What’s the Difference Between Tool and Die?

Tag Archive: manufacturing

  1. What’s the Difference Between Tool and Die?

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    The terms “tool” and “die” are used interchangeably to the point that many machinists refer to the field broadly as “tool and die”, regardless of their specific expertise. In general, this practice is completely appropriate—there is little functional difference between a tool and a die, if any, and most machinists who fabricate tools also create dies. However, there are some nuances to the terms in industry, so it’s worth breaking down the slight distinctions.

    tool and die

    The easiest way to think of the difference between a tool and a die is simply that dies are a subset of tools—all dies are tools, but not all tools are dies. In metal stamping, a tool can be almost any mechanical device used to cut, form, support, or mold metals. By that definition, jigs and fixtures are tools, as are drills and cutting blades. Dies, on the other hand, are only those tools that functionally change the shape of the metal. Dies are typically the female components of a larger tool or press.

    Even more confusing, many industry stakeholders will also refer to the male partner of a female die component as a die. In this common usage, the punch block is called a die, as is the punch or press, but structural components like fixtures are still tools. Still others consider any tool containing a die to be a die itself.

    Working under the second framework, where a die is considered to be both the male and female forming parts, it becomes more useful to classify dies by function rather than to debate the somewhat nebulous distinction between terms.

    Die Types

    There is a wide dictionary of terms used to classify dies, some broader than others. At the highest level, dies can be separated by their function of either cutting or forming the stock material. Any die that removes, cuts, or shears material can be called a cutting die, regardless of its mechanism, while a die that doesn’t remove anything is a forming die. 


    This classification is a bit of an oversimplification, as some dies do combine cutting and forming functions. It’s also possible to go further with these types of groupings—considering coining dies separate from forming ones, for instance—but those distinctions are based on the process itself and can be seen as somewhat redundant. 

    Another useful way to classify dies is to consider what happens with each stroke of the press as a portion of the whole tooling process.

    Read blog: Progressive Die vs. Transfer Die vs. Compound Die Stamping

    Simple Dies

    A simple die, as its name suggests, only performs one cutting or forming action per stroke. These specialized machines can be cost-effective for simple designs, but they are far less efficient where multiple forming actions are necessary.

    Compound Dies

    Compound dies are designed so that a single stroke accomplishes multiple cutting and forming actions. Although combining operations can slow down the stroke, compound dies are more efficient over the course of the tool manufacturing process and minimize the chance of errors when transferring a workpiece between multiple stations.  These dies are generally less costly than progressive dies.

    Progressive Dies

    Progressive dies offer one of the most efficient methods of accomplishing multiple operations on a single blank. Rather than performing operations simultaneously, however, the modifications occur at separate stations as a feeding mechanism continuously pushes metal into the die. 
    In this way, each stroke initiates multiple cutting or forming actions, but they are applied to different segments of the workpiece—each of which will become its own finished component. The final station removes a finished component from the longer workpiece, meaning that each stroke yields one or more parts even as others are in process.

    Transfer Dies

    Transfer dies resemble progressive dies, but they begin with pre-cut blanks that must be mechanically transferred between stations rather than using one continuously-fed strip of metal. Conveyor belts or transfer fingers often provide the transfer action. A transfer die allows for heightened efficiency even when working with larger parts or more complex parts that aren’t compatible with progressive die cutting.

    Multiple Dies

    A gang press or multiple die press is unique in that it creates multiple components with every stroke of the press. Typically, this requires several identical dies to be linked to the same control mechanism so that they can operate in sync with one another.

    Parts of a Die

    Though there are differences across categories—especially between cutting and forming dies—most dies consist of a similar set of components:

    parts of a tool

    • Die block. The die block is comparable to a mold in that it has holes and indentations that correspond to the desired shape of the component. The punch or press depresses the piece into the die block to achieve the desired shape. In most cases, this is the female portion of the die.
    • Die holder. A die holder supports the die block, and the holder itself is supported by a bolster plate. These pieces are attached to the upper or lower die shoe.
    • Punch plate. The punch plate attaches the actual punching component to the ram, which propels its movement.
    • Punch. The punch is the male portion of the die which actually descends onto the workpiece to force a conformational change.
    • Stripper plate. The stripper plate helps separate the workpiece from the punch after each stroke.
    • Guide pin. Guide pins are essential to precisely align the upper and lower halves of a die. 
    • Pressure plates/back-up plates. Various pressure plates are installed in the die to distribute the extreme pressure applied by the punch. 

    parts of an upper die parts of a lower die

    Difference Between Male and Female Dies

    We’ve repeatedly referred to male and female dies, but it can be helpful to clarify exactly what that means—especially since dies show so much diversity. 

