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Inspectors, Testers, Sorters, Samplers, and Weighers - What They Do

Inspectors, testers, sorters, samplers, and weighers, often called quality-control inspectors or another, similar name, ensure that your food will not make you sick, that your car will run properly, and that 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 product quality becomes increasingly important to the success of many manufacturing firms, daily duties of inspectors place more focus on this aspect of their jobs.

Regardless of title, all inspectors, testers, sorters, samplers, and weighers 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. Materials inspectors may check products by sight, sound, feel, smell, or even taste to locate imperfections such as cuts, scratches, missing pieces, or crooked seams. These workers may verify dimensions, color, texture, strength, or other physical characteristics of objects. Mechanical inspectors 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 of a machine or piece of equipment. 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. Testers repeatedly test existing products or prototypes under real-world conditions. Through these tests, companies determine how long a product will last, what parts will break down first, and how to improve durability.

Quality-control workers are involved at every stage of the production process. Some examine materials received from a supplier before sending them to the production line. Others inspect components and assemblies or perform a final check on the finished product. Depending on their skill level, inspectors also may set up and test equipment, calibrate precision instruments, repair defective products, or record data.

These workers rely on a number of tools to perform their jobs. Although some still use hand-held measurement devices such as micrometers, calipers, and alignment gauges, it is more common for them to operate electronic inspection equipment, such as coordinate-measuring machines (CMMs). These machines use sensitive probes to measure a part's dimensional accuracy and allow the inspector to analyze the results with computer software. Inspectors testing electrical devices may use voltmeters, ammeters, and ohmmeters to test potential difference, current flow, and resistance, respectively. All the tools that inspectors use are maintained by calibration technicians, who ensure that they work properly and generate accurate readings.

Inspectors mark, tag, or note problems. They may reject defective items outright, send them for repair, or fix minor problems themselves. If the product is acceptable, the inspector will certify it. Quality-control workers 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 to analyze and correct the production problems.

The emphasis on finding the root cause of defects is a basic tenet of modern management and production philosophies. Current philosophies emphasize constant quality improvement through analysis and correction of the causes of defects. The nature of inspectors' work has changed from merely checking for defects to determining the cause of those defects.

This increased emphasis on quality means that companies now have integrated teams of inspection and production workers who jointly review and improve product quality. In addition, many companies use self-monitoring production machines to ensure that the output is produced within quality standards. These machines not only can alert inspectors to production problems, but also sometimes automatically repair defects.

Some firms have completely automated inspection with the help of advanced vision inspection systems using machinery installed at one or several points in the production process. Inspectors in these firms monitor the equipment, review output, and perform random product checks.

Work Environment
Working 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. 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 read electronic printouts of data. 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. As a result of these varied working conditions, injuries are not uncommon for this occupation, and workers must follow proper procedures to minimize risks.

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.

Education & Training Required
Training requirements vary with the responsibilities of the quality-control worker. For workers who perform simple “pass/fail” tests of products, a high school diploma generally is sufficient, together with limited in-house training. Training for new inspectors may cover the use of special meters, gauges, computers, and other instruments; quality-control techniques; blueprint reading; safety; and reporting requirements. There are some postsecondary training programs, but many employers prefer to train inspectors on the job.

The chances of finding work in this occupation can be improved by studying industrial trades, including computer-aided design, in high school or in a postsecondary vocational program. Laboratory work in the natural or biological sciences also may improve one's analytical skills and increase one’s chances of finding work in medical or pharmaceutical labs, where many of these workers are employed.

As companies implement more automated inspection techniques that require less manual inspection, workers in this occupation will have to learn to operate and program more sophisticated equipment and learn software applications. Because these operations require additional skills, the need for higher education may be necessary. To address this need, some colleges are offering associate’s degrees in fields such as quality control management.

Other Skills Required (Other qualifications)
In general, inspectors, testers, sorters, samplers, and weighers need mechanical aptitude, math and communication skills, and good hand-eye coordination and vision. Another important skill is the ability to analyze and interpret blueprints, data, manuals, and other material to determine specifications, inspection procedures, formulas, and methods for making adjustments.

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