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Case Study: Toolmaker - Andrew

What do you do?

I work as a toolmaker in a plant that makes parts for cars.

I spend most of my job assembling parts to create machines. One of the machines I assemble holds part of an engine in place while a set of drills creates holes in it.

When I put the machine together, I have to make sure the drills are properly co-ordinated and the engine part remains in place during the drilling.

I often have to modify machine parts before assembling them. This might involve grinding a particular machine part to get a good finish.

What is your background?

Well, life is funny sometimes! My dad was a toolmaker but I didn't want to follow in his footsteps. Instead, I started out as an apprentice electrician.

When my job fell through, my brother told me that a big car plant was taking people on. I applied for a general assembler position and they liked me.

After I'd been there for about six months, they asked if anyone wanted to do an apprenticeship programme for electricians or toolmakers. I sat a test, and my manager told me he'd rather I trained to be a toolmaker.

Even though it was my second choice, I can honestly say I'm pleased with the way it turned out.

What characteristics do you need to be successful in your job?

First and foremost, you have to be good with your hands. Toolmakers rely on the skill and dexterity of their hands every day. Basic maths skills are also important. You'll find yourself using maths to help work out dimensions or to set up machines.

For a toolmaker, a logical mind is a tremendous advantage. If you are building a tool, one that involves a lot of steps to assemble, you have to be able to think a number of steps ahead, so all of the parts fit together.

What other jobs could you do using the skills from this job?

Any part of mechanical work could open itself up to you. Because you know exactly how the machines work, it stands to reason you could operate one. You may even be able to design better tools. Or, you could move up to become a manager.

What changes will there be in the future?

Future demand is difficult to predict. Some people believe the trade is dying off, others feel there is still a lot of future potential. I believe toolmakers will always be needed to perform certain basic tasks, like filing or grinding.

However, computerised number control (CNC) machines are definitely changing the nature of the job. In some cases, jobs will be eliminated, perhaps leading to less demand overall.

Are there many opportunities to enter this career?

I think there are a fair number of opportunities. However, in today's world, knowing how to operate traditional metalworking machines like boring mills, lathes and grinders is not enough.

You should make sure you receive enough training for computerised number control (CNC) machines. That way you should be in demand.

What do you like about your job?

I've always enjoyed working with my hands. I'm not interested in sitting at a desk shuffling paper. Grinding and fitting metal, welding and using machines on a daily basis is ideal for me.

I also like seeing direct results of the work I do. If I drill a hole for a part and it fits, or if I grind a part to specifications, I know I've done my job properly. There's an immediate sense of accomplishment.

As a toolmaker, I learn a lot about manufacturing processes and I find this fascinating. I like being able to look at almost anything metal, from soft drinks cans to cars, and have a pretty good idea of how they were made.

What do you dislike about your job?

I suppose my main dislike is when I get a tedious job. For instance, I might have to make 500 of the same type of tool. By the time I've made 50 of them, I'm climbing the walls!

Manufacturing is a very competitive industry; toolmakers are expected to work overtime when it's needed. I'm someone who definitely needs to have some time away from work, so I do get a bit cheesed-off with having to work weekends.

What advice would you give to someone interested in your career?

Find out about the companies in your area that take on toolmakers. Also, get exposure to the different areas you can specialise in, such as mould making or computer controlled machining, to find out which area you prefer.

A day in the life

7:00 am - 7:30 am

Figuring out which jobs have to be done, looking at blueprints and drawings for those jobs, planning the workday.

7:30 am - 9:00 am

Working on putting together a machine that grinds a surface to a smooth finish, working with a welding torch to assemble certain parts, passing these parts on to machinists for further work.

9:00 am - 9:10 am

Coffee break.

9:10 am - 12:00 pm

Continuing to work on welding parts for the grinding machine, passing these parts on to machinists for further work.

12:00 pm - 12:30 pm


12:30 pm - 2:00 pm

Drilling holes into machine parts; tapping holes (which means putting in the threads for a future screw placement).

2:00 pm - 3:00 pm

Retrieving parts from machinists to harden them using metallurgy, heating the parts up to 1,500 degrees Celsius, then placing the parts in oil to cool off, tempering the parts (which means heating them up to 700 degrees Celsius and then letting them cool down naturally).

3:00 pm - 3:30 pm

Cleaning up and filling out company time sheets.

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