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Die Maker


Description

How do they design thousands of skateboards with the same design? What about intricately designed mugs? It is the work of tool and die makers that enable products to be mass produced through the mechanisms in a machine. Tool and die makers use precision metal-working machines and hand tools to build and repair the special tools, metal moulds and patterns used in manufacturing. They are skilled craftspersons who make custom made, prototype or special tools, dies, jigs, fixtures and gauges to very specific and precise dimensions.

The tools and dies they create are used to produce most of the metal, ceramic and plastic items that are sold in stores. For example, if you were to make home-made popsicles, you pour your favorite juice into the moulds and after a few hours in the freezer, presto . . . you have popsicles. Most likely, a tool and die maker created that product as well. Similarly, the garbage bin with the fancy grooves and holders was moulded and designed by a tool and die maker. The work involves the operation of lathes, grinders, milling and boring machines. Dies are metal forms used to shape metal in stamping and forging operations. Metal moulds are used for moulding plastics.

Tool and die makers usually begin with a set of blueprints, designed by an engineer. Once they have determined how to do the job, they usually begin with a piece of metal and then use machines to cut, mould and assemble the metal until it fits the specifications of the design. They are trained to operate a variety of machines, including lathes and power saws and they also know a lot about the properties of metals like steel, cast iron, aluminum and brass.

Tool and die makers must perform precise, quality work in situations that can be less than ideal for concentration. There is little room for error in this profession. They are hired to follow the designs exactly, for if something gets mass-produced incorrectly, a company could be in big trouble. If a tool and die maker is producing a product that must connect with another product and one of the components is bit off, there could be major repercussions, not to mention money lost.

Some tool and die makers are also responsible for maintaining the machines they use. Also, computers play an important part of the work. Computer literacy and knowledge of systems like computer-aided design (CAD), is needed to work on the various machines. Finally, safety is one of the biggest concerns of the tool and die maker. They work under conditions involving excessive noise, heat, and potentially dangerous chemical coolants and machines. Therefore, they wear safety goggles, ear protection and other protective clothing.
 
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  Average Earnings  
Lowest 10% of Earners:
$26,978
 
Median Salary:
$42,723
 
Highest 10% of Earners:
$63,939

  Interests and Skills  
Tool and die makers must have a technical mind to interpret blueprints and be able to visualize a final product from looking at plans. They need an understanding of safe work practices and the knowledge to safely operate the tools of the trade. They can work quickly, but with patience, skill and accuracy. Tool and die makers are generally in good shape with muscular coordination, agility and balance. They must be willing to travel to various work sites, and have an inclination to work cooperatively with others. They must also like to work with tools and instruments that require precision and a steady hand.
 

  Typical Tasks  
  • Read and interpret drawings and blueprint specifications of tools, dies, prototypes or models
  • Calculate dimensions and tolerances and setting up the machine tools
  • Position, secure, measure and work metal stock or castings to lay out for machining
  • Operate a variety of machine tools to cut, turn, mill, plane, bore, grind and shape the piece being worked on to very specific dimensions
  • Plan the sequence of operations from set-up to finished product
  • Make sure that machined parts conform to specifications by using precision measuring instruments
  • Fit and assemble parts using a variety of different hand tools
  • Verify machined parts for conformance to specifications using precision measuring instruments
  • Machine, fit and assemble parts to make metal moulds for plastic injection moulding or other production processes
  • Spot any flaws in the finish or operation of machined parts and taking corrective action
  • Work independently or as a member of a team on a variety of different projects and tasks
  • Tool and die makers usually work indoors in tool rooms or machine shops during standard weekday hours. They generally work 40 hours per week with longer hours sometimes required to meet production schedules. Also, shift work may be required, which might mean evenings or weekends. There may be some risk of injury involved in working with power tools and from hazards such as bits of flying metal.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Tool and die makers work for motor vehicle parts manufacturers, machine shops, machinery and equipment manufacturers, aircraft and parts manufacturers and hardware manufacturers. They are employed in industries that manufacture metal working machinery, tools and dies, automobiles, aircraft, electrical machinery, fabricated metal products and plastics.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Experienced tool and die makers may advance to supervisory positions. Some may become tool designers, inventors and open their own tool and die shops. With additional training, tool and die makers can transfer their skills to related occupations such as a machinist or welder. They could also work as salespeople for machine manufacturing companies, using their experience to help convince customers to buy particular products
 

  Educational Paths  
Die makers receive their training either through informal, on-the-job training or through an apprenticeship program. Trade certification can be obtained either through an apprenticeship program or after several years of work experience. While trade certification is not mandatory to become a die maker, it can be a requirement for many employers and can also help secure employment.

Apprenticeship programs involve a combination of on-the-job training and classroom instruction. A pre-apprenticeship course may also be available which takes about five to six months to complete at a community college and is designed to help you get connected with a good company to apprentice with. It is important to apprentice with a reputable company as that is your education. While some apprenticeship programs may not require a high school diploma, it is important to note that employers generally prefer to hire high school graduates.

Apprenticeships can vary, however a typical apprenticeship lasts four to five years. The apprenticeship is a paid position, however wages are about 50 percent of what an employer pays the journeyperson, with yearly increases. After successfully completing the apprenticeship requirements, their industry training and apprenticeship office awards the die maker a certificate of completion.
 

Sources:
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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