'Die-ing' for respect

August 21, 2008
By: Dan Davis

In my editorial coming up in the September 2008 issue of The FABRICATOR, I write about Die Tech Services Inc., basically an agency that sends out tool and die experts, machine builders, and CNC machinists on a temporary basis.

Like most entrepreneur stories, the company"s genesis is some other company"s screw-up. The founders of Die Tech Services were being sent out on contract assignments by their employer to help automotive components manufacturing facilities with die tryouts. In 2002 Jim Warner and Casey Darby were laid off, but they still recognized a need for contract employees with specialized skills in tool and die and machine tools.

While interviewing Warner, Die Tech Services" president, and Ron Bourque, the company"s general manager, I made the point that it"s funny how manufacturing experts are being whisked away to locations all over the U.S., as well as to China and Mexico, just like white-collar executives. These manufacturing experts are taking their rightful place alongside big-time execs like Mr. J. Worthington Stuffypants of Giant Conglomerate Industries in the airport lounge, eating free salty snacks and drinking bottled water from France.

Warner added that in Asia, tool- and diemakers actually are called die engineers. Their schooling and knowledge set them apart in the manufacturing world as people to be admired, not be taken for granted.

In Europe, I"ve witnessed the tool and die makers wearing what looked to be lab coats—somewhat fitting if you consider how they have to find out what ails tooling during a stamping tryout. They say clothes make the man; these uniforms made the men—and women—out to be knowledgeable authorities.

It wasn"t that long ago that the tool- and diemakers were wearing ties to work. Sure, they may have looked like Sgt. Andy Sipowicz from NYPD Blue, but a tie goes a long way in commanding respect. Plus, with a short-sleeved shirt, you don"t have to worry about cuff links.

Of course, compensation may be the ultimate sign of respect for one"s talent. I think tool and die experts may have much brighter days ahead of them, if they choose to stay in the field.

Like all things in a capitalist society, it"s all about supply and demand. When the baby boomers begin their ride off into the sunset for retirement en masse, U.S. industry will be left with a huge skills gap. (The South already doesn"t have enough tooling expertise, and that"s why Die Tech Services spends so much time in the area.) Experienced tool- and diemakers still in the game at that time likely will be very attractive free agents.

I sure hope that"s the case. Warner said he thinks so because the need for tool and die skills will keep growing in the near term.

He witnessed plenty of tool and die business go to Japan in the 1980s, and a lot of that work eventually came back, keeping tool and die shops busy in the late 1990s. Warner said he is starting to see the trend develop again, as more jobs are coming back from places like China, India, and Romania.

I often wonder if my writing skills will be in demand in the future. I think back to an episode of The Simpsons where Montgomery Burns, the not-so-nice president of the local nuclear power plant, has a room full of monkeys banging away at typewriters as they attempt to write the great American novel.

Mr. Burns grabs a typewritten page from a monkey"s typewriter and reads, It was the best of times, it was the blurst of times? He then shouts out You stupid monkey!

I think I"m safe for the time being. Tool- and diemakers probably are in a much better place, however.

Dan Davis

Dan Davis

FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-227-8281