Engineering tools on technical drawing. Digital caliper, ruler and mechanical pencil

Tooling Engineers

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Do you find yourself idolizing heroes on TV shows like MacGyver that utilizes his scientific knowledge to turn day to day items into life-saving tools, admire the professor on Gilligan’s Island reruns for outfitting the castaways with innovative luxuries despite the barrenness of the island or even the British Intelligence agency who outfitted James Bond with cutting edge technological gadgets? If this sounds like you then a job as a Tooling Engineer may be the ideal fit for you in the automotive engineering world and like the innovative characters above you will be able to design the tooling that gets your team out of an assembly predicament.

Becoming a Tooling Engineer

The first thing to realize when pursuing a career as a tooling engineer is that there is no degree program specifically designed for this specialty. Becoming a tooling engineer requires a strong background in engineering fundamentals and many successful tooling engineers have chosen a mechanical engineering degree with its course work in statics, dynamics, thermodynamics and physics to give them the strong technical background needed to design automotive assembly tooling. When you choose a degree program that you would like to study the entry requirements to that university’s engineering school will be similar as other schools and requires a strong background in math, sciences, physics and chemistry. Additionally, many universities require good scores on the ACT or SAT college entrance exams and will focus on the math and science scores in particular. Don’t be concerned if your social sciences or English scores are lower than required, there are many successful engineers who aced the math and science sections and barely passed the other sections and still were accepted in the program and went on to become successful engineers.

A Day in the Life of an Automotive Tooling Engineer

Tooling engineers begin to be involved during the concept design phase of a new product. During this phase tooling engineers will be involved in design reviews and provide critical input into the design of the components to ensure that there is a tool that can be designed to handle all the parts in the drawings. It is important for the tooling engineer to be involved in the concept phase of the design because once a design leaves this phase the base design has been laid out and can only be tweaked during the development phases. If a major tooling issue escapes the concept phase, it will be exceptionally difficult to make a change since there will already be hard tooling created. The tooling engineer will be faced with a difficult or impossible task of trying to design a tool to manage a part that can’t be manufactured or will require a human assembler. This happens more times that anyone would like to admit in automotive engineering.

Tooling engineers will begin to develop and validate the initial tooling designs that are used during pre-series or prototype builds. Prototype builds involve building small quantities of the product to be used in testing and development. During this phase of development tooling engineers will develop and test multiple revisions of tooling and will modify and optimize their design. Sometimes you will hear the term “soft tooling” to describe this phase. The therm simply means the tooling has not been heat treated so it can still be machined or modified but is not durable enough for a full production run.

There is a variety of tooling that is required in an automotive manufacturing production process including a grip with a screwdriver head attachment to attach bolt an assembly, or a measurement tool to verify a part is within spec or even a grip that carries a large fender, bumper or instrumentation panel for installation.

Once the design enters the validation phase of development then tooling engineers will begin to build the production versions of their tooling designs. This tooling will be used during product validation testing builds for product that will enter qualification testing and should be production intent quality. Now the term “hard tooling” comes in which is hardened and made of specialty (more expensive) material such as carbide. Spare tooling and preventative maintenance plans will be developed during this time as the tooling is used for larger and larger validation builds to validate the manufacturing processes.

Tooling engineers play an essential role in the automotive assembly process and are the unsung heroes who work behind the scenes to get products out the door that meet the highest quality standards.

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