Tool and Die Maker, a thing of the past?
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    Default Tool and Die Maker, a thing of the past?

    Hi all.

    So as I'm diving head first into my education and learning all that I can, I visited the occupation page on bls for machinists and tool and die makers.

    While machining seems to have steady and consistent job growth (10% between 2014-2024, not bad at all), the outlook for tool and die makers shows a considerable decline (-13% for the same period). That's staggering. It's even worse than the outlook for news reporters.

    What is your take on this? Is the profession becoming obsolete, and can it recover?

    "Foreign competition in manufacturing and advances in automation, including CNC machine tools and computer-aided design (CAD), should reduce employment of tool and die makers." -BLS.GOV

    Sorry if I sound like a total noob. Just soaking all of this up like a sponge.

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    There will always be tool and die maker jobs, but I think the advent of CNC machining has reduced their numbers in two ways. First, work-holding fixtures have (generally) become more basic as CNC takes on the bulk of the role of positioning tools relative to the work. I don't think anybody makes elaborate multi-face 3D drill jigs anymore; just slap the work on a tombstone or 4th axis trunnion.

    Second, CAD and CNC machining are heavily used in producing fixtures and dies, especially sinker and wire EDM machines for die-making. So the amount of tool and die maker time spent on general machining is much lower than in the past.

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    The industry and job title terminology changed, don't think there's many if any "tool and die" courses/apprenticeships left, wasn't any here 15yrs ago. There's still plenty of places doing that type of work and using some of those skill set, but its mostly just making parts using whatever machine it takes to do it, like all the rest. For terminology half of machinists these says could be called button pushers, or something else, but they take offense sometimes. Years ago the term " Master Machinist " also got kicked around as if it was some magical creature, from what I seen, it wasn't.

    In the end, you'll learn to do the type of work that where ever you get a job is into, and if you don't like that type of machining work, there's a lot of other sectors to choose from and if you're extra lucky you might even find one that pays enough for a person to live on.

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    I am a Tool and Die Maker, but I primarily design dies now. I get to use a machine every now and then. Our company does provide Tool & Die apprenticeships, but few really good people seem to come through. We do batches of 6 every 6 years or so, and only around 2 of those 6 turn out to be worth what we put into them. (insert old crotchety tool and die maker bitch here)

    As far as finding Tool & Die Makers in the wild, that's nearly impossible to do. They all mostly have jobs they've been at for 20+ years. No bright (or semi-bright) kids want to use the skilled trades side of the career ladder, so we're not replacing the men retiring, and the irreplaceable knowledge they have. The "everyone needs to go to college" fad is a contributing factor in the decline. I call it the "every starbucks barista needs 100k debt" phenomenon.

    Having said all that, as of now, automation cannot replace all of a Tool & Die Maker's skillset. I mean a real one. In the future who knows, maybe they can come up with some software that can design dies.
    Last edited by Rewt; 06-16-2017 at 06:20 AM. Reason: shitty grammar

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    I was recently asked to make part of an 'English Wheel' for a hobbiest. I am a machinist, not a sheet metal worker, and I had to learn what an English wheel was and how it worked. Sheet Metal wizardry, another lost (soon!) art.

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    I am not in the T&D trade. I was a machinist then a drafter, and now in metrology. From my view, there is still a need for T&D. I lot of what happens is that the dies are sourced from China and then reworked here. This is part tax accounting issues. Although there might be a decline, there is also a lot of older workers in T&D, that will probably retire in the next 5-10 years. So, like other skilled trades, that skipped the 80's-90's generation, there will be a shortage. There seems to already be a shortage of skilled trades in all skilled trades. I would look into what job placement any school has or if any companies have an apprenticeship. Usually, though, companies look either internally or for a skill set from the outside. I'd also have a backup plan, such as CAD/CAM.
    To the one post, it seems everyone is a 'Master' this or that, in the US. The only way I respect the term is if it is from Europe or possibly Asia. At least others reviewing the persons work.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rewt View Post
    I am a Tool and Die Maker, but I primarily design dies now. I get to use a machine every now and then. Our company does provide Tool & Die apprenticeships, but few really good people seem to come through. We do batches of 6 every 6 years or so, and only around 2 of those 6 turn out to be worth what we put into them. (insert old crotchety tool and die maker bitch here)

    As far as finding Tool & Die Makers in the wild, that's nearly impossible to do. They all mostly have jobs they've been at for 20+ years. No bright (or semi-bright) kids want to use the skilled trades side of the career ladder, so we're not replacing the men retiring, and the irreplaceable knowledge they have. The "everyone needs to go to college" fad is a contributing factor in the decline. I call it the "every starbucks barista needs 100k debt" phenomenon.