    As in electronics, the male component is the protruding component, while the female is the depression or indentation.

    • — In the context of metal stamping, the male punch is driven into the die block to cut or form the workpiece (or both, as discussed above).
    • — The corresponding female part defines the shape of the component and includes the die block indentations into which the workpiece is pressed. The female portion is not always composed of solid cavities, however, and holes can be useful to allow sheared or drilled metal to be cleared easily.

    Except in instances where the operation uses only a simple die, the male portion will likely comprise multiple steel cutting or forming punches with the female portions matching the male pattern.

    Turnkey Toolmaking Services by ESI

    At Engineering Specialties, Inc., we specialize in the design and manufacture of highly complex dies and tools. Our team of experienced toolmakers sees each project through from CAD rendering to production using the most advanced CNC equipment available. Our attention to detail at each of these steps allows us to achieve 0.0002″ tolerances on custom dies, ensuring that your components are formed with the utmost precision. 

    ESI’s capabilities and equipment enable us to accommodate high-volume production runs and complicated technical challenges while maintaining quick lead times and affordable pricing. We can create single dies for in-house use or act as a full-service manufacturing partner. For more information about tooling and our capabilities, please contact us today for a free project analysis.

    Free Project Analysis

  2. An Inside Look into ESI’s Metal Stamping and Manufacturing Capabilities

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    Before we begin a metal stamping project with our customers, we make sure to understand how they work and how their component will work. Understanding the complete manufacturing process is important, from a part’s design and the equipment it runs on, on all the way through to delivery.

    That’s why we compiled a virtual tour of ESI’s facility — so that you could see how we work. The video provides a glimpse of our automated equipment and state-of-the-art technologies. Our goal is to show you why top-tier manufacturers choose ESI for tight tolerances and tough challenges, so we packed as many processes from our facility as we could into this 3-minute video.

    A Glimpse at Our Capabilities

    Inside our video, we show off the variety of skills and capabilities we’ve perfected at ESI since our start in the late 90s. This includes:

    Metal Stamping

    ESI provides metal stamping for virtually any product at high and low volumes.

    metal stamped pieces moving down a conveyor belt

    We offer our clients progressive stamping to eliminate inefficiencies and cost-effectively complete multiple actions on one single press rather than repeatedly switching tooling or utilizing multiple presses. Additionally, we offer fourslide metal stamping to enable horizontal alignment and four different tools for the simultaneous bending of the workpiece.

    Tool and Die Manufacturing

    Beyond our metal stamping abilities, ESI can also partner you with our design and engineering experts to help manufacture tools and high-precision progressive dies for the most complex project specifications.


    ESI provides their customers tolerances as tight as .0005″ (.01 mm) for parts and .0002″ (.005 mm) for dies, high-level technology like CNC machines, blueprints, and quality inspection devices, and high volume production loads.

    Finishing & Assembly Services:

    Additionally, ESI offers both finishing and assembly services across a variety of industries including automotive, aerospace, and medical.


    Our assembly services help simplify your production process by manufacturing, automatically assembling, and then inspecting your part all in one place with one vendor. Furthermore, we offer a wide breadth of metal finishes for different applications based on corrosion resistance needs, pricing restrictions, aesthetics, thermal conductivity, and a whole host of other decision factors.

    Quality to Meet Your Exact Specifications:

    ESI is certified IATF 16949, which is the latest automotive quality standard—similar to ISO and built on the same platform, but more stringent in certain areas. 

    quality inspection equipment

    However, no matter what your product, or what your specifications, ESI is driven by the demand to deliver quality for all their customer’s projects.

    Contact ESI:

    At ESI, the customer and the quality of the customer’s product is our top concern. Check out our new company video to learn more about we talked about above and to get an answer to the question: “Why ESI?”


