SIC 3545

This category covers establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing cutting tools, machinists' precision measuring tools, and attachments and accessories for machine tools and for other metalworking machinery, not elsewhere classified. Establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing hand tools, except power-driven types, are classified in the cutlery, hand tools, and general hardware industries.

NAICS Code(s)

333515 (Cutting Tool and Machine Tool Accessory Manufacturing)

332212 (Hand and Edge Tool Manufacturing)

333991 (Power-Driven Hand Tool Manufacturing)

Industry Snapshot

In the late 1990s, a total of 2,096 establishments operated in the industry. In 2000, hand and edge tool manufacturers shipped $7.6 billion worth of goods in 2000, while cutting tool and machine tool accessory manufacturers shipped $5.6 billion worth of goods.

The cutting tools, machine tool accessories, and precision measuring devices industry is facing transition. Increased global competition in all aspects of manufacturing has created demand for better, longer lasting tools and accessories. Extensive development of tougher cutting tool materials and coatings has been the driving force of change in this industry, along with improved cutting tool design that lends extended performance. Increased emphasis on quality control is affecting the measuring device segment through demand for electronic gauges that link to statistical process control software packages. Modular tooling designs have affected the accessories segment.

Ironically, while this industry has paced itself to match industry demand for productivity improvements, it also has met with its own problems. The influx of foreign competitors to this market has been staggering, forcing cutting tool and measuring device manufacturers to look introspectively at their own operations. Process improvements and increased development became commonplace practices to remain profitable.

A downturn in the machine tool industry does not necessarily correlate to the health of the cutting tool industry. Generally, cutting tool sales are viewed as an economic indicator of the nation's manufacturing productivity level. The difference primarily is capital expense. A corporation may decide to purchase a used machine tool over a new one in recessionary times. However, if a company is cutting metal, the cutting tools wear or break and must be sharpened or replaced with new cutting tools. Therefore, the productivity of a metal cutting company generally is directly related to the purchasing levels of machine tools. However, longer lasting cutting tools are being manufactured with specialized coatings that extend the wear life of the tool—sometimes as much as four times the normal wear. With improved cutting tool materials and geometry, the volume of machine tool sales will inevitably drop because the tools are designed to reduce the frequency of replacement. Likewise, improved engineering design of metal castings intentionally reduce the amount of removable machine stock, requiring less cutting tool activity.

Background and Development

The background and development of cutting tools, accessories, and measuring devices is closely tied to the history of machine tool development. The first gear-cutting mechanism was designed by Leonardo da Vinci. However, no evidence indicates that it was ever built. Through the clock making industry, the demand for precision gears and precision measuring devices grew. As time-keeping devices became more popular, production techniques were developed to meet the increasing demand. Metal removing devices were available with very small teeth, which served more as rotary files than chip-forming, cutting tools. Yet, it was not until the mid-1800s that the first cutting tool was developed.

The Phoenix Iron Works of Hartford, Connecticut, created the first tool to really form a metal chip, thereby cutting the metal. The tool had 56 teeth placed around its nearly 3-inch diameter. The teeth were chipped by a hammer and chisel. While effective, the tool required too much labor when it needed sharpening. In 1864, the Brown & Sharpe Co., later the Brown & Sharpe Manufacturing Co., developed the first cutter that could be sharpened by grinding the face without altering its shape. To date, the elements of this design are still in use.

In the mid-1990s, there were about 1,900 establishments in the industry, an increase of about 9 percent over 1990. In 1995, the industry shipped $4.8 billion in products; more than half ($2.6 billion) consisted of small cutting tools for machine tools and metalworking machinery; 22 percent ($1.1 billion) consisted of precision measuring tools.

Current Conditions

In the late 1990s, Worcester, Massachusetts-based Norton Co. developed the AVOS (Allows View of Surface) design, whereby it punched holes in the cutting blades to view through. The company also triangulated the rotating blades to improve vision as well as for brief breaks in the cutting process where the blade loses contact with the surface, allowing it to "breathe," as airflow swarfed out the grinding zone. This reduced heat and friction by 25 percent, improved the finish, and increased the life of the tool.

End mill design is evolving into more specialized geometries for certain material applications. For example, when milling aluminum, a standard, two-flute, high speed, steel end mill was used. However, studies show that using a three-flute end mill on aluminum grants ample space for chip formation while allowing a feed rate increase of up to 50 percent. This tool design change increases productivity by allowing aluminum to be machined faster without increased tool breakage.

New tool coatings also improve performance. Cubic boron nitride coated tooling inserts are gaining ground on carbide and ceramic inserts in areas like high production milling of cast iron. Polycrystalline diamond (PCD) coated inserts also are expected to gain acceptance, largely due to research and development efforts in PCD film technology. PCD is especially suited for ultrahard cutting applications. Titanium nitride coatings also can provide significant benefits—including lower machining cost per part, longer tool life, higher feeds and speeds, improved finished part quality, and reduced tool deflection.

Another example of improved tool wear through coating is polycrystalline cubic boron nitride (PCBN). This innovation, when applied to turning inserts, threatens to replace many grinding operations. Used to machine hardened steel, PCBN turning inserts have no equal. Referred to as hard turning, the insert comes within or surpasses the accuracy and surface finish once reserved for grinding operations. The surface is improved because hard turning burnishes the surface, ending in a cleaner, rust-and crack-inhibitive surface.