    Having said all that, as of now, automation cannot replace all of a Tool & Die Maker's skillset. I mean a real one. In the future who knows, maybe they can come up with some software that can design dies.
    I echo what he said, other than that I've never been a tool-and-die-MAKER.

    We've had a couple machinist ask our resident tool and die guy about what it takes, and if they could learn in their time, etc. They get told it'd be impossible because we don't see any tool and die work anymore. It's all maintenance, repair, or replacing punches and die blocks. Never much of any design or design/build jobs anymore.

    Automation cannot replace a toolmakers skill set and I think for automation to be fully utilized and see the best benefits, you need someone with experience in that field (blowing my own horn I guess) to get the best solutions.

    But, part probing, modular workholding, and automated parts changing and palletized setups... that goes a long way toward optimal productivity of any machine.

    There's plenty of tool design needed... tons. Tooling Designers/Engineers (gonna wear this horn out..) are going to be more important than ever, the more we automate. Mechanical Engineers are going to need to learn it more. For every robot made, someone has to make the tooling to support it. Whether it's EOAT or workholding.

    Tool & Die Makers aren't prepared to fill that role, either, because in many ways it flips all the 'norms' they've been working with for 30 years on their heads. It's often completely different philosophy with different values.

    But a lot of die components are done 100% in CAD nowadays, and tool, die, mold shops work with CNC machines to get it right, the parts all fit, and we need a lot less "tuning" of the die after assembly. Portable CMMs or Laser Trackers make short work of precise assembly and location. It's eliminated a lot of the tasks associated with the final die building...

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    According to NTMA, it only takes 7 months to become a machinist. Perhaps they have a post graduate program where you can become a tool and die maker in another 4 weeks?

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    Sort of depends on what you do with such training. This (thumbnails) consumed 8000 hours. Did I use it to make a living? Only indirectly. The big picture is that the four years just fueled my interest in many related fields. Six years and a few months after the end of the apprenticeship I was doing this I linked to, and went on to a long career of design and build mechanical equipment for industry

    Heavy Iron Being Built In Houston in 1975
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails scan01.jpg   scan02.jpg  

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    As the rest have pointed out, some Tool & Die Makers will always be needed.

    Whether we'll have any left in another 5-10 years is questionable.

    (Several years ago I was viewing the web-site of a company that built large, complex dies. Non of their employees looked to be a day younger than 60.)

    However, many factors have greatly reduced the need.

    Outsourcing the work to China is kinda a wash as I think it actually takes more Tool & Die Makers to fix the crap I've seen come back.

    Technological advancements in machining like EDM and hard-milling now mean that most of the work that used to require a Tool & Die Maker can be done by a Machinist.

    I never did an apprenticeship and don't have the papers that make me an "official" Tool & Die Maker but I've spent 25+ years now designing, building, and helping build dies around here.

    I've never been much concerned about titles ... just don't call me an Operator, or late for dinner.

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    Quote Originally Posted by johnoder View Post
    Sort of depends on what you do with such training. This (thumbnails) consumed 8000 hours. Did I use it to make a living? Only indirectly. The big picture is that the four years just fueled my interest in many related fields. Six years and a few months after the end of the apprenticeship I was doing this I linked to, and went on to a long career of design and build mechanical equipment for industry

    Heavy Iron Being Built In Houston in 1975
    Interesting, do you know if P&W still has any sort of apprenticeship in the US, anything recognized outside that company? I think most companies long abandoned it.

    When I got into this trade early 2000's, a few guys I knew went to work at P&W. I was told then that the hours worked there didn't count toward the journeyman red seal(8k hours apprenticeship). Probably mainly due to planting people at one machine and having them do that 1 thing to make that 1 part/product. Apparently it did pay a bit better though than the smaller job shops and some quite happily spend their whole career within the company.

