Special Dies and Tools, Die Sets, Jigs and Fixtures, and Industrial Molds

SIC 3544

Companies in this industry

Industry report:

This classification includes establishments commonly known as contract tool and die shops primarily engaged in manufacturing, on a job or order basis, special tools and fixtures for use with machine tools, hammers, die-casting machines, and presses. The products of establishments classified in this industry include a wide variety of special tooling, such as dies; punches; die sets and components, and sub-presses; jigs and fixtures; and special checking devices. Establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing molds for die-casting and foundry casting; metal molds for plaster working, rubber working, plastics working, and glass working and similar machinery are also included. Establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing molds for heavy steel ingots are classified in SIC 3321: Gray and Ductile Iron Foundries, and those manufacturing cutting dies, except metal cutting, are classified in SIC 3423: Hand and Edge Tools, Except Machine Tools and Handsaws.

Industry Snapshot

There are essentially two types of dies, pressworking dies and molding dies. Pressworking dies (also called stamping dies) are used to cut and shape sheet metals with electrical or hydraulic presses ranging in size from bench presses to the three-story-high giants used to stamp automotive body parts. A press working die set consists of two components, the upper part attached to the press ram, calleda punch, and the lower part attached to the press bed, called a die (though die sets are often simply referred to as dies). Molding dies are used to form both metals and plastics. The most common type consists of two units that when closed form a cavity into which molten material is poured.

In the late 2000s, roughly 6,200 establishments operated in the special dies, tools, jigs, and fixtures industry. Overall sales for the industry were valued at more than $9.7 billion in 2009, and about 90,000 people were employed. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that tool and die makers were among the most highly skilled workers in the manufacturing industry in the early twenty-first century.

The states ranking in the industry top ten by value of shipments were, in order of descending value, Michigan, Ohio, California, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Texas, Illinois, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, and New York in 2009. Together these ten states accounted for 80 percent of total shipments and 74 percent of total employment. Fifteen percent of all establishments in the industry and 22 percent of all employees were located in Michigan, reflecting the firms' proximity to centers of automotive design and production. The automobile industry has long provided tool and die producers with one of their most important markets.

Organization and Structure

The industry is served by the National Tooling & Machining Association of Fort Washington, Maryland, known as the National Tool and Die Manufacturers Association until 1960 and the National Tool, Die and Precision Machining Association until 1980. The Association was founded in 1943 and had 1,700 members in 2010. Among the Association's publications were the annual Buyers Guide of Special Tooling and Precision Machining Services, Basic Diemaking, and Advanced Diemaking. The Association organizes an annual convention and semiannual conferences.

The industry was also served by the Tooling and Manufacturing Association of Chicago, with a membership of 1,250, and the Tooling, Manufacturing, & Technology Association (formerly the Michigan Tooling Association) of Farmington Hills, Michigan, founded in 1933. Industry journals included Tool Talk, Tooling and Production, Modern Machine Shop, Precision Toolmaker, and American Machinist.

Union workers in this industry are represented by the International Union of Tool, Die and Mold Makers, founded in 1972 and based in Rahway, New Jersey. The Union absorbed the Tool, Die and Mold Makers Guild in 1975.

Background and Development

The development of the tool and die industry was central to the development of interchangeable parts and mass production technologies in manufacturing. In the mid-1990s, the U.S. Industrial Outlook reported, "Nearly every manufacturer that mass produces a product relies to some degree on contract manufacturing support provided by the small business companies that make up the special tooling and machining industry in the United States." A key historical figure in the industry was Eli Whitney, who used jigs and fixtures to assure the uniformity and thus interchangeability of component parts of firearms used during the War of 1812.

The rapid growth of mass production technologies after the late nineteenth century led to the development of a great number of tool and die shops, most of them small independent contractors. The number of tool and die producing establishments increased from 5,209 in 1954 to 7,924 in 1996.

