Careers and Jobs as Automotive Inspectors

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QUICK FACTS about this job:

  • School Subjects: Mathematics, Technical/shop
  • Personal Skills: Communication/ideas Technical/scientific
  • Work Environment: Indoors and outdoors, Primarily multiple locations
  • Salary Range: $17,990 to $34,819 to $52,936+
  • Certification or Licensing: Voluntary
  • Minimum Education Level: Some postsecondary training
  • Outlook: Decline
  • DOT: 168, 620, 736
  • GOE: 08.02.03
  • NOC: 7231, 9482
  • O*NET-SOC: 29-9011.00, 51-9061.00, 53-6051.00

OVERVIEW

Automotive inspectors, sometimes known as testers, quality assurance technicians, or quality control inspectors, inspect automobiles and related components to ensure that they are fit for sale and meet government specifications. Approximately 33,000 inspectors and related works are employed in the U.S. motor vehicle and parts manufacturing industry.

HISTORY Quality control inspection is an out growth of the industrial revolution. As it began in England in the 18th century, each person involved in the manufacturing process was responsible for a particular part of the process. The worker’s responsibility was further specialized by the introduction of the concept of interchangeable parts in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. In a manufacturing process using this concept (such as in the automotive industry, for example), a worker could concentrate on making just one component, while other workers concentrated on creating other components. Such specialization led to increased production efficiency, especially as manufacturing processes became mechanized during the early part of the 20th century. It also meant, however, that no one worker was responsible for the overall quality of the product. This led to the need for another kind of specialized production worker whose primary responsibility was not one aspect of the product but rather its overall quality.

This responsibility initially belonged to the mechanical engineers and technicians who developed the manufacturing systems, equipment, and procedures. After World War II, however, a new field emerged that was dedicated solely to quality control. Along with specially trained persons to test and inspect products coming off assembly lines, new instruments, equipment, and techniques were developed to measure and monitor specified standards.

At first, inspectors were primarily responsible for random checks of products to ensure they met all specifications. This usually entailed testing and inspecting either finished products or products at various stages of production.

During the 1980s, a renewed emphasis on quality spread across the United States. Faced with increased global competition, especially from Japanese auto manufacturers, many U.S. automotive companies sought to improve quality and productivity. Quality improvement concepts such as Total Quality Management, Six Sigma, continuous improvement, quality circles, and zero defects gained popularity and changed the way companies viewed quality and quality control practices. A new philosophy emerged, emphasizing quality as the concern of all individuals involved in producing goods and directing that quality be monitored at all stages of manufacturing, not just at the end of production or at random stages of manufacturing.

Today, most automotive companies focus on improving quality during all stages of production, with an emphasis on preventing defects rather than merely identifying defective parts. Inspectors check parts for defects; inspect raw materials such as metals, polymers, fabrics, and chemicals; check the uniformity of subassemblies; and test drive vehicles once they come off the assembly line.

While inspectors still play an important role in the automotive industry, there is an increased use of sophisticated automated equipment that can test and inspect automotive parts and subassemblies as they are manufactured. Automated equipment includes cameras,

X rays, lasers, scanners, metal detectors, video inspection systems, electronic sensors, and machine vision systems that can detect the slightest flaw or variance from accepted tolerances. Many companies use statistical process control to record levels of quality and determine the best manufacturing and quality procedures.

THE JOB

Considering each car is made of 15,000 components and about 350 different materials, it’s quite a feat to assemble these parts and resources together and end up with a product that is operational, let alone accomplish this with speed, efficiency, and safety. The automotive industry relies on automotive inspectors to ensure that vehicles are properly made and safe to drive according to the standards of the manufacturer, government regulations, and demands of the consumer.

Inspectors often specialize in a certain area or stage of the manufacturing process. For example, an automotive inspector working at Toyota may be in charge of supervising the installation brake systems of a particular vehicle model. They test parts of the system such as the rotors, pads, calipers, or wheel cylinders to be certain each component is made to specification. Inspectors may change a manufacturing or installation process to avoid future defects or deviations in specs. They also run tests on the assembled brake system of a car to determine if it falls within the criteria of Toyota’s quality operating system. They often meet with other members of the manufacturing or production team to identify weakness in the design or manufacturing of the vehicle.

