Machinists and tool and die makers set up and operate machine tools to produce precision metal parts, instruments, and tools.
What they do
Machinists typically do the following:
- Read blueprints, sketches, or computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) files
- Set up, operate, and disassemble manual, automatic, and computer numerically controlled (CNC) machine tools
- Align, secure, and adjust cutting tools and workpieces
- Monitor the feed and speed of machines
- Turn, mill, drill, shape, and grind machine parts to specifications
- Measure, examine, and test completed products for defects
- Smooth the surfaces of parts or products
- Present finished workpieces to customers and make modifications if needed
Tool and die makers typically do the following:
- Read blueprints, sketches, specifications, or CAD and CAM files for making tools and dies
- Compute and verify dimensions, sizes, shapes, and tolerances of workpieces
- Set up, operate, and disassemble conventional, manual, and CNC machine tools
- File, grind, and adjust parts so that they fit together properly
- Test completed tools and dies to ensure that they meet specifications
- Smooth and polish the surfaces of tools and dies
Machinists use machine tools, such as lathes, milling machines, and grinders, to produce precision metal parts. Many machinists must be able to use both manual and CNC machinery. CNC machines control the cutting tool speed and do all necessary cuts to create a part. The machinist determines the cutting path, the speed of the cut, and the feed rate by programming instructions into the CNC machine.
Although workers may produce large quantities of one part, precision machinists often produce small batches or one-of-a-kind items. The parts that machinists make range from simple steel bolts to titanium bone screws for orthopedic implants. Hydraulic parts, antilock brakes, and automobile pistons are other widely known products that machinists make.
Some machinists repair or make new parts for existing machinery. After an industrial machinery mechanic discovers a broken part in a machine, a machinist remanufactures the part. The machinist refers to blueprints and performs the same machining operations that were used to create the original part in order to create the replacement.
Some manufacturing processes use lasers, water jets, and electrified wires to cut the workpiece. As engineers design and build new types of machine tools, machinists must learn new machining properties and techniques.
Tool and die makers construct precision tools or metal forms, called dies, that are used to cut, shape, and form metal and other materials. They produce jigs and fixtures—devices that hold metal while it is bored, stamped, or drilled—and gauges and other measuring devices.
Dies 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.
Tool and die makers use CAD to develop products and parts. They enter designs into computer programs that produce blueprints for the required tools and dies. Computer numeric control programmers convert CAD designs into CAM 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 often are trained to both operate CNC machines and write CNC programs and thus may do either task.
Although many machinists and tool and die makers work full time during regular business hours, some work evenings and weekends because facilities may operate around the clock. Some work more than 40 hours a week.
How to become a Machinist and/or Tool and Die Maker
Machinists and tool and die makers typically are trained on the job. Some learn through training or apprenticeship programs, vocational schools, or community and technical colleges. Although machinists typically need just a high school diploma, tool and die makers may need to complete courses beyond high school.
Machinists typically have a high school diploma or equivalent, whereas tool and die makers may need to complete courses beyond high school. High school courses in math, blueprint reading, metalworking, and drafting are considered useful.
Some community colleges and technical schools have 2-year programs that train students to become machinists or tool and die makers. These programs usually teach design and blueprint reading, the use of a variety of welding and cutting tools, and the programming and function of computer numerically controlled (CNC) machines.
There are multiple ways for workers to gain competency in the job as a machinist or tool or die maker. One common way is through long-term on-the-job training, which lasts 1 year or longer.
Trainees usually work 40 hours per week and take additional technical instruction during evenings. Trainees often begin as machine operators and gradually take on more difficult assignments. Machinists and tool and die makers must be experienced in using computers to work with CAD/CAM technology, CNC machine tools, and computerized measuring machines. Some machinists become tool and die makers.
Some new workers may enter apprenticeship programs, which are typically sponsored by a manufacturer. Apprenticeship programs often consist of paid shop training and related technical instruction lasting several years. The technical instruction usually is provided in cooperation with local community colleges and vocational–technical schools. Workers typically enter into apprenticeships with a high school diploma or equivalent.
