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Quality control inspectors examine products and materials for defects or deviations from manufacturer or industry specifications. They 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 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 inspectors:
Quality control workers rely on a number of tools to do their job. Although some still use hand-held measurement devices, such as calipers and alignment gauges, they 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 and prepare test reports. When they find defects, inspectors notify supervisors and help to analyze and correct the 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 do random product checks.
Work environments vary by industry and establishment size. As a result, some inspectors examine similar products for an entire shift. Others examine a variety of items. In manufacturing, it is common for most inspectors to stay at one workstation.
Inspectors in some industries may be on their feet all day and may have to lift heavy objects. 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. Although the work is generally not dangerous, some workers 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. The most desirable shifts are generally given to workers who have seniority. Overtime may be required to meet production deadlines.
Prospective quality control inspectors improve their chances of finding work by studying industrial trades, including computer-aided design (CAD), 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. 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; 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 inspection techniques that need less inspection by hand, workers in this occupation will have to learn to operate and program more sophisticated equipment and 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.