    View Our Sample Gallery
    For questions about our capabilities and services or to request a free project analysis, reach out to contact us today!

  3. How Is Technology Changing Manufacturing?

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    Over the past several years, advanced technology has come to the forefront in the manufacturing world.

    This technology not only enhances processes via automation, it has also allowed for a huge resurgence in U.S. manufacturing. In fact, data from the Institute for Supply Management showed that as of October 2017, the U.S. manufacturing industry had expanded at its fastest pace in 13 years.

    automated technology in manufacturing

    Evolutions in additive manufacturing, automation and industrial robotics are changing every step in the manufacturing process. Manufacturers are adopting robotics and technologies to collaborate with human engineers and operators, freeing them up for higher-level tasks and thereby increasing overall efficiency.

    At ESI, we’re proud to be a part of this exciting shift. We make use of various advanced manufacturing and industrial automation technologies, allowing us to provide cost-efficient, high-quality products with extremely quick turnarounds. Take a look at some of our automated processes below to see just how much time manufacturing technology saves us — and our customers.

    3D Printing

    Time saved for prototyping jobs: Over 200 hours

    3d printer

    The use of 3D printing has dramatically reduced the amount of time needed to develop and produce prototypes, as well as the overall costs associated with the process.

    Before we started utilizing 3D printing, it could take up to two weeks to design and develop a prototype. Additive manufacturing has reduced that time to just three or four hours. And since less time is required to build the prototype, ESI can now devote more time to thoroughly testing and evaluating the part, which, in turn, allows us to more easily adjust and optimize the design as needed.

    Automated Packaging

    Time saved for packaging: 15 hours

    automated-packagingThe team at ESI also makes use of a sophisticated automated packaging machine that loads parts, weighs, and packages them according to weight. With this manufacturing technology, ESI has been able to significantly reduce the overall time and costs needed for all packaging processes.

    What used to take 20 hours with manual packaging now takes just five hours­­. This allows us to get products to customers faster, at lower rates than allowed by manual packaging.

    Vision Inspection/Assembly

    Time saved for inspection: 10 mins. per part (for million-part jobs)

    To ensure our products are of the highest possible quality, we employ an integrated vision inspection and assembly system — a unique, customized assembly machine featuring built-in technology that inspects part runs in the millions.

    This allows for high precision and nearly eliminates the risk of any defects or problems. With this technology, we’ve significantly reduced the amount of time needed to check dozens of specified criteria; now, this complex analysis can be done in just milliseconds. And since this system combines assembly and inspection processes, we can more effectively manufacture large runs of parts with greater accuracy.

    Before we started using this technology, the turnaround time for inspection and assembly was about 10 minutes per part, but now it’s just half a second! Jobs that would have been nearly impossible to complete are now easily doable.

    Every manufacturer knows that product defects are a major cause of cost overruns and project delays.

    Quality of parts is an essential piece of the manufacturing puzzle. It is even more critical to the safety of applications, such as automotive parts. When there is absolutely no room for error, the inspection portion of the manufacturing process takes on a vital role.

    As an indication of our commitment to both quality and safety, our team at ESI has designed a customized assembly machine with the ability to inspect parts based on dozens of specific criteria. In just milliseconds — a speed faster than the blink of an eye — our machine can confirm that a part has been manufactured within the tolerances specified by our client.

    By leveraging the power of a vision-based inspection machine, we are able to verify parts with unparalleled speed and accuracy. The vision systems we use are capable of working far faster, and far more accurately than any human inspector.

    In the end, this means that we are able to deliver cost savings without having to sacrifice the quality of our products in any way.

    Learn More

    Automation and robotics deliver a range of benefits for both industrial companies and their customers. At ESI, our advanced manufacturing technology provides shorter turnarounds, faster production times, and higher-quality products, giving us more time to work with our customers to perfect part engineering, design, and functionality.

    To learn more about our manufacturing technology, or to further discuss the benefits of automation, check out our eBook on high-volume production, available in our comprehensive resource library.

    Visit our Resource Library

  4. Inside ESI: How Our Manufacturing Equipment Works

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    Committed to continual improvement, the team at ESI is constantly on the lookout for new equipment and processes that will ensure the highest-quality, fastest production — especially for the largest runs.

    ESI MachinesTo accomplish this, we’ve even custom-built a few machines of our own.

