Tool and die makers are a class of machinists in the manufacturing industries who make jigs, fixtures, dies, molds, machine tools, cutting tools, gauges, and other tools used in manufacturing processes.
Depending on which area of concentration a particular person works in, he or she may be called by variations on the name, including tool maker(toolmaker), die maker ,mold maker, tool fitter etc.
Tool and die makers work primarily in tool room environments-sometimes literally in one room but more often in an environment with flexible, semipermeable boundaries from production work.
They are skilled artisans (craftspeople) who typically learn their trade through a combination of academic coursework and hands-on instruction, with a substantial period of on-the-job training that is functionally an apprenticeship.
Art and science are thoroughly intermixed in their work, as they also are in engineering. Manufacturing engineers and tool and die makers often work in close consultation as part of a manufacturing engineering team.
There is often turnover between the careers, as one person may end up working in both at different times of their life, depending on the turns of their particular educational and career path.
Both careers require some level of talent in both artistic/ artisanal/creative areas and math-and-science areas. Job-shop machinists can be any combination of toolmaker and production machinist.
Some work only as machine operators, whereas others switch fluidly between tool room tasks and production tasks.
Tool making typically means making tooling used to produce products. Common tooling includes metal forming rolls, cutting tools, fixtures, or even whole machine tools used to manufacture, hold, or test products during their fabrication. Due to the unique nature of a tool maker's work, it is often necessary to fabricate custom tools or modify standard tools.
Die making is a subgenre of tool making that focuses on making and maintaining dies. This often includes making punches, dies, steel rule dies, and die sets.
Precision is key in die making; punches and dies must maintain proper clearance to produce parts accurately, and it is often necessary to have die sets machined with tolerances of less than one thousandth of an inch.
Although the details of training programs vary, many tool and die makers begin an apprenticeship with an employer, possibly including a mix of classroom training and hands-on experience.
Some prior qualifications in basic mathematics, science, engineering science or design and technology can be valuable. Many tool and die makers attend a 4- to 5-year apprenticeship program to achieve the status of a journeyman tool and die maker.
Today's employment relationships often differ in name and detail from the traditional arrangement of an apprenticeship, and the terms "apprentice" and "journeyman" are not always used, but the idea of a period of years of on-the-job training leading to mastery of the field still applies.
The standard differentiation of jigs from fixtures is that a jig is what mounts onto a workpiece, whereas a fixture has the workpiece placed on it, into it, or next to it.
The terms are sometimes used interchangeably. A jig and fixture maker needs to know how to use an assortment of machines to build these devices such as having skills in welding and in some cases the knowledge of wood working equipment, of course with the tool room machining skills.
They are often advised by an engineer in building the devices. A wide knowledge of various materials is needed beyond wood and metal such as plastics. They also can create, design and build without engineering plans/blueprints.
Jig/fixture makers gain hands on practical experience while monitoring and making alterations as the manufacturing process is constantly improved and reviewed with/by engineering. They also can be required to make these adjustments without engineering help, depending on the size of the company.
Some Jigs and fixtures require electronic and pneumatic actuation, which will involve knowledge/training in these fields as well.
Properly built jigs and fixtures reduce waste by insuring perfectly fitting parts. Jigs and fixtures can be as big as a car or be held in hand.
Production needs dictate form and function. Jigs, fixtures and gages are needed to maintain quality standards for repeated low and high volume production demands.