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A tool and die maker is someone who sets up and operates a variety of computer-controlled or mechanically-controlled machine tools to produce precision metal parts, instruments, and tools. They work in machine shops and tool rooms and on factory floors.
Tool and die makers typically do the following:
Toolmakers craft precision tools and tool holders that 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. Die makers construct metal forms, called dies, that are used to shape metal in stamping and forging operations. They also make metal molds for die-casting and for molding plastics, ceramics, and composite materials.
Many tool and die makers use CAD's to develop products and parts. Specifications entered into computer programs can be used to electronically develop blueprints for the required tools and dies. Computer numeric control programmers use CAD and CAM programs to convert electronic drawings into CAM-based computer programs that contain instructions for a sequence of cutting tool operations. Once these programs are developed, CNC machines follow the set of instructions contained in the program to produce the part. Machinists normally operate CNC machines, but tool and die makers are often trained to both operate CNC machines and write CNC programs, and they may do either task.
The vast majority of tool and die makers work in manufacturing. They work in machine shops and tool rooms and on factory floors, where work areas are well lit and ventilated. Although the work generally is not dangerous, working around machine tools presents certain hazards, and workers must follow precautions. For example, workers must wear protective equipment, such as safety glasses to shield against bits of flying metal and earplugs to dampen the noise produced by machinery.
Most tool and die makers work full time during regular business hours. However, overtime is common. Because many manufacturers run the machinery for long hours, evening and weekend work is also common.
Formal apprenticeship programs, typically sponsored by a union or manufacturer, are an excellent way to become a machinist or tool and die maker, but they are often hard to get into. Apprentices usually must have a high school diploma or equivalent. In high school, students should take courses in trigonometry and geometry, blueprint reading, metalworking, and drafting, if available. Apprenticeship programs consist of paid shop training and related technical instruction lasting between four and five years. The classes are often taught in cooperation with local community colleges or vocational–technical schools.
Although apprenticeship programs may be the best way to learn the job, a growing number of tool and die makers receive their formal technical training from community and technical colleges. These individuals often learn while employed by a manufacturer that supports the employee's training goals and gives the needed on-the-job training less formally.
Even after completing a formal training program, tool and die makers still need years of experience to become highly skilled. To boost the skill level of tool and die makers and to create a more uniform standard of competency, a number of training facilities, apprenticeship boards, and colleges offer certification programs. Completing a recognized certification program provides tool and die makers with better job opportunities and helps employers judge the abilities of new hires. Journey-level certification is available from apprenticeship boards after completing an apprenticeship. Many employers recognize this certification, and it often leads to better job opportunities.