A die maker builds and fixes metal forms, called dies, used to creating molds for composite materials, such as ceramics and plastics. Dies are also used to forge and stamp metal parts. Sometimes die makers make and repair the actual dies and tools used by other die makers. They are often grouped with tool makers, as both are extremely skilled machinists. Tool makers, however, most often produce machine parts, jigs, fixtures and measuring devices instead of molds and stamping equipment.
Most of a die maker’s job involves operating machining equipment and using precision measuring devices. He regularly uses grinders, milling machines, lathes, shears and saws, as well as a wide range of hand tools. His math skills must be exemplary as each piece he creates requires exact measurements that are sometimes measured to as much as one thousandth of an inch. Mathematics are used in every stage of die production, from the layout to cutting, shaping and final honing. The ability to read and interpret blueprints and diagrams is also an important part of his job.
Die makers can usually find work in almost any industrialized nation. They are often employed by manufacturing and production plants that make dies and tools. Other places that employ die makers are producers of plastic and metal products, especially metalworking machinery. Automobile manufacturers and the aerospace industry also employ a large number of die makers.
A die maker normally needs four to five years of education and training before he is recognized in the industry as fully qualified. Technical institutes, community colleges and some trade schools commonly offer courses in manual tool design, machine programming, math, computer-aided design and blueprint reading. Many skills are best learned through observation, and on-the-job training is often available to apprentice die makers through unions and local businesses.
As technology advances, the job of the die maker becomes more complicated. Designs formerly done by hand are now created with specialized computer software. Programming tooling machines has become simpler in many ways, but computer-aided design software applications continue to demand more technological expertise.
Die makers often can get hired directly out of school. Companies look for new graduates because they are more likely to be trained in writing computer numerically controlled (CNC) programs. Operating CNC machines is becoming a requirement for many die-making companies. Experienced die makers are often required to take classes to update their skills to keep current with technology.