    You may have heard about our latest venture in 3D printing to expand our metal stamping capabilities and better serve our diverse clients. But this isn’t the only valuable investment we’ve made over the years.

    Below, we explore the state-of-the-art machines that have helped us solve our customers’ toughest challenges.

    State-of-the-Art Manufacturing Equipment

    • Swiss-Made Wire Electrical Discharge Machine (EDM)

    swiss-made-high-speed-EDMAdded in March of this year, the AgieCharmilles CUT 300 mS specializes in high-speed wire EDM cutting and boasts cutting tolerances of ±2 µm and surface qualities as fine as Ra 0.1 µm.

    In addition to its high precision and fine surface finishes, it also provides significant time and cost savings. What does all this mean? Higher-quality products, faster turnaround times, and lower costs for our customers.

    Read more about how our EDM machine saved a customer money while allowing for design flexibility.

    • 150-Ton Stamping Press

    Progressive die stamping provides a cost-effective way to produce metal components with complex geometries at extremely high speeds while ensuring high reliability and minimal scrap. With a bed size of 48 in. x 60 in., our 150-ton press can stamp a variety of formed and flat parts.

    Discover how our 150-ton stamping press saved one client 80% of their part order and cut their lead time from 10 weeks to four.

    • Custom Vision Inspection Machine

    laser-sensor-inspectionTo ensure reliable quality, ESI designed a proprietary vision inspection machine that can inspect parts based on dozens of criteria — in milliseconds.

    A laser sensor triggers a camera, which captures an image of the part as it drops through a window in the machine. These quality inspections are faster and more accurate than human inspection and allow us to deliver millions of parts at a quicker turnaround, with zero defects.

    To get an inside look at how this groundbreaking technology works, download our eBook, “High Volumes, Zero Defects: How It Works” or see it in action here.

    • Automated Assembly

    In addition to our metal stamping capabilities for complex parts, we also offer assembly services. Through our automated assembly and inspection services, we can increase production rates while reducing your costs and turnaround times.

    See for yourself how we were able to increase productivity and decrease defect rates for one of our recent customers.

    • Automated Packaging Line

    As an extension of our automated assembly services, ESI’s automated packaging line weighs and counts bulk parts to precisely fill cartons, allowing for speedy and accurate packaging before delivery.


    About ESI Precision Metal Stamping

    Here at ESI, we pride ourselves on our precision metal stamping expertise and one-on-one personal service. With a variety of high-quality metal stamping machines, we can work on projects of any size, for any industry — from aerospace and medical to military and automotive.

    We invite you to visit our cutting-edge facilities in North Branford, Conn., where we have 57,000 square feet of manufacturing space. To see our equipment in action. Contact us today to schedule your visit.


  5. Thinking Green: ESI Supports Environment with Solar Panels

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    Solar power usage saving CT manufacturer gas, money, and emissions

    Earth Day is just as important in the manufacturing field as it is in the private realm — especially for local metal stamper Engineering Specialties, Inc. (ESI), which saves one hundred tons of CO2 per year with its building’s solar panels.

    More than two years ago, ESI worked with Independence Solar to install one of the area’s largest photovoltaic solar panel arrays. The completed project, which required a total of 494 solar panels on the roof of ESI’s 30,500-square-foot metal stamping and machining facility, has a maximum power generation capacity of 124 kilowatts (kW).

    “We are happy and excited to be doing our part to reduce our carbon footprint,” said ESI President Ron Delfini. “The energy efficiency we’re achieving is a large aspect of our mission to be a responsible, environmentally-friendly manufacturer.”

    Originally anticipated to fulfill about 65% of ESI’s electrical requirements, the system has been performing above expectations — to date, the system generates an average of 70% of ESI’s requirements.

    In two years, ESI’s solar panel array has generated over 340,000 kW hours (kWh) of electricity. This amounts to a 250-ton reduction in their carbon footprint. To put it another way, the panels’ energy output is the equivalent of over 28,000 gallons of gasoline — enough to drive 50 cars for a year.

    And the solar panels are saving more than just energy.

    “Between energy savings and incentive payments, we generate approximately $41,000 a year,” Delfini said.

