn their trade through 4 or 5 years of education and trainingformal apprenticeship, postsecondary programs, or informal on-the-job training.
* Advancements in automation will contribute to the projected decline in employment; nevertheless, jobseekers with the appropriate skills and background should enjoy excellent opportunities.
Tool and die makers are among the most highly-skilled production workers in the economy. These workers produce tools, dies, and special guiding and holding devices that enable machines to manufacture a variety of products we use dailyfrom 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 to designing and producing new tools and dies, these workers may also 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 must also be familiar with the machining properties, such as hardness and heat tolerance, of a wide variety of common metals and alloys. As a result, tool and die makers usually must have a much broader knowledge of machining operations, mathematics, and blueprint reading than most other machining workers.
Working from blueprints or instructions, tool and die makers 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, bore, or drill the part as required, checking the accuracy of what they have done to ensure that the final product meets specifications. Finally, these workers assemble the parts and perform finishing jobs such as filing, grinding, and smoothing surfaces.
Modern technology is helping to change the ways that tool and die makers perform their jobs. For example, these workers increasingly use computer-aided design (CAD) to develop products and parts. Specifications from the computer program can then be used to electronically develop drawings for the required tools and dies. The electronic drawings are then processed by a computer-aided manufacturing program to calculate cutting tool paths and the sequence of operations. Once these instructions are developed, computer numerically controlled (CNC) machines usually are used to produce the die. Programs can also be electronically stored and adapted for future use. This saves time and increases worker productivity.
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 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, as they often 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 weekend work are common, especially during peak production periods.
Tool and die makers held about 134,000 jobs in 1996. 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 4 or 5 years of education and trainingformal apprenticeship, 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. These programs are increasingly rare, however. A growing number of tool and die makers receive most of their formal training from community and technical colleges.
Tool and die maker trainees 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. In addition, 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. Tool and die makers increasingly must learn to use CAD technology and CNC machine tools.
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 commonthe 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 2006. Nevertheless, jobseekers with the appropriate skills and background should enjoy excellent opportunities, as employers across the Nation report difficulties in finding skilled workers to fill these positions. Many openings will be created each year by tool and die makers who retire. As more of these highly skilled workers retire, employers in certain parts of the country may face pronounced shortages. The shortage of new entrants in the field may be one of the factors retarding employment growth.
Apart from a shortage of new entrants, the projected decline in employment reflects advancements in automation, including CNC machine tools and computer-aided design. CNC machine tools have made tool and die makers more productive, while CAD and CAM have allowed some functions previously performed by 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. As firms invest in new equipment and modify production techniques, they will continue to rely heavily on skilled tool and die makers for retooling. 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.
The occupations most closely related to the work of tool and die makers are 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 National Tooling and Machining Association, 9300 Livingston Rd., Ft. Washington, MD 20744.
The Precision Machined Products Association, 6700 West Snowville Rd., Brecksville, OH 44141.
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