In their book The Tool and Die Industry, Harold E. Arnett and Donald N. Smith described the special characteristics of the tool and die industry. They wrote: "While mass production is made possible by tooling, the principal tools themselves cannot be mass produced. Tool making, and especially mold and diemaking, is one of the few activities connected with modern large-scale industry in which there has not been a general substitution of machinery for basic skills. These tools are custom-made, one-at-a-time, by skilled artisans who patiently and precisely machine, finish, and construct the complicated devices. Only one die, or set of dies, is needed for the manufacture of many thousands, and sometimes millions, of automobile fenders or hoods of a given design."

There was substantial evidence that the characteristics of tool and die production as described by Arnett and Smith were undergoing significant change in the late twentieth century. While the output of the industry increased by 14 percent in real terms from 1987 to 1993, the employment of production workers increased by only 1.3 percent. Such labor displacement was partially the result of computerized production technologies. The flexibility of these technologies also enabled tool and die producers to undertake a broader range of operations. A number of industry observers predicted the consolidation of tool and die firms, resulting in fewer and larger firms.

In the wake of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a number of U.S. tool and die producers looked to export markets for growth. These producers hoped to serve both Mexican and Canadian manufacturers and also to benefit from the expanded export sales of U.S. manufacturers. Although a number of large manufacturing firms were reducing or eliminating their in-house tool and die operations during the 1990s, this created new possibilities for independent producers.

The value of shipments in the tool and die industry in 1995 was over $13.5 billion, up from $10.2 billion in 1992. Over 50 percent of these shipments ($7.5 billion) consisted of special dies and tools, die sets, jigs, and fixtures. Industrial molds and mold boxes comprised over 35 percent of all shipments ($4.7 billion); the remainder of shipments, over $1.1 billion, were not specified by kind. The number of establishments in the industry increased to approximately 7,280 in 1995.

The tool and die industry employed an estimated 161,000 employees in 1995, an increase of about nine percent over 1990. Production workers accounted for about 77 percent of all employees. Employment declined as the nation reached the new millennium, from 130,948 in 1999 to 127,854 in 2000.Total industry shipments, however, grew from $13.6 billion in 1999 to $14.0 billion in 2000.

Current Conditions

Although the industry felt the effects of the global economic recession of the 2000s, the market was looking up by the end of the decade. According to the United States Manufacturing Technology Consumption Report, U.S. manufacturing technology consumption totaled $178.34 million in May 2010. The year-to-date total, at $966.63 million, was up 52.9 percent as compared to 2009. Peter Borden, president of the American Machine Tool Distributors' Association, commented on capital spending in the industry in a July 2010 press release: "We have seen an additional month of substantial orders which helps to confirm that a sustainable recovery is taking place....Industry forecasts for the year have been revised slightly upward by many sources."

Industry Leaders

Founded in 1921, family-owned and -operated O'Neal Steel Inc. of Birmingham, Alabama, was an industry leader in the early 2010s, with 75 operations in the United States, Mexico, and Canada. The company had 4,400 employees and sales of $2.9 billion in 2009. Another industry leader was Dayton Progress Corp. of Dayton, Ohio. Other significant players included Reliance Tool & Aluminum Company of Los Angeles, with $5.3 billion in 2009 sales, and Worthington Industries of Columbus, Ohio, with 2009 revenues of $1.9 billion. Boston-based Connell Limited Partnership was an acquisition company with interests in the metal working business.

Research and Technology

The key area of research and technical change in the tool and die industry in the 2000s involved computer aided drafting (CAD), computer aided manufacturing (CAM), and computer integrated manufacturing (CIM) technologies. These applications were used to "design cutting tools, gauges, jigs, fixtures, and dies; study production line layout, production forecasting, planning, inventory control, and statistical quality control; learn the methods of determining and distributing expenses and estimating material, labor, and tool costs in the manufacturing of a product; and make time studies of manufacturing," according to ToolDie Tech in 2010.

© COPYRIGHT 2018 The Gale Group, Inc. This material is published under license from the publisher through the Gale Group, Farmington Hills, Michigan. All inquiries regarding rights should be directed to the Gale Group. For permission to reuse this article, contact the Copyright Clearance Center.

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