Quick change and modular tools are making inroads. Flexibility and adaptability, which these tooling configurations offer, have been emphasized by customers over the years. Rapid precise tool changes save downtime and enable the tailoring of production schedules, thus using personnel and machine tools more efficiently. Modular tooling systems standardize spindle-to-tool interface connections, offering reduced hardware inventories. According to Charles R. Brown, Kennametal Inc.'s application engineering systems manager, "These systems move a process that for centuries has been manual into the age of automation. It's a quantum leap."

The value of hand and edge tool shipments grew from $7.3 billion in 1999 to $7.6 billion in 2000. The value of cutting tool and machine tool accessories shipments grew from $5.1 billion to $5.6 billion over the same time period. The cost of materials for both industry sectors also increased.

Industry Leaders

Washington, D.C.-based Deneher Corp. led the industry with 1998 sales of $2.9 billion. Norton followed closely with $2.6 billion in 1997. Latrobe, Pennsylvania-based Kennametal generated $1.7 billion in sales for the fiscal year ended June 30, 1998. Milacron Inc. of Cincinnati garnered 1998 sales of $1.5 billion before it sold its machine tooling business to Unova of Beverly Hills for $178 million. Global Industrial Technologies of Dallas, Texas, generated 1998 sales of $1.3 billion.


In 2000, a total of 46,182 individuals were employed in the machine tool accessories industry, while 53,345 worked in the hand and edge tool industry. The 32,653 machine tool accessories industry production workers earned an average of $16.40 per hour. The 39,106 hand and edge tool industry production workers earned an average hour wage of $14.81.

Many occupations in this industry will be reduced as the country moves toward the next century. Those facing the most significant reductions (more than 10 percent) include tool cutting operators, assemblers and fabricators, secretaries, machine builders, precision inspectors, and metal forming operators. Small increases in a few occupations are expected; these include industrial production managers, mechanical engineers, combination machine tool operators, numerically controlled machine operators, and machinists.

America and the World

Competition and cost were the battle cries of the 1990s. Global competition is fierce, and only those who master cost savings measures will beat the competition. Nowhere is this more evident than in the auto industry. Although the Americans have experienced difficulty in the marketplace where Japanese cars reign supreme, the Europeans face greater challenges. Nissan's plant in Sunderland, England, lags one hour behind normal production time in Nissan's Japanese plants—18 man-hours versus 17 man-hours per car. However, European plants, on the average, produce a car in 30 to 35 man-hours. German automakers generally require 40 man-hours per car. In terms of cost cutting, it has been estimated that 150,000 jobs too many exist as a result of this inefficiency. Although work ethics differ between the cultures, so does the level of sophisticated machine tools and cutting tools. In order to bridge this gap, European manufacturers may order higher standard machine tools, cutting tools, and accessories and increase the order quantities.

The advent of International Organization for Standardization (ISO 9000) certification brought global uniformity to quality standards. Most European countries have adopted ISO 9000 regulations as official. When business is viewed in a global perspective, the ISO certifications are becoming increasingly necessary to obtain. In the United States, many of the larger companies and organizations—such as Caterpillar, York International, and American Petroleum Institute—have developed their own quality standards. Once a company becomes a potential supplier for the larger company, a quality audit is performed at the potential supplier's facility. Depending on the customer-supplier base, it would be possible for a company to hold several quality certifications, each with its own unique requirements. The benefit to obtaining ISO certification is to achieve a quality level that is understood throughout the world. The ISO certification is reviewed and reaudited every six months. While this is relatively new and fairly controversial in the United States, more than 15,000 certifications are held in Britain alone. The cost of compliance is one of the major obstacles to applying for certification—$15,000 to $20,000 for average sized companies. However, the cost of noncompliance in the future could mean fewer business opportunities, as ISO could become a general requirement for contract awards both domestically and internationally.

Research and Technology

Cryogenic treatment, or the deep freezing of cutting tools, is currently a relatively unexplored process. There is little technical data available to support the successes in increased tool life as a result of the process. For years, one small tooling and die company in Arcadia, Ohio, experimented with dropping several materials, like metals and nylon, to 320 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, or 77 degrees Kelvin. The results have been outstanding. Carbide inserts seem to last 2 to 8 times longer than untreated inserts. Blades for cutting abrasive rubber are lasting up to 37 times longer. Carbide dies stay in service for months, rather than weeks, before needing to be sharpened. Even nylon stockings seem better able to resist runners better. The National Science Foundation has approved a research grant for the company to investigate the effect of cryogenic treatment on the wear life and microstructure of steel. If the research leads to significant findings, deep freezing may become another significant option for the improvement of tool life.

Further Reading

"Better Vision of the Work Surface: Abrasives." Industry Week , 17 February 1997.

Frazier, Mya. "New Milacron Looks to Turn Corner." Business Courier Serving Cincinnati—Northern Kentucky , 12 November 1999.

"Hoover's Online." Austin, TX: Hoover's Inc., 1997. Available from .

United States Census Bureau. 1997 Economic Census—Manufacturing. Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1999.

United States Census Bureau. "Statistics for Industries and Industry Groups: 2000." Annual Survey of Manufacturers. February 2002. Available from .

U.S. Department of Commerce. 1995 Annual Survey of Manufactures. Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1997.

Woodbury, Robert S. Studies in the History of Machine Tools. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1972.

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