Manufacturing depends upon tools, the dies, molds, jigs, gauges, fixtures and other equipment used to assemble every machine-made item in our modern world from the simplest paperclip to the most complicated aircraft. Who makes these tools? Tool and die makers.
Tool and die makers are the workers responsible for making and repairing manufacturing equipment, utilizing various types of machinery as well precision measurement instruments in the process, since in order to do what it is intended to do, often the equipment they make must be calibrated to exact proportions.
Tool and die makers work primarily in the metalworking industries, for companies that manufacture large machinery, transportation equipment, auto and truck parts, and fabricated metal and plastic products. As of 2008, there were approximately 84,300 tool and die makers in the United States.
Tool and Dye Maker: Salary Overview
Tool and die makers are among the highest paid workers in the skilled manufacturing production sector, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2009, the median wage for tool and dye makers in the United States was $22.55 an hour or $46,900 per year. The highest paid workers were those who worked in motor vehicle manufacturing who averaged $69,680 per year; the lowest paid were those who worked in auto parts manufacturing who averaged $56,370 per year.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
However the recent recession has had a negative effect on domestic manufacturing as a whole, and that includes the areas in which tool and die makers work. Though auto parts manufacturing may be one of the lowest paying industries to employ tool and die makers, it is also one of the industries with the highest number of jobs right now for members of this occupation.
Well over half of all tool and die makers in the United States belong to unions who work proactively on their members’ behalf to optimize salaries and benefit packages.
Tool and Dye Maker: Job Description and Outlook
Tool and dye makers work from engineering blueprints or computer-aided software design programs. They mark the design on the raw materials from which the equipment will be made and then cut and bore these materials to the required shape and size using hand tools such as files, as well as manually controlled, precision cutting tools such as lathes, milling machines, grinders and borers. Tool and die makers are also responsible for conducting test runs once the tool has been made to ensure that all parts meet specifications, making adjustments when necessary.
Among tool and die makers, there are a number of specializations:
- Toolmakers produce the machinery necessary for the manufacture of products. Frequently they will be called upon to create prototypes or custom tools, and their responsibilities also include modifying and repairing standard tools. Toolmakers must be able to work efficiently and safely around heavy machinery. Equipment they use most frequently in the course of their work includes metal forming rolls, lathe bits, milling cutters, and form tools.
- Die makers are toolmakers who specialize in the creation of equipment used to cut or shape raw materials. Die makers are called upon to be extremely precise in their measurements, and may be called upon to calibrate die sets to less than one thousandth of an inch.
- Jig makers are toolmakers who specialize in the creation of jigs, tools that are used to control the placement or operation of other tools. Jig makers build the machines used in robotics, welding, automation and mass production assembly lines.
- Moldmakers are toolmakers who specialize in creating the molds used in plastics injection molding, die casting and ceramics.
The number of jobs in the tool and dye manufacturing industries has been declining since 2001, and is expected to continue declining in the near future. However, experts see the field rebounding in future years as domestic manufacturing makes a comeback.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Tool and Dye Maker: Training and Education Requirements
While an increasing number of community colleges and technical schools offer programs for aspiring tool and die makers, most employers prefer to hire candidates who advanced the traditional way through a four or five year apprenticeship that combines paid hands-on experience with some classroom instruction. Prospective apprentices must be at least 18 years old, and have completed high school or its equivalent. State and federal Departments of Labor sponsor these apprenticeships, pairing candidates who are accepted with local businesses and educational institutions. Classroom coursework will emphasize mathematics including algebra, geometry, trigonometry and calculus, as well as the computer skills necessary for working with CAD/CAM software. Hands-on training will focus on learning how to use such tools as lathes, grinders, milling machines, and other metal-forming equipment, as well as hand tools such as files.
Tool and Dye Maker: Certifications
Upon completion of an apprenticeship program, state apprenticeship boards will certify tool and die makers as journeymen workers in their field of specialty. Graduates of community colleges or technical schools can also be credentialed by challenging the certification process successfully. While such certification is not a legal requirement of employment, most companies will not hire someone without this credential.
Tool and Dye Maker: Trade Associations
Trade associations for tool and die makers include the American Mold Builders Association, the American Welding Society, the Association for Manufacturing Technology, the Association for Rotational Molders, the International Special Tooling & Machining Association, the National Tooling and Machining Association, the North American Die Casting Association, and the Tooling & Manufacturing Association.
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