    By generating their own electricity, ESI mitigates spikes in energy prices. Keeping a significant operating cost stable allows them to focus on investing in high-end equipment and technology for the benefit of their clients.

    solar-panel-monitoringAs an added bonus, ESI’s solar panel program also benefits the local Connecticut community. On sunny days, any surplus energy not used by the building is fed back into the grid, helping to keep their neighbors’ energy supply stable and affordable.

    ESI’s solar power progress is available online to the public. Numbers, including current and past solar generation, kilowatt hours produced, tons of carbon saved, and more information can be viewed at Live.DeckMonitoring.com/?id=esi.


  6. ESI Adds Swiss-Made Wire EDM Machine to Connecticut Facility

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    Engineering Specialties, Inc. (ESI) is excited to announce the addition of a new high-speed wire EDM cutting machine to its line of innovative equipment.

    The introduction of the AgieCharmilles CUT 300 mS, the most versatile wire EDM machine on the market, will exponentially expand upon ESI’s precision machining capabilities and services.

    Wire EDMSpecializing in high speed wire EDM cutting, the CUT 300 mS features a large 22” x 14” x 16” cutting area with X, Y, Z travel capabilities, and wire diameters ranging from .076 to 0.33 mm. The machine’s outstanding precision can achieve a cutting tolerance of ±2 µm and surface quality as fine as Ra 0.1 µm, as well as taper cuts at full height up to 45 degrees.

    This high standard of precision is maintained by the CUT 300 mS’ active thermo-stabilization system, which is capable of maintaining water temperature within +/- 0.2 degrees Celsius. The machine’s numerical controls, 3D setup, smart threading, and intuitive human-machine interface allow for high speed data transmission and facilitate quick adjustments during and between jobs.

    With these state-of-the-art capabilities, the CUT 300 mS cuts pieces with the highest precision while providing both time and cost savings in a variety of ways. Finally, this high-speed wire EDM cutter is built for long lasting precision, so customers will never have to worry about a decline in quality.

    For ESI customers specifically, the addition of the CUT 300 mS means they will receive better quality products thanks to optical communication lines delivering high accuracy and the finest surface finishes. The versatility of this machine opens up ESI’s capabilities in manufacturing a range of different types of projects, applications, and industries.

    About ESI

    Engineering Specialties, Inc. (ESI) has delivered custom engineering and manufacturing solutions for over two decades. ESI utilizes cutting edge technologies to cut costs and improve quality for its customers’ most time-sensitive and safety-critical jobs. For more information about ESI’s design and machining services, including its new wire EDM cutting capabilities, please visit the website today.

  7. 3 Ways to Address High-Volume Metal Stamping Defects


    A common need in today’s business and manufacturing world is the production of large quantities of complex parts – with quick and accurate results.

    Finding a cost-effective metal stamper that can meet the required time frame also isn’t easy. There are a few challenges that can slow production time or quality.

    Combatting Defect Rates

    prevent-metal-stamping-defectsDefect rates are one of the most common challenges that come with high-volume runs. These types of runs can incorporate numbers as large as millions or even hundred-millions. With this many parts, inspection of each piece becomes quite challenging.

    ESI’s team created a solution for the high-volume inspection process to help prevent potentially defective parts from reaching the customer.

    Our solution involves using multi-part fixturing that allows multiple parts to be inspected simultaneously. This special inspection method involves coordinate measuring machines, or CMMs, which use a probe to do a tactile inspection of each part, coupled with machine vision systems inspecting parts using imaging software.

    ESI’s multi-part fixtures allow us to measure and compare hundreds of part dimensions in only a few minutes. Not only is the process time-sensitive, it also guarantees quality and fidelity of the parts we manufacture at any size run. This ensures that no defective parts are sent out to valued customers by maintaining quality assurance across all orders.

    Other Challenges

    3-solutions-metal-stampingThe multi-part fixture is simply one solution to various problems associated with metal stamping high-volume runs. Our latest eBook addresses two other challenges commonly faced with such runs, such as when a process does not output the part as it was designed, and when a high-volume production wears down tools, resulting in eventual delays.

    To learn more about potential challenges in high-volume runs of metal stamping, as well as further solutions to these issues, download our free eBook, 3 Solutions to High-Volume Metal Stamping Defects.

    Click here to access the eBook or select the button below.


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