Quality control inspectors examine products and materials for defects or deviations from specifications.
Quality control inspectors typically do the following:
- Read blueprints and specifications
- Monitor operations to ensure that they meet production standards
- Recommend adjustments to the assembly or production process
- Inspect, test, or measure materials or products being produced
- Measure products with rulers, calipers, gauges, or micrometers
- Accept or reject finished items
- Remove all products and materials that fail to meet specifications
- Discuss inspection results with those responsible for products
- Report inspection and test data
Quality control inspectors, for example, ensure that the food or medicine you take 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 quality standards for nearly all manufactured products, including foods, textiles, clothing, glassware, motor vehicles, electronic components, computers, and structural steel. Specific job duties vary across the wide range of industries in which these inspectors work.
Quality control workers rely on a number of tools to do their jobs. Although some still use hand-held measurement devices, such as calipers and alignment gauges, workers more commonly operate electronic inspection equipment, such as coordinate-measuring machines (CMMs). Inspectors testing electrical devices may use voltmeters, ammeters, and ohmmeters to test potential difference, current flow, and resistance, respectively.
Quality control workers record the results of their inspections through test reports. When they find defects, inspectors notify supervisors and help to analyze and correct production problems.
In some firms, the inspection process is completely automated, with advanced vision inspection systems installed at one or several points in the production process. Inspectors in these firms monitor the equipment, review output, and conduct random product checks.
The following are examples of types of quality control inspectors:
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 certifies it. Inspectors may further specialize:
- Materials inspectors check products by sight, sound, or feel to locate imperfections such as cuts, scratches, missing pieces, or crooked seams.
- Mechanical inspectors generally verify that parts fit, move correctly, and are properly lubricated. They may check the pressure of gases and the level of liquids, test the flow of electricity, and conduct test runs to ensure that machines run properly.
Samplers test or inspect a sample for malfunctions or defects during a batch or production run.
Sorters separate goods according to length, size, fabric type, or color.
Testers repeatedly test existing products or prototypes under real-world conditions. Through these tests, manufacturers determine how long a product will last, what parts will break down first, and how to improve durability.
Weighers weigh quantities of materials for use in production.
Quality control inspectors held about 464,300 jobs in 2012. About two-thirds worked in manufacturing industries.
Work environments vary by industry and establishment size; some inspectors examine similar products for an entire shift, while others examine a variety of items.
In manufacturing, it is common for most inspectors to remain at a single workstation. Inspectors in some industries may be on their feet all day and may have to lift heavy items. In other industries, workers may sit during 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 testing products.
Injuries and Illnesses
Some quality control inspectors may be exposed to airborne particles, which may irritate the eyes and skin. As a result, workers typically wear protective eyewear, ear plugs, and appropriate clothing.
Although most quality control inspectors work full time during regular business hours, some inspectors work evenings or weekends. Shift assignments generally are based on seniority. Overtime may be required to meet production deadlines.
Although a high school diploma is enough for the basic testing of products, complex precision-inspecting positions are typically filled by more experienced workers.
Candidates for inspector jobs can improve their chances of finding work by studying industrial trades in high school or in a postsecondary vocational program. Laboratory work in the natural or biological sciences also may improve analytical skills and increase the chances of finding work in medical or pharmaceutical labs, where many of these workers are employed.
Education and training requirements vary with the responsibilities of the quality control worker. However, workers usually receive on-the-job training that typically lasts as little as 1 month or up to 1 year.
For inspectors who do simple pass/fail tests of products, a high school diploma and some in-house training are generally enough.
Training for new inspectors may cover the use of special meters, gauges, computers, and other instruments; quality control techniques such as Six Sigma; blueprint reading; safety; and reporting requirements. Some postsecondary training programs exist, but many employers prefer to train inspectors on the job.
As manufacturers use more automated techniques that require less inspection by hand, workers in this occupation increasingly must know how to operate and program more sophisticated equipment and utilize software applications. Because these operations require additional skills, higher education may be necessary. To address this need, some colleges are offering associate’s degrees in fields such as quality control management.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
The American Society for Quality (ASQ) offers various certifications, including a designation for Certified Quality Inspector (CQI), and numerous sources of information and various levels of certification for Lean Six Sigma. Certification can demonstrate competence and professionalism, making candidates more attractive to employers. It can also increase opportunities for advancement. Requirements for certification generally include a certain number of years of experience in the field and passing an exam.
Dexterity. Quality control inspectors should be able to quickly remove sample parts or products during the manufacturing process.
Math skills. Knowledge of basic math and computer skills are important because measuring, calibrating, and calculating specifications are major parts of quality control testing.
Mechanical skills. Quality control inspectors must be able to use specialized tools and machinery when testing products.
Physical stamina. Quality control inspectors must be able to stand for long periods on the job.
Physical strength. Because workers sometimes lift heavy objects, inspectors should be in good physical condition.
Technical skills. Quality control inspectors must understand blueprints, technical documents, and manuals, ensuring that products and parts meet quality standards.
The median hourly wage for quality control inspectors was $16.57 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $9.84 per hour, and the top 10 percent earned more than $28.29 per hour.
Although most quality control inspectors work full time during regular business hours, some inspectors work evenings or weekends. The most desirable shifts are generally given to workers who have seniority. Overtime may be required to meet production deadlines.
Employment of quality control inspectors is projected to grow 6 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations. Employment growth reflects the continuing need to have quality assurance testing in a variety of manufacturing industries, particularly in pharmaceuticals and medical equipment and supplies.
Despite technological advances in quality control in many industries, automation is not always a substitute for inspecting by hand. Automation will likely become more important for inspecting elements related to size, such as length, width, or thickness. But inspections will continue to be done by workers for products that require testing taste, smell, texture, appearance, complexity of fabric, or performance of the product.
Nonetheless, many manufacturers have invested in automated inspection equipment to improve quality and productivity. Continued improvements in technology allow manufacturers to automate inspection tasks, increasing workers productivity and reducing the demand for inspectors.
Manufacturers increasingly are integrating quality control into the production process. Many inspection duties are being reassigned from specialized inspectors to fabrication and assembly workers, who monitor quality at every stage of production. In addition, the growing use of statistical process control results in smarter inspections. Using this system, manufacturers survey the sources and incidence of defects so that they can focus their efforts on reducing the number of defective products. These factors are expected to result in less demand for quality control inspectors.
Numerous jobs in the manufacturing industry are expected to arise over the coming decade as workers retire or leave the occupation for other reasons.
Those with advanced skills, such as improvement certifications for Lean and Six Sigma, and related work experience should qualify for many of these positions.