Inspectors, Testers, and Graders Career Information
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Significant Points· For workers who perform relatively simple tests
of products, a high school diploma is sufficient; experienced production workers
fill more complex inspecting positions.
· Employment is expected to decline, reflecting the growth of automated inspection and the redistribution of quality-control responsibilities from inspectors to other production workers.
Nature of the WorkInspectors, testers, sorters,
samplers, and weighers ensure that your food will not make you sick, your car
will run properly, and your pants will not split the first time you wear them.
These workers monitor or audit quality standards for virtually all manufactured
products, including foods, textiles, clothing, glassware, motor vehicles, electronic
components, computers, and structural steel. As quality becomes increasingly
important to the success of many production firms, daily duties of inspectors
have changed. In some cases, their titles also have changed to quality-control
inspector or a similar name, reflecting the growing importance of quality.
Regardless of title, all inspectors, testers, sorters, samplers, and weighers work to guarantee the quality of the goods their firms produce. Job duties, even within one company, vary by the type of products produced or the stage of production. Specific job duties also vary across the wide range of industries in which these workers are found. For example, inspectors may check products by sight, sound, feel, smell, or even taste to locate imperfections such as cuts, scratches, bubbles, missing pieces, misweaves, or crooked seams. These workers also may verify dimensions, color, weight, texture, strength, or other physical characteristics of objects. Machinery testers generally verify that parts fit, move correctly, and are properly lubricated; check the pressure of gases and the level of liquids; test the flow of electricity; and do a test run to check for proper operation. Some jobs involve only a quick visual inspection; others require a longer, detailed one. Sorters may separate goods according to length, size, fabric type, or color, while samplers test or inspect a sample taken from a batch or production run for malfunctions or defects. Weighers weigh quantities of materials for use in production.
Inspectors, testers, sorters, samplers, and weighers are involved at every stage of the production process. Some inspectors examine materials received from a supplier before sending them to the production line. Others inspect components, subassemblies, and assemblies or perform a final check on the finished product. Depending on the skill level of the inspectors, they also may set up and test equipment, calibrate precision instruments, repair defective products, or record data.
Inspectors, testers, sorters, samplers, and weighers rely on a number of tools to perform their jobs. Many use micrometers, calipers, alignment gauges, and other instruments to check and compare the dimensions of parts against the parts' specifications. They also may operate electronic equipment, such as measuring machines, which use sensitive probes to measure a part's dimensional accuracy. Inspectors testing electrical devices may use voltmeters, ammeters, and oscilloscopes to test insulation, current flow, and resistance.
Inspectors mark, tag, or note problems. They may reject defective items outright, send them for repair or correction, or fix minor problems themselves. If the product is acceptable, inspectors may screw on a nameplate, tag it, stamp it with a serial number, or certify it in some other way. Inspectors, testers, sorters, samplers, and weighers record the results of their inspections, compute the percentage of defects and other statistical measures, and prepare inspection and test reports. Some electronic inspection equipment automatically provides test reports containing these inspection results. When defects are found, inspectors notify supervisors and help analyze and correct the production problems.
Increased emphasis on quality control in manufacturing means that inspection is more fully integrated into the production process than in the past. For example, some companies have set up teams of inspection and production workers to jointly review and improve product quality. In addition, many companies now use self-monitoring production machines to ensure that the output is produced within quality standards. Self-monitoring machines can alert inspectors to production problems and automatically repair defects in some cases. Many firms have completely automated inspection with the help of advanced vision systems, using machinery installed at one or several points in the production process. Inspectors in these firms calibrate and monitor the equipment, review output, and perform random product checks.
Working ConditionsWorking conditions vary
by industry and establishment size. As a result, some inspectors examine similar products for an entire shift,
whereas others examine a variety of items. In manufacturing, it is common for
most inspectors to remain at one workstation; in transportation, some travel
from place to place to do inspections. Inspectors in some industries may be
on their feet all day and may have to lift heavy objects, whereas, in other
industries, they sit during most of their shift and do little strenuous work.
Workers in heavy manufacturing plants may be exposed to the noise and grime
of machinery; in other plants, inspectors work in clean, air-conditioned environments
suitable for carrying out controlled tests.
Some inspectors work evenings, nights, or weekends. Shift assignments generally are made on the basis of seniority. Overtime may be required to meet production goals.
