My late father-in-law (and his father) were master machinists who made excellent tools and decent livings over the course of their careers. I chose not to follow in their footsteps, but rather, to go to college instead. However, I have always considered tool making and manufacturing to be noble professions and ones that have contributed immensely to the quality of our lives.
With all the news we continue to hear today about product design, engineering, and manufacturing increasingly being outsourced in every direction away from North America, surprisingly little coverage seems to be given to one of the foundational pillars of product manufacturing, namely, tooling and tool making.
Although most of our readers are manufacturing-savvy, let’s first define what we mean by “tooling,” because it’s often a misunderstood term by those outside manufacturing. Simply put, tooling entails the tools, machines, or other devices required to manufacture products – everything from car fenders to detergent bottles. The two most prominent groups of toolmakers are die makers whose tools stamp out metal parts, and mold makers whose tools mold plastic parts.
Breaking Tool Making – Is Tool Making Your Passion?
The transportation sector (primarily automotive) still dominates the tooling industry. Because the automotive sector is outsourced much of its manufacturing overseas, it has become very clear why tool and die makers, especially the family-owned small ones with five to 100 employees have suffered the most. It’s estimated that approximately 60% of stamping dies and 40% of plastic molds are used directly or indirectly by automakers worldwide, so it’s no wonder that the smaller tool shops are bearing the brunt of offshore outsourcing. This offshore outsourcing has cost a huge number of tooling jobs in North America, according to estimates from several sources.