    The days of having people learn many things on many machines is mostly gone unfortunately, even in the small job shops. I got kinda lucky to jump around a bit, but the stuff I still don't know and never will is pretty much infinite, but I guess at least I know that much

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    I called the Mfg VP about 20 years back - he said nothing like that was going on on site, and was clueless if any grad apprentices were still on staff. A class member (but three years only) retired as a programmer, but from the Florida plant. Sounds almighty boring.


    Quote Originally Posted by SND View Post
    Interesting, do you know if P&W still has any sort of apprenticeship in the US, anything recognized outside that company? I think most companies long abandoned it.

    When I got into this trade early 2000's, a few guys I knew went to work at P&W. I was told then that the hours worked there didn't count toward the journeyman red seal(8k hours apprenticeship). Probably mainly due to planting people at one machine and having them do that 1 thing to make that 1 part/product. Apparently it did pay a bit better though than the smaller job shops and some quite happily spend their whole career within the company.

    The days of having people learn many things on many machines is mostly gone unfortunately, even in the small job shops. I got kinda lucky to jump around a bit, but the stuff I still don't know and never will is pretty much infinite, but I guess at least I know that much

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    I am a toolmaker, went through an apprenticeship 1972 -1976 and have been in it now 45 years. Been running my own shop for 33 years and make a comfortable living (as my 10 toolmakers who work for me do). We hire a new apprentice almost every year and have about a 30% success rate in them completing an apprenticeship. Usually they don't show enough incentive or learn the skills being taught, or can't make it to work on time every day, or want to arrange their social life on their cell phone at work. Really difficult finding the right individual with the desire and interest. We can teach the skills, but they have to be able to learn it. I tell prospective applicants for an apprentice ship that they need to put as much effort into learning this trade as they would earning a 4 year degree. Most who would do well are encouraged by guidance counselors and parents to go to college, which is fine for some, but not everyone is cut out for it. Those that enjoy working with their hands, solving problems, get satisfaction from completing things, take pride in what they do can do very well (financially) in the trade. A true toolmaker (one that runs manual as well as CNC) that can mill, turn, grind, EDM and program and hold tenths is a rare individual, but we still are on the apprentice training bandwagon. Progressive Tool @ MFG. INC. Greensboro, NC

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    Quote Originally Posted by RJT View Post
    I am a toolmaker, went through an apprenticeship 1972 -1976 and have been in it now 45 years. Been running my own shop for 33 years and make a comfortable living (as my 10 toolmakers who work for me do). We hire a new apprentice almost every year and have about a 30% success rate in them completing an apprenticeship. Usually they don't show enough incentive or learn the skills being taught, or can't make it to work on time every day, or want to arrange their social life on their cell phone at work. Really difficult finding the right individual with the desire and interest. We can teach the skills, but they have to be able to learn it. I tell prospective applicants for an apprentice ship that they need to put as much effort into learning this trade as they would earning a 4 year degree. Most who would do well are encouraged by guidance counselors and parents to go to college, which is fine for some, but not everyone is cut out for it. Those that enjoy working with their hands, solving problems, get satisfaction from completing things, take pride in what they do can do very well (financially) in the trade. A true toolmaker (one that runs manual as well as CNC) that can mill, turn, grind, EDM and program and hold tenths is a rare individual, but we still are on the apprentice training bandwagon. Progressive Tool @ MFG. INC. Greensboro, NC
    My friend, that is definitely something that I would be interested in. Not a single doubt in my mind that I would be successful. I'm highly ambitious and motivated. I do what I need to to learn.

    From what I'm hearing, the job and title has changed considerably due to advances in automation, but the skills are still needed and likely won't be replaced by future generations.

    I think the next right step is an AAS in machining. I am so situated and blessed to have a private scholarship that will take me through most of the program. I don't anticipate graduating with much debt, so I'm going to take full advantage of the free education, which I am so grateful for. I feel a technical degree would be a better use of my time than, say, a general business degree or the like. I think this background would also make me more successful in such an apprenticeship program.

    I would love to be one young person who takes the time to learn these skills. Whatever makes me a more valuable (and thus higher paid) employee. I want to be the guy that, when the economy takes a downturn, my employer says "Well, we can't lay off THAT guy. We need to lay off someone else"

    Don't be surprised to get a call from me in a year or so when I'm further along in my program. I'm filing this away and will keep it in mind.

