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Everything sold in malls, supermarkets, discount centers, and specialty shops is checked over before it leaves the manufacturing plant. All products must meet government standards for safety and durability. Food shouldn't make you sick, gadgets should work in the way they're advertised, and clothes should be well put together. It's up to an inspector to make the decision: “go” or “no go.” When a product is defective, the results are frequently highly publicized. No manufacturer wants bad publicity or lawsuits.

The scientific type who is able to make quick decisions is a good inspector or tester. Inspecting takes a good eye for detail, the temperament to perform repetitive tasks, and the desire to do things right. The procedure for testing varies from the simple to the complex. Sometimes an inspector uses only senses—sight, smell, hearing, feel, and taste—but this kind of simplified inspection is less common as sophisticated testing equipment has become miniaturized. Most inspectors today use hand-held scanners and imaging systems.

Inspectors use clearly defined test methods to determine if products meet company and government standards. These standards are usually in writing and constitute a set of requirements to be satisfied by a material, product, or system. Products either pass or fail.

When inspectors judge a product ready to be sold, they often acknowledge it by enclosing a piece of paper with their inspection number in the product box. That way, if the consumer finds something wrong, the inspector can be traced.

Testers do more than inspect. They evaluate the reliability and durability of a product; is it really as good as the ads promise? Manufacturers say yes; some consumers' groups may say no. Nondestructive testers (NDTs) test the product without affecting its usefulness. This is a fast-growing field. By using imaging equipment such as ultrasound, an NDT can detect internal or external imperfections in a product, determine its structure and composition, and measure its geometric characteristics. Other emerging equipment for testing products uses neutron beams, magnetic particle tests, and interferometry. Interferometers measure wave frequency, length, and velocity, and are important in testing electronic equipment.

Another important aspect of testing is checking for safety—trying to ignite flameproof pajamas, for instance, or trying to sink a floatation device. Still another offshoot is calibrating tools to meet universal standards. Without proper testing and calibration, there is no way to be certain that tools are accurate. Being off a fraction of an inch can be critical if the tool is used to work on automobiles or aircraft.


The median income for inspectors and testers is just short of $12 per hour. Supervisors make more money, but there is little chance for high salaries in this field at present without an engineering degree, either an A.A. or a B.S.


There is high turnover in this field, and entry-level positions are usually available. Almost all manufacturers use inspectors and testers. They are most in demand in the aerospace, automotive, electronics, and ordnance (weaponry) industries.

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