Tool and Die

DMACC's Tool and Die Program has a wide-spread reputation as one of the top programs of its kind.  Employers from all over the country inquire about employment program graduates.  Since its inception, a high percentage of graduates have found employment.   It is rare that a graduate does not find work in this field.  Throughout the history of the program, a large number of DMACC graduates have moved into management or engineering positions or started their own companies.

The program is considered to be challenging, and approximately half of those who initially enroll fail to complete the program.

The Tool and Die Program was one of the initial programs offered by the college in 1967.  It was first housed at Center Two in West Des Moines and moved to a new facility, Building 10, at the Ankeny Campus in 1970.  In 1989, in order to improve exposure and to make the CNC machines available for a combined automation project with robotics, the CNC machines were moved into Building 3W.  Students had to go between the two building labs to complete their projects.  In 1994 Tool and Die moved into Bldg. 3E and was back under one roof.   A grant from General Motors, stimulated by Chuck McFarland, I and T Dean, funded part of the building's construction.

An active advisory committee has guided the program since its inception.  The committee, composed of a combination of industry representatives and former students, has met twice a year, except during the program development stage when meetings were often bi-weekly. The committee plays an active role in guiding the program by discussing innovations in the work setting, suggesting new equipment, and reviewing and suggesting changes to competencies. As new technologies are considered for addition to the curriculum, the group helps decide what can be de-emphasized.  The decision to move from drawing boards to computers was strongly suggested by the group as new technologies must be added, and the committee helps decide what can be de-emphasized.  Members also serve as an accessible “sounding board” when faculty needs advice and assistance.

This two-year, seven-quarter program was designed to provide the student with an understanding of blueprint reading and work sketches, determining work specifications, selecting the proper stock to layout, set up, fit, and assemble; and maintaining tools, dies, figs, fixtures and gauges.

Two additional programs related to Tool and Die—Mechanical Technology and Job Shop Machinist—were offered initially.  Mechanical Tech required a strong student math and science competence and prepared students with analytical skills beyond the Tool and Die curriculum.  The program experienced continuing enrollment problems and was discontinued after three years of operation.  William Hart was the instructor.

The Job Shop Machinist (Machinist) Program was essentially the first year of the two-year Tool and Die Program.  This program was successful and continues in operation.  Having this “ladder” program allowed students who were competent machinists to receive a program diploma if they were unable to successfully complete the second year of the Tool and Die Program.  In 1997 the job shop machinist title was changed to Machinist Technology.

Beginning in the 1980s an AAS (Associate in Applied Science) degree option was available to those who earned both the die making and job shop machinist diplomas.

A two-semester (evening) CNC certificate, consisting of credit classes from the first year of the Tool and Die program (Machinist Technology), was added in 2010.

Advanced Manufacturing Technologies, another AAS degree program, was added in 2011.  This program combines welding, manual and CNC machining, CAD (computer aided design), CAM (computer aided machining) and fabrication.

Initially the program accepted 24 incoming students, and this number is still admitted in the fall semester.  Currently the students are assigned to two groups of 12 that can be expanded to 14.  Occasionally, student demand allows a third section of 12.  Enrollment is limited due to safety concerns and the number of machines available to the students.

The program labs were equipped with equipment that was used in industries in the college's service area.  Some of the equipment exceeded the technology in many tool and die shops and prepared graduates for jobs throughout the Midwest.  The demand for program graduates has been high since the first class graduated.  Although the majority of students take jobs in Iowa, many found opportunities in surrounding states.

In 1979 Maynard Amdahl, instructor, encouraged the college to acquire a Bridgeport Boss 5, the first CNC machine for the Tool and Die Program. Today the program has 10 state-of-the-art CNC machines. In 1985 a change was made from designing progressive dies on drawing boards to computers (CAD).  While DMACC has kept up with the changes in the industry, it has maintained traditional tool and die roots.  Several, if not most, schools have abandoned the tool and die training for CNC-only training.  As a result, DMACC receives calls from employers all over the country looking for potential employees.

In 1990 the first-year student projects were changed to incorporate useful tools the student could use as a machinist.  The time spent filing was cut to about four weeks instead of a full semester. This made it possible to move the grinding projects from second year into first year.  This allowed additional time in second year for CAD CAM and other technical advances.  Another change in the early '90s was to break the traditionally large credit lab classes into single topic labs that made it easier for industry to access specific training at the college.

More industries are enrolling students in individual courses to update their skills.  All classes are offered at the Ankeny campus based on the need for access to the appropriate equipment.

From inception, the Tool and Die Program has always supported industry: two examples of supported industries are Accumold and John Deere.  The Accumold relationship has continued and is still available for students.  The scholarship, which began in 2006, is a partnership between Accumold and DMACC. The scholarship was developed to create opportunity for Accumold to help train the company's future workforce and at the same time help raise the general awareness of the DMACC Tool & Die Program. Scholars are given the opportunity to work at Accumold and receive on-the-job-training while attending DMACC. The actual scholarship covers the technical credits required for the DMACC Machinist Tech Diploma (1st year) and the Die Making Diploma (2nd year). The award is estimated at over $9,500. The total number of scholarships awarded since its inception is 31.

The Tool and Die program continues to do apprenticeship training for John Deere.  Employees who are selected into the apprenticeship program take Tool and Die classes at DMACC while continuing to get on-the-job training at John Deere.

