The Tool & Die Maker
If you’ve met The Machinist … it’s time to meet the Tool and Die Maker. The work is similar, but tool making and die making are often considered a specialty or expertise within machining.
Tool and die makers are super important to manufacturing. They make tools and dies (OK, you probably knew that), which are used to build, shape or mold other pieces. Since these workers make the pieces that make the other pieces, they have a lot of influence — which means they have to be extra skilled at what they do!
- The Toolmaker. Sometimes toolmakers create a custom tool from scratch; other times they make changes to a standardized tool so it can be used in a special process. Either way, the tools they make are used in the factory to make other items. Toolmakers make tools like milling cutters, metal forming roles and other bits, bobs and cogs in the factory’s machines.
- The Die Maker. A “die” is a metal form used in manufacturing to shape other metal through stamping or forging. A die can also be used to shape or mold other types of material, like plastic or ceramic. So die makers create these dies to make that happen. Dies have to be just the right shape and size (with precision of 1/1000th of an inch) because they determine the form of all those other pieces. If you get the die wrong, everything made with the die is wrong too!
Both types of workers frequently use CAD, or computer-aided design. The tool or die maker will use a computer program to take all the required specs and details for the piece they want to make. Then the computer helps create a blueprint to work from.
While there’s more to the job than operating a CNC machine, the tool and die maker often learns how to do that job, too.
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A TOOL & DIE MAKER IN GEORGIA
Here’s how a toolmaker logs hours at the shop.
- Review specs and directions — usually in the form of blueprints, sketches or CAD/CAM files (computer-aided design or computer-aided manufacturing)
- Run calculations to figure out the size, shape and dimensions of the piece you’re making
- Set up and run different kinds of machinery and tools, including computer numerically controlled (CNC) machines
- Make small adjustments to parts (usually by grinding or sanding them) so they fit together perfectly
- Test the parts you made to make sure they fit the specs and will work for the job
- Inspect and double-check pieces to make sure they don’t have any flaws
- Polish the surfaces of pieces to a smooth and even finish
WHAT IT TAKES TO BECOME A TOOL & DIE MAKER
Top professionals in the trade say you’ll need to be:
- Detail-oriented. As a tool and die maker you have to deliver a final product that’s perfectly polished and free from flaws or defects, with precision to 1/1000th of an inch.
- Tech savvy. Today’s tool and die maker spends as much time operating a computer as a machine, using CAD software and other design and engineering apps to model products virtually before creating them in real life.
- Mechanically apt. You work with your hands and use a lot of tools, like milling machines, lathes, grinders and cutting machines. Manual dexterity and steady hands are a must!
- Analytical. You work from technical docs like blueprints, and you need to be able to read and understand them.
- Steady on your feet. Tool and die makers need stamina because they put in long hours on their feet, sometimes standing or bending in the same position for hours as they operate a machine.
IS THIS YOU?
Here are a few aspects to consider as you decide whether tool and die jobs are right for you.
- Work environment. Tool and die makers generally work in a clean, dry and temperature-controlled environment. Most work indoors on a factory floor or machine shop that is well-lit and well-ventilated. So unlike other trades, you’re not outdoors doing your job in all kinds of weather.
- Highly transferable skills. The skills you develop will allow you to work in a number of related and jobs – for example, machinist or CNC operator. So you’ll always have options and can make the same amount of money.
- The work comes with some hazards. You need to wear protective equipment (think safety glasses, earplugs) and follow all precautions to stay safe around machine tools.
- It’s not always a 9-to-5 job. You may end up working overtime on evenings and weekends to make deadlines and keep the factory running smoothly and the products shipping on schedule.
A FEW DETAILS OF INTEREST
Just how much does a tool and die maker make?
The average salary for a tool and die maker in Georgia is $45,390 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2016).
How do you become a tool and die maker?
Unions and manufacturers typically sponsor formal apprenticeship programs. These are a great way to learn to be a tool and die maker, but sometimes gaining admission can be competitive.
(If you’re in high school, you can improve your chances now by taking courses in trigonometry, geometry, metalworking, drafting and other advanced math and shop classes.)
An apprenticeship includes paid shop training and classroom technical instruction for 4-5 years. You might complete the book-learning part at a two-year public college or technical college.
After you finish an apprenticeship, you can get a journey-level certificate, which will definitely boost your job prospects.
You can also enter a technical training program on your own. Some tool and die makers land a job first. They learn hands-on in the machine shop, while the company helps pay the tuition bills for the classroom portion.
You’ll be learning on the job for a long time as a tool and die maker (and don’t forget – earning money while you do it!). It takes time to really hone your skills and master your trade. You will need years of experience before you can call yourself the best in the biz. Ongoing education will keep your knowledge sharp, too.
FIND TECHNICAL TOOL & DIE MAKING TRAINING IN GEORGIA
APPLY FOR A SCHOLARSHIP
If you’re a high school senior and want to study machine tool technology at one of Georgia’s technical colleges, why not apply for a Trade Five Scholarship? I’ll do it! Take me to the application >
OUTLOOK FOR TOOLMAKERS AND DIE MAKERS
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected that the employment of machinists and tool and die makers would grow 6% from 2014 to 2024.
While the outlook is better for machinists than it is for tool and die makers, who might face some competition from automation, the BLS anticipates good prospects for both. A lot more people are retiring from the field than entering it, so employers will probably find they have more available jobs than skilled workers to fill them.
MEET KENNY PRICE – REAL LIVE TOOLMAKER-IN-TRAINING
Find out what Kenny Price, a 2012 graduate from Piedmont Technical College, says about his apprenticeship in toolmaking. (Word is, he’s nailing it!)
LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
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