Man Welding Two Automotive Metal Blocks Together

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – Today’s cars are made of metal, plastic, composite parts that someone has to design. Then they have to make tools to produce those parts by the thousands.

Industry experts say that cadre of talented tool and die makers is growing in short supply in Michigan just as the demand is increasing.

“The average tool and die maker is 56 years old,” says Jay Baron, president and CEO of the Center for Automotive Research (CAR).

“We have not been back-filling. We are running out of talent as the cadence for cars is increasing and the launch rate is increasing.”

About 75 percent of the tool and die makers in the workforce today are expected to retire in the next five to seven years. Meanwhile, it can take up to 10 years to train a master tool and die maker.

CAR is hosting the T3 Summit, a two-day conference of auto makers, suppliers and educators in Grand Rapids next week to discuss the problem and ways to solve it.

The conference is coming to West Michigan because the region has the nation’s greatest demand in tool and die makers, followed by the Detroit-Warren-Dearborn region. The Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia, North Carolina-South Carolina was third.

Today’s cars also are made of different materials that require different fabrication techniques and different tooling, Baron said.

Automakers have the expertise to design the parts and they have factories that can produce machines to assemble the cars, Baron said.

But the shortage of tool and die makers to build the machines is creating a “missing middle” that slows the path to production, he said.

Read more: Automakers ask: Who will make the tools to build our cars?