A number of organizations and colleges offer certification programs. The Skills Certification System, for example, is an industry-driven program that aims to align education pathways with career pathways. In addition, journey-level certification is available from state apprenticeship boards after the completion of an apprenticeship.
Completing a certification program provides machinists and tool and die makers with better job opportunities and helps employers judge the abilities of new hires.
The median annual wage for machinists was $44,420 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $27,940, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $66,610.
Overall employment of machinists and tool and die makers is projected to grow 3 percent from 2019 to 2029, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Employment growth will vary by specialty.
Employment of machinists is projected to grow 4 percent from 2019 to 2029, about as fast as the average for all occupations. With improvements in technologies, such as computer numerically controlled (CNC) machine tools, autoloaders, high-speed machining, and lights-out manufacturing, machinists will still be required to set up, monitor, and maintain these systems.
Employment of tool and die makers is projected to decline 5 percent from 2019 to 2029. Advances in automation, including CNC machine tools, should reduce demand for tool and die makers to perform tasks, such as programming how parts fit together, that computer software can perform.
Similar Job Titles
Machinist: CNC Machinist (Computer Numeric Controlled Machinist), CNC Machinist (Computer Numerically Controlled Machinist), Gear Machinist, Machine Repair Person, Machinist, Maintenance Machinist, Manual Lathe Machinist, Production Machinist, Set-Up Operator, Tool Room Machinist
Tool and Die Maker: Aircraft Tool Maker, Carbide Tool Die Maker, Die Maker, Jig and Fixture Builder, Jig and Fixture Repairer, Tool and Die Machinist, Tool and Die Maker, Tool Repairer, Toolmaker, Trim Die Maker
Computer-Controlled Machine Tool Operator (Metal and Plastic); Milling and Planning Machine Setter, Operator and Tender (Metal and Plastic); Model Maker (Metal and Plastic); Patternmaker (Metal and Plastic); Tool and Die Maker
Tool and Die Maker:
Drilling and Boring Machine Tool Setter, Operator, and Tenders (Metal and Plastic); Machinist; Model Maker (Metal and Plastic); Patternmaker (Metal and Plastic); Patternmaker (Wood)
The trade associations listed below represent organizations made up of people (members) who work and promote advancement in the field. Members are very interested in telling others about their work and about careers in those areas. As well, trade associations provide opportunities for organizational networking and learning more about the field’s trends and directions.
- International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers
- International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America
- National Tooling and Machining Association
- Precision Machined Products Association
- Precision Metalforming Association
- American Mold Builders Association
- Industrial Division of the Communication Workers of America
Magazines and Publications
- Machinist Workshop Magazine
- The Home Shop Machinist Magazine
- American Machinist
- Metal Forming Magazine
- Mould and Die World Magazine (Int’l)
To build everything workshops and factories around the country rely on the handiwork of machinists, and tool and die makers. Starting from blueprints, sketches, or computer-aided design files, they set up the machines that produce parts. Once products are made, they file and grind them to meet project specifications, giving them a final smoothing and polish to finish. Machinists run computer numerically controlled or CNC—machines… that produce precision metal parts and tools. They may produce a large number of one part– such as automobile pistons… or many small batches— like bone screws for medical implants… or even one-of-a-kind items. They need to be skilled with a wide range of machines and techniques. Toolmakers craft precision tools for cutting and forming metal, and create different gauges and other measuring devices. Die makers construct metal forms used to shape metal, and make molds for shaping plastics, ceramics, and composite materials. Tool and die makers are trained to write CNC programs as well as operate the machines. Workers wear safety glasses, earplugs, and masks when needed to protect themselves during hazardous phases of their work. Schedules are generally full time, with some shifts on evenings and weekends to keep production running around the clock. A high school diploma or equivalent is necessary, and skills in math and problem-solving are important. Machinists may train in on the job, apprenticeship, or at technical colleges. Becoming a tool or die maker takes several years of instruction and on-the-job training.
Content retrieved from: US Bureau of Labor Statistics-OOH www.bls.gov/ooh,
CareerOneStop www.careeronestop.org, O*Net Online www.onetonline.org