EmploymentInspectors, testers, sorters, samplers, and weighers held about 602,000 jobs in 2009. About 7 out of 10 worked in manufacturing establishments that produced such products as industrial machinery and equipment, motor vehicles and equipment, aircraft and parts, primary and fabricated metals, electronic components and accessories, food, textiles, and apparel. Inspectors, testers, sorters, samplers, and weighers also were found in personnel supply services, transportation, wholesale trade, engineering and management services, and government agencies.
Training, Qualifications, Adv.Training requirements
vary, based on the responsibilities of the inspector, tester, sorter, sampler,
or weigher. For workers who perform simple "pass/fail" tests of products,
a high school diploma is preferred and may be required for some jobs. Simple
jobs may be filled by beginners provided with in-house training. Training
for new inspectors may cover the use of special meters, gauges, computers, or
other instruments; quality-control techniques; blueprint reading; safety; and
reporting requirements. There are some postsecondary training programs in testing,
but many employers prefer to train inspectors on the job.
Complex precision-inspecting positions are filled by experienced assemblers, machine operators, or mechanics who already have a thorough knowledge of the products and production processes. To advance to these positions, experienced workers may need training in statistical process control, new automation, or the company's quality assurance policies. As automated inspection equipment becomes more common, computer skills are increasingly important.
In general, inspectors, testers, sorters, samplers, and weighers need mechanical aptitude, math and communication skills, and good hand-eye coordination and vision. Advancement for these workers frequently takes the form of higher pay. They also may advance to inspector of more complex products, supervisor, or related positions, such as purchaser of materials and equipment.
Job OutlookLike many
other occupations concentrated in manufacturing industries, employment of inspectors,
testers, sorters, samplers, and weighers is expected to decline through the
year 2010. The projected
decline stems primarily from the growing use of automated inspection and the
redistribution of quality-control responsibilities from inspectors to production
workers. In spite of declining employment, numerous job openings will arise
due to turnover in this large occupation. Many of these jobs, however, will
be open only to experienced production workers with advanced skills.
Employment of inspectors, testers, sorters, samplers, and weighers will be significantly affected by the increased focus on quality in American industry. The emphasis on quality has led manufacturers to invest in automated inspection equipment and to take a more systematic approach to quality inspection. Continued improvements in technologies, such as spectrophotometers and computer-assisted visual inspection systems, allow firms to effectively automate simple inspection tasks, increasing worker productivity and reducing the demand for inspectors. As the price of these technologies continues to decrease, they will become more cost effective and will be more widely implemented in a broad range of industries.
Apart from automation, firms are improving quality by building it into the production process. Many inspection duties are being redistributed from inspectors, testers, sorters, samplers, and weighers to other production workers who monitor quality at every stage of the process. In addition, the growing implementation of statistical process control is resulting in smarter inspection. Using this system, firms survey the sources and incidence of defects so that they can better focus their efforts and reduce production of defective products.
In many industries, however, automation is not being aggressively pursued as an alternative to manual inspection. Where key inspection elements are oriented toward size, such as length, width, or thickness, automation may play some role in the future. But where taste, smell, texture, appearance, fabric complexity, or product performance is important, inspection will probably continue to be done by humans. Employment of inspectors, testers, sorters, samplers, and weighers is expected to increase in the rapidly growing personnel supply services industry, as more manufacturers and industrial firms hire temporary inspectors to increase the flexibility of their staffing strategies, and in wholesale trade.
EarningsMedian hourly earnings of inspectors, testers, sorters, samplers, and weighers were $12.22 in 2009.The middle 50 percent earned between $9.26 and $16.55 an hour. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $7.33 an hour; the highest 10 percent earned more than $22.21 an hour. Median hourly earnings in the industries employing the largest number of inspectors, testers, sorters, samplers, and weighers in 2006 were:
Motor vehicles and equipment $21.50
Aircraft and parts 17.00
Electronic components and accessories 11.55
Miscellaneous plastics products, not elsewhere classified 11.24
Personnel supply services 8.25
Related OccupationsOther inspectors
include construction and building inspectors, who examine buildings and other
structures to ensure compliance with building codes, zoning regulations, and
Sources of Additional InformationFor general information about inspectors, testers, sorters, samplers, and weighers, contact:
The American Society for Quality, 600 North Plankinton Ave., Milwaukee, WI 53203.