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    Quote Originally Posted by RJT View Post
    I am a toolmaker, went through an apprenticeship 1972 -1976 and have been in it now 45 years. Been running my own shop for 33 years and make a comfortable living (as my 10 toolmakers who work for me do). We hire a new apprentice almost every year and have about a 30% success rate in them completing an apprenticeship. Usually they don't show enough incentive or learn the skills being taught, or can't make it to work on time every day, or want to arrange their social life on their cell phone at work. Really difficult finding the right individual with the desire and interest. We can teach the skills, but they have to be able to learn it. I tell prospective applicants for an apprentice ship that they need to put as much effort into learning this trade as they would earning a 4 year degree. Most who would do well are encouraged by guidance counselors and parents to go to college, which is fine for some, but not everyone is cut out for it. Those that enjoy working with their hands, solving problems, get satisfaction from completing things, take pride in what they do can do very well (financially) in the trade. A true toolmaker (one that runs manual as well as CNC) that can mill, turn, grind, EDM and program and hold tenths is a rare individual, but we still are on the apprentice training bandwagon. Progressive Tool @ MFG. INC. Greensboro, NC
    RJT,
    Good for you. So many shop want to just take from there employees and never give anything back. By offering apprenticeships to people you're showing that you're willing to step up and invest in training the next generation of Skilled Trades.

    I went through a Tool & Die apprenticeship in a small job shop from 1977 - 1981 We didn't have a lot to work with but I was taught how to figure things out and how to build tool & dies without millions of dollars of machinery and computer power.

    My apprenticeship has served me well for over forty years and has made it possible for me to have a nice life.

    I wish you all the best in your business and much continued success.

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    Even if you never make another chip a tool and die apprenticeship will help you through life in more ways than you could ever imagine. I completed a T & D course Western Electric offered in 1960. Worked at it for 6 years and realized I didn't want to work in a factory forever. I decided to become a pilot and did so for 31 years. I worked on my Dad's farm, built my own house, restored antique cars to National award standards, build wood furniture, tool boxes, have an advanced hobby type machine shop and generally make or fix whatever needs it.
    The point is it all goes back to the skills, problem solving and general confidence in one's own abilities that a T & D background provides.
    In my every endeavor I always used skills I learned in the shop to get to where I wanted to go.
    I honestly don't know how guys that can barely even read a simple scale or tape, and don't care, get through life................Bob

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    If your ambitious and smart enough to become a tool and die maker you are probably smart enough to become an engineer instead and make more $$. I did art to part jigs, fixtures, and plasic injection molds for 8 years before becoming a cnc machininst. It was a lot of fun and I learned a lot but make more money doing production machining.

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    I still see the classic "tool and die maker" guys around, but almost always they are working in maintenance and repair of dies.

    The glory days where a manager would hand a guy a drawing of a finished production part and ask him to make a complete tool from scratch are fading pretty fast. Parts now are too complicated, and it's faster and more efficient to break the task up into multiple areas or expertise.



    So, in 1970, a tool maker would have designed the tool, selected the materials, made the parts, and even done things like heat treating inserts. Some special operations may have been sent to a specialist, such as jig grinding bores.


    Today it's more like this:

    An engineer or tool designer will make a CAD model of a tool. They might have a review process with a senior production manager to make sure there are no surprises when the tool hits the floor. Drawings are made for the simple parts.

    A CNC programmer will write the programs for the complicated parts of the tool.

    A machinist will make the simple parts to the drawings provided.

    A CNC machinist will setup the CNC machine and make the more complex parts.

    A technician will assemble the tool and do a trial.

    In some places, several of those jobs might be done by the same person, but that's the general flow.

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    15 years ago when I got out of high school I had a lot of people tell me tool and die was a dying trade. I served my appenticeship anyhow-went into cnc tool room work, integrated into prototype work then production milling then 4 and 5 axis stuff and part time shop owner. The skill set of a tool and die maker will never cease. The machines become a little antiquated with the evolution of technology and our youth becoming increasingly familiarized with electronics at such young ages but the skill-set is still a demand. I havent been in one shop that wouldnt hire someone who knew their shit. So to be quite honest- the only thing that is dying off is the talent pool

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    Upon graduation our apprentices found out they could make more money being a UPS driver or working for Cox cable. I'm a third generation tool & die maker and it ends with me.I,m saddened by the fact that I can not pass my fifty years of expierance to my son. Also,the pay level is not commensurate with the skill level required.

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