Program students have also distinguished themselves in several annual competitions with peers in other colleges.  In 2009 Sawyer Hjortsvang, a tool and die student, won the National Skills USA Machining contest in Kansas City. This student went on to start his own company as many DMACC students have.  Joe Olsen placed third in the same contest in 2013. Since DMACC started hosting the Iowa skills contest, students have always won the post-secondary machining contest.

In 2015 the program faculty observed that employers still expect graduates to have all the manual skills the first graduates had. But in addition to those skills, today's graduates must be computer literate, be able to operate CAD and CAM programs, and understand how a CNC is programmed, setup and operated.
Graduates also need to know how to operate CMM's (Coordinate Measuring Machines), computer driven machines that measure in 3D and interpret blueprints using GD&T (Geometric Dimensioning and Tolerancing) 3D blueprint reading.

The faculty acknowledge Maynard Amdahl, who is considered by most to have been the driving force behind building the reputation the program has today and John Neumayer, who while program chair, put in closer to 80 than 40 hours per week, taking on one project after another to help the program.

The program is also unique in being visited by several state and national leaders including the following:

• U.S. Vice President, Joe Biden 2015
• Former U.S. Secretary of State and First Lady, Hillary Clinton 2015
• U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan
• U.S. Undersecretary of Education, Martha Kanter

Medallions—a remembrance by John F. Neumayer, Instructor, Tool & Die

One day 10 years ago (around 2005) DMACC President Rob Denson invited me to an early morning meeting at his office. As we sat at a small round table and drank coffee, on the table were some leather coasters stacked into a storage rack. We removed a coaster from the rack to set our coffee cups on.  His request for the meeting was to create an award out of metal that could be engraved.

When I ask what he had in mind, he picked-up one of those leather coasters and said, “Something like this,” and the medallion was born. I measured the coaster and it was 3/8ths of an inch thick and 3-3/4 inch in diameter.

Two materials were used to manufacture the medallions through the years, brass and aluminum. When polished the brass medallions look like they are made of gold and the aluminum look like silver. The countless recipients through the years have included; but are not limited to:

• Barack Obama (Presidential seal)
• Joseph Biden (Vice-Presidential seal)
• Nameless Secret Service agent ( Secret Service seal)
• 40 French chefs through the French chef exchange
• Every State of Iowa Senator and Representative (40th DMACC anniversary )
• Martha Kanter (Under-Secretary of Education)
• Arne Duncan (Secretary of Education)
• Jack Kibbie (retired State of Iowa Senator, founder of the community college system in Iowa)

The first instructor/program chair was Bill Stewart, a journeyman tool and die maker.  His experience in industry, apprenticeship programs and teaching were invaluable in establishing the program.  Other program chairs include Dick Selinger (1978-1990), Dick Silver (1990-2003), John Neumayer (2003-2013) and the current chair, Mark Rosenberry (2012-present).

These faculty members have also played a key instructional role Richard Steen, (1967-1974), Bill Hart (1967-1972), Gene Barns   (1974 -1978), Maynard Amdahl (1978-2013), Dennis Knittel (2008-present), and Dale Collins (2008-present).

The faculty also appreciate the support and encouragement of these Department Chair/Deans:  Norm Luiken,  Carol Spencer, Tom Nelson, Chuck Mc Farland, Wayne Merrill, and Scott Ocken.

It is an appropriate conclusion to this history to share the recollections about the program by Dale Collins, a program graduate who is currently serving as a tool and die faculty member.

I started teaching full-time in August of 2013 after being an adjunct instructor for many years. I graduated from DMACC's Tool & Die program in the mid-'70s.  My instructors back then were Bill Stewart (1st year); Dick Steen (2nd year) and John Armstrong (Blueprint and Math).  Bill and Dick started the original Tool & Die Program.

At that time, we spent a lot more time using files and hand tools and more time on manual machines.  In the early '70s, we had a more diverse variety of manual machines.  CNC was not used for Tool & Die work and was considered a production tool.  Precise fits were achieved with a great deal of finesse.  We had a couple of machines with optical readouts but no electronic digital readouts.  Indicators and length rods were used on very precise mills and jig bore tables on a couple machines.  Both of these required more interaction and possible errors.  Machine movements were kept track of by the dials and counting turns of the lead screw and a lot of math.  No incremental movements could be made.  Most machines now have digital readouts, which streamline machine positioning.

The height gages on surface plate used Vernier scales and a lot of math.  These could not be zeroed out.  You would zero on the reference surface by recording whatever peculiar measurement was read on the Vernier scale and doing the math with those numbers to take measurements.  Perhaps 1.351 was your reference zero.  This had to be added or subtracted to all the dimensions when making height gage measurements.  Manual math, square roots, Trig.  No calculators were allowed.  You either got good at math or moved on.  One of three students who started the program completed the two years required for a degree.  Tutoring was limited if at all in those early days.  Computer use was non-existent for students and most faculty members.

Our instructional program today has improved greatly over what I experienced as a student. One of the reasons for this are the many options students have for help; a few of these are counselors, advisors, pathway navigators, lab assistants, tutors, and work-study students.

In Summary

The tool and die program was one of the original occupational programs.  The program has consistently produced students who were successful in industry.  It is recognized for the curriculum's relevance to the work place, the variety and currency of its labs, the level  of occupational competence of its faculty and cooperative programs with industry that provide unique learning opportunities to students who are enrolled in the program.

Contributors to the tool and die history include Maynard Amdahl, John Neumayer, Mark Rosenberry, Dennis Knittel and Dale Collins.