Inspectors, Testers, Sorters, Samplers, and Weighers
Two in three are employed in manufacturing establishments.
While a high school diploma is sufficient for basic testing
of products, complex precision-inspecting positions are filled
by experienced assemblers, machine operators, or mechanics who
already have a thorough knowledge of the products and production
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 Work
Inspectors, testers, sorters, samplers, and weighers 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 have changed. In some cases,
the job titles of these workers also have been 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, materials 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. 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. 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 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.
Inspectors, testers, sorters, samplers, and weighers rely
on a number of tools to perform their jobs. Although some
still use hand held measurement devises 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 using computer software. Inspectors
testing electrical devices may use voltmeters, ammeters, and
oscilloscopes to test insulation, current flow, and resistance.
All the tools that inspectors use are maintained by calibration
technicians, who ensure that they work properly and generate
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 a nameplate onto it, 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 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. Industrial
production managers (see the statement on this occupation
elsewhere in the Handbook) work closely with the inspectors
to reduce defects and improve quality. In the past, a certain
level of defects was considered acceptable because variations
would always occur. 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.
Increased emphasis on quality control in manufacturing means
that inspection is more fully integrated into the production
process than in the past. Now, companies have integrated 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.
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.
Testers repeatedly test existing products or prototypes under
real-world conditions. For example, they may purposely abuse
a machine by not changing its oil to see when failure occurs.
They may devise automated machines to repeat a basic task
thousands of times, such as opening and closing a car door.
Through these tests, companies determine how long a product
will last, what parts will break down first, and how to improve
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
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. Other inspectors
rarely see the products they are inspecting and instead do
the majority of their work examining electronic readouts in
front of a computer.
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.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
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 generally is sufficient together with
basic 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 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 and electronic recording of results is common, computer
skills are also 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.
Inspectors, testers, sorters, samplers, and weighers held
about 508,000 jobs in 2004. About 2 in 3 worked in manufacturing
establishments that produced such products as motor vehicle
parts, plastics products, semiconductor and other electronic
components, and aerospace products and parts. Inspectors,
testers, sorters, samplers, and weighers also were found in
employment services, architectural, engineering, and related
services, wholesale trade, and government agencies.
Like that of many other occupations concentrated in manufacturing
industries, employment of inspectors, testers, sorters, samplers,
and weighers is expected to decline through the year 2014.
The decline stems primarily from the growing use of automated
inspection and the redistribution of some quality-control
responsibilities from inspectors to production workers. Although
numerous job openings will arise due to turnover in this large
occupation, many of these jobs will be open only to experienced
workers with advanced skills.
Employment of inspectors, testers, sorters, samplers, and
weighers will be positively affected by the continuing focus
on quality in American industry. The emphasis on improving
quality and productivity 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
inspection tasks, increasing worker productivity and reducing
the demand for inspectors. Inspectors will continue to operate
these automated machines and monitor the defects they detect.
Thus, while the increased emphasis on quality has increased
the importance of inspection, the increased automation of
inspection has limited the demand for inspectors.
Apart from automation, firms are integrating quality control
into the production process. Many inspection duties are being
redistributed from specialized inspectors to fabrication and
assembly workers who monitor quality at every stage of the
production 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 on
reducing production of defective products.
In some industries, however, automation is not a feasible
alternative to manual inspection. Where key inspection elements
are oriented toward size, such as length, width, or thickness,
automation will become more important in the future. But where
taste, smell, texture, appearance, fabric complexity, or product
performance is important, inspection will continue to be done
by workers. Employment of inspectors, testers, sorters, samplers,
and weighers is expected to increase in the rapidly growing
employment services industry, as more manufacturers and industrial
firms hire temporary inspectors to increase the flexibility
of their staffing strategies.
Median hourly earnings of inspectors, testers, sorters, samplers,
and weighers were $13.66 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent
earned between $10.43 and $18.23 an hour. The lowest 10 percent
earned less than $8.30 an hour, and the highest 10 percent
earned more than $24.45 an hour. Median hourly earnings in
the industries employing the largest numbers of inspectors,
testers, sorters, samplers, and weighers in May 2004 were:
Motor vehicle parts manufacturing
Architectural, engineering, and related
Semiconductor and other electronic component
Plastics product manufacturing
Other workers who conduct inspections include agricultural
inspectors, construction and building inspectors, fire inspectors
and investigators, occupational health and safety specialists
and technicians, and transportation inspectors.
Sources of Additional Information
For general information about inspection and testing, contact:
American Society for Quality, 600 North Plankinton Ave.,
Milwaukee, WI 53203. Internet: http://www.asq.org/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational
Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition