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Nature of the Work
* For workers who perform simple "pass/fail" tests of products, a high school diploma is sufficient; more complex precision inspecting positions are filled by experienced production workers.
* Like many other occupations concentrated in manufacturing, employment is expected to decline, reflecting the growth of automated inspection and the redistribution of quality control responsibilities from inspectors to other production workers.
Inspectors, testers, and graders ensure that your food won't make you sick, your car will run properly, and your pants won't split the first time you wear them. These workers monitor quality standards for virtually all manufactured products, including foods, textiles, clothing, glassware, motor vehicles, electronic components, computers, and structural steel. As quality has become a more central focus in 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, and graders work to guarantee the quality of the goods their firms produce. Specific job duties vary across the wide range of industries in which these workers are found. For example, they 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.
Inspectors, testers, and graders 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 may also set up and test equipment, calibrate precision instruments, or repair defective products.
Inspectors, testers, and graders rely on a number of tools to perform their jobs. Many use micrometers, electronic equipment, calipers, alignment gauges, and other instruments to check and compare the dimensions of parts against the parts' specifications. Those 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 rework, or, in the case of minor problems, fix them themselves. If the product checks out, they may screw on a nameplate, tag it, stamp a serial number, or certify it in some other way. Inspectors, testers, and graders record the results of their inspections, compute the percentage of defects and other statistical parameters, prepare inspection and test reports, notify supervisors of problems, and help analyze and correct problems in the production process.
Recent emphasis on quality control in manufacturing has meant that inspection is becoming more fully integrated into the production process. Many machines are now self-monitoring to ensure that the product is produced within quality standards. Inspectors still test products to ensure that they meet specifications, but, with the help of self-monitoring machines, inspectors can direct the production line to adjust the machinery before unusable parts are produced. 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 generally are trained to operate this equipment.
Working conditions vary by industry and establishment size. As a result, some inspectors examine similar products for an entire shift, while others examine a variety of items. Most inspectors in manufacturing remain at one work station, but some in transportation or construction 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, quiet environments.
Some inspectors work evenings, nights, or weekends. In these cases, shift assignments generally are made on the basis of seniority. Overtime may be required to meet production goals.
Inspectors, testers, and graders held about 634,000 jobs in 1996. About 3 out of 4 worked in manufacturing establishments that produced such products as industrial machinery and equipment, motor vehicles and equipment, primary and fabricated metals industries, electronic components and accessories, textiles, apparel, and aircraft and parts. Inspectors, testers, and graders also were found in temporary help services, communications and utilities, wholesale trade, engineering and management services, and government agencies.
Training requirements vary, based on the responsibilities of the inspector, tester, or grader. 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 are generally filled by beginners with a few days of training. In-house training for new inspectors may cover the use of special meters, gauges, computers, or other instruments; quality control techniques; blueprint reading; and reporting requirements. There are some postsecondary training programs in testing, but many employers prefer to train inspectors themselves.
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 requirements of quality assurance certification systems.
In general, inspectors, testers, and graders need mechanical aptitude 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 quality control technician.
Like many other occupations concentrated in the manufacturing sector, employment of inspectors, testers, and graders is expected to decline through the year 2006. The primary causes of this decline are the growth of automated inspection and the redistribution of quality control responsibilities from inspectors to other production workers. In spite of declining employment, a large number of job openings will arise due to normal turnover in this large occupation. Many of these jobs, however, will be available only to experienced production workers.
Employment of inspectors, testers, and graders will be significantly affected by the increasing focus on quality in American industry. The emphasis on quality is leading manufacturers to invest in automated inspection equipment and to take a more systematic approach to quality inspection. New 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. This automation is expected to improve in coming years. As it does, it will become more cost-effective for firms 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. This has led firms to redistribute many inspection duties from inspectors, testers, and graders 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 these firms can better focus their efforts and reduce production of defective products. Inspection has, thus, become more selective, and as sources of defects are eliminated, the need for comprehensive inspection declines.
In many industries, however, automation is not being aggressively pursued as an alternative to manual inspection. When key inspection elements are oriented to size, such as length, width, or thickness, automation may play some role in the future. But when taste, smell, texture, appearance, or product performance are important, inspection will probably continue to be done by humans. Employment of inspectors, testers, and graders is expected to grow along with production in some of these industries, such as wholesale trade. Employment of inspectors is also projected to grow in business services, as more manufacturers and industrial firms hire temporary inspectors to increase the flexibility of their staffing strategies.
Other workers who inspect products or services are construction and building inspectors and inspectors and compliance officers, which includes consumer safety, environmental health, agricultural commodity, immigration, customs, postal, and motor vehicle, among other inspectors.
For general information about this occupation, contact:
The National Tooling and Machining Association, 9300 Livingston Rd., Fort Washington, MD 20744.
The American Society for Quality Control, 611 East Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukee, WI 53202-4606.
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