SIC 3544

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.

NAICS Code(s)

333514 (Special Die and Tool, Die Set, Jig, and Fixture Manufacturing)

333511 (Industrial Mold Manufacturing)

Industry Snapshot

In the late 1990s, roughly 7,300 establishments operated in this industry. Employment totaled 127,854 workers receiving a payroll of more than $5.3 billion in 2000. Of these employees, 99,977 worked in production, putting in almost 205 million hours to earn wages of nearly $3.8 billion. Overall shipments for the industry were valued at more than $14 billion in 2000.

Organization and Structure

In the mid-1990s, the states ranking in the industry top ten by value of shipments were, in order of descending value, Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Pennsylvania, California, Indiana, Wisconsin, New York, New Jersey, and Minnesota. Together these ten states accounted for 81 percent of total shipments and 79 percent of total employment for the industry. Of the top 15 firms in the industry, five 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.

The industry is served by the National Tooling and 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 3,100 members and a staff of 40 in 1996, making it among the largest trade associations in the United States. 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 semi-annual conferences. The industry was also served by the Tooling and Manufacturing Association of Chicago and the Michigan Tooling Association of Dearborn. The latter Association of 715 members was founded in 1933 and published the periodical Tool Talk. Other industry journals included 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

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, called a 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.

The development of the tool and die industry was central to the development of interchangeable parts and mass production technologies in manufacturing. As the U.S. Industrial Outlook 1994 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 6,616 in 1972 and 6,983 in 1989. Of the total number of establishments in 1989, 1,665 had 20 or more employees. By 1996 the number of establishments increased to an estimated 7,924—1,740 of these had 20 or more employees.

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 1980s and 1990s. 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.

A number of large manufacturing firms were reducing or eliminating their in-house tool and die operations during the 1990s, creating new possibilities for independent producers. Among these was General Motors, which announced in 1993 that it expected to eliminate four of its 11 tool and die shops.

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 by over 3 percent since 1990, to approximately 7,280 in 1995.

The tool and die industry employed an estimated 161,000 employees in 1995, an increase of about 9 percent since 1990. There were about 123,000 production workers in 1995, up from 114,300 in 1990. Production workers accounted for about 77 percent of all employees in 1995, which was approximately the same percentage as in 1990. In 1995, production workers' average weekly hours were 44.1; hourly wages were $14.55. The 1995 averages for all production workers in manufacturing industries were 41.6 weekly hours and $12.37 in hourly wages.

Current Conditions

Total industry shipments grew from $13.6 billion in 1999 to $14.0 billion in 2000. The cost of materials increased from $3.92 billion in 1999 to $4.12 billion in 2000. Over the same time period, however, total employment declined from 130,948 to 127,854, and the number of production employees dropped from 101,422 to 99,977.

Industry Leaders

O'Neal Steel Inc. of Birmingham, Alabama led the industry with almost $1.8 billion in sales for its fiscal year ended June 30, 1997. MTD Products Inc. of Valley City, Ohio, followed with 1998 sales of almost $1.3 billion. Prince Corp. of Holland, Michigan garnered sales of $875.0 million for its fiscal year ended September 30,1997. Boston-based Connell L.P. rounded out the top 5 industry leaders with 1997 sales of more than $811.0 million. Other industry leaders included Pittsburgh-based Cable Design Technologies Inc., Dayton Progress Corp. of Dayton, Ohio, and Progressive Tool and Industries Co./Wisne Design of Southfield, Michigan.

Research and Technology

The key area of research and technical change in the tool and die industry in the 1990s involved CAD/CAM technologies. The journal Plastics Technology surveyed 700 producers of industrial molds regarding their use of CAD. These producers used CAD for 10 percent of their tooling in 1992 and aimed to increase this to 40 to 50 percent. In 1993, Solingen Incorporated of Northridge, California, introduced a manufacturing process called direct shell production casting, which enabled the casting of metal parts directly from a three-dimensional image on a computer screen. Among the leading producers of software for the industry were the Roland Digital Group and Delcam International PLC.

Further Reading

Arnett, Harold, and Donald Smith. The Tool and Die Industry: Problems and Prospects. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan School of Business Administration, 1975.

Darnay, Arsen J., Ed. Manufacturing USA. 5th ed. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group, 1996.

Infotrac Company Profiles. Available from , 2/14/99.

United States Census Bureau. 1997 Economic Census-Manufacturing. Available from and , 2/14/00.

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: GPO, 1997.

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