There are about 465,000 inspectors, testers, sorters, samplers, and weighers working in the United States. Job growth statistics indicate a slow decline in the industry over the next decade.
Some inspector, tester, sorter, sampler, and weigher jobs require only a high school diploma. Positions that require work with precision measurements must be filled by experienced, trained workers. Two-thirds of these workers are employed in manufacturing.
Inspectors, testers, sorters, samplers, and weighers are often referred to with the catchall term “quality control inspectors.” They are responsible for all manner of products, from food to clothing to electronics. Quality control inspectors examine products to determine if they are of a quality that that reflects the standards of the company or, in some cases, those of the federal government. Different methods and tools are used, depending upon the product being inspected. Some items can be judged by using the senses. Color, aroma, texture, feel, weight, visual defects, and taste can alert a quality control inspector that a food item is past its prime. Fabric inspectors might note irregularities in color or design, pulled thread, or uneven seams. Mechanical inspectors must determine if parts are made to specifications and that they fit and operate correctly.
Sorters arrange product into categories of type, size, quality, and other characteristics. Samplers assess one sample from a production run to check for defects. Weighers gauge the weight of materials to be used in a product. Testers use real-world situations to evaluate a product’s ability to function and maintain quality. Such testing informs producers about a product’s life-span and durability, as well as its weak areas. Quality control inspectors use tools along with their sense of sight, smell, sound, touch, and taste. Micrometers, calipers, and alignment gauges are handheld tools commonly used, although some inspectors prefer such electronic tools as coordinate-measuring machines (CMMs), which measure dimension or other qualities that can be analyzed using computer software. Electrical components might be evaluated using voltmeters, ammeters, or ohmmeters. Quality inspector tools, whether handheld or electronic, are kept in working order by calibration technicians
Inspectors document products with a tag. Defective goods can be discarded, repaired, or adjusted. Acceptable goods are certified by the inspector. Quality-control workers use documentation records to determine defect percentages for reports that must be prepared. A pattern of defects must be discussed with supervisors, analyzed, and corrected to eliminate future problems.
Many companies are incorporating teams of production workers and inspectors who work together to determine causes of poor quality and to determine how to correct them. Also, some businesses have invested in self-monitoring machines that measure product to determine if it is within acceptable standards.
Because there are so many types of products that must be quality controlled, there is a wide range of working conditions faced by inspectors. Some workers remain at a single workstation for an entire shift. Others move from machine to machine. Some inspectors spend the greater part of a shift on their feet and may strain muscles by lifting heavy parts or equipments. Others sit for the duration of their shift. Heavy manufacturing plants can be very loud and the air dirty; other types of plants may be well lit and well ventilated. It’s important to follow safety procedures, as minor accidents are common.
Training requirements vary, depending upon the nature of the work. Trainees might learn to use particular meters, gauges, computers, and software as they are taught quality-control techniques. Some may be introduced to reading blueprint reading. All inspectors will undergo training in safety and reporting requirements. The ongoing introduction of newer, more highly technical computer controlled machinery means that inspectors in the future will have to be trained to operate these machines, probably through two year associate degree programs at technical or vocational schools.
Fifteen different certifications are offered by the American Society for Quality. Holding one or more of these certificates will likely help an inspector advance to positions requiring greater responsibility, such as experienced assemblers, machine operators, or highly experienced mechanics. Inspectors will need to understand statistical process controls, new machinery, and the company’s assurance policies in order to advance.
The median hourly pay for inspectors, testers, sorters, samplers, and weighers is just over $15 per hour. Those in the lowest paid 10% earn less than $10 per hour. Those in the highest paid 10% earn more than $25 per hour.