Some inspectors test for a vehicle’s wear and tear. Inspectors working at Mercedes Benz, for example, may use computerized tests, mechanized tools, or corrosive tests to monitor the strength and durability of different materials used to build a car. They gauge how leather used to construct seating holds up after a series of tests using mechanical tools, checking for tears at the seams, any discoloration, and general aging. They may also use chemicals or other weather simulation tests to check the durability of other parts including car panels, trims, or tires.

Automotive inspectors are often employed by automotive manufacturers, although some may find work with companies that con tract out their various inspection services.

Some automotive inspectors are employed by governmental agencies at the local, state, and federal level. Transportation inspectors verify not only that vehicles meet safety requirements but also that the personnel who operate the equipment are properly trained to meet the standards regulated by law. Automobile testers check the safety and emissions of cars and trucks at state-operated inspection stations. Occupational safety and health inspectors enforce the regulations of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and of state and local governments. Their duties include inspecting machinery, working conditions, and equipment to ensure that proper safety precautions are used that meet government standards and regulations. Safety health inspectors make regular visits and also respond to accident reports or complaints about a plant, factory, or other workplace by interviewing workers or management. They may suspend activity that poses a possible threat to workers. They write reports on safety standards that have been violated and describe conditions to be corrected. They may also discuss their findings with management to see that standards will be promptly met.

cif-automotive-113.jpg An inspector at an automotive manufacturing plant checks measurements on a transaxle.

REQUIREMENTS

High School

High school students should focus on general classes in speech; English, especially writing; business; computer science; general mathematics; physics; and shop or vocational training.

Postsecondary Training

Automotive inspectors typically receive on-the-job training, but may also complete two- or four-year degree programs in quality assurance or quality control management. For federal positions, a civil service examination is generally required. Education and experience in the specific field is usually necessary.

Certification or Licensing

Although there are no licensing or certification requirements designed specifically for automotive inspectors, many inspectors pursue the voluntary quality inspector certification from the American Society for Quality. Requirements include having a certain amount of work or educational experience and passing a written examination. Many employers value this certification and take it into consideration when making new hires or giving promotions.

Other Requirements

Automotive inspectors must be precision-minded, have an eye for detail, and be able to accept responsibility. They also must communicate well with others in order to reach a clear analysis of a situation and be able to report this information to a superior or coworker. Inspectors must be able to write effective reports that convey vast amounts of information and investigative work.

EXPLORING

If you are interested in work as an automotive inspector, you may learn more by talking with people who are employed as inspectors and with your high school counselor. Employment at an automotive plant during summer vacations could be valuable preparation, giving you the opportunity to meet and perhaps talk with inspectors about their careers.

EMPLOYERS

Approximately 28,000 inspectors and related workers are employed in the motor vehicle and parts manufacturing industry in the United States. Other automotive inspectors are employed by local, state, and federal governments.

STARTING OUT

College students may learn of openings for automotive inspectors through their schools’ career services office. Recruiters often visit these schools and interview graduating students for technical positions. Students may also learn about openings through help wanted ads or by using the services of state and private employment services. They also may apply directly to automotive manufacturers.

Inspectors who are interested in working for the federal government should visit the Office of Personnel Management’s Web site, http://www.usajobs.opm.gov.

ADVANCEMENT

As automotive inspectors gain experience or additional education, they are given more responsible assignments. Promotion usually depends on additional training as well as job performance. Automotive inspectors who obtain additional training have greater chances for advancement opportunities. Inspectors who work for companies with large staffs of inspection personnel can become managers or advance to operations management positions.

Advancement for inspectors in the federal government is based on the civil service promotion and salary structure. Advancement is automatic, usually at one-year intervals, for those people whose work is satisfactory. Additional education may also contribute to advancement to supervisory positions.

EARNINGS

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, inspectors, testers, sorters, samplers, and weighers employed in motor vehicle manufacturing earned median hourly wages of $25.45 in 2006 (or $52,936 annually). Those employed in motor vehicle parts manufacturing earned $16.74 an hour in 2006 (or $34,819 annually). Earnings for all inspectors, testers, sorters, samplers, and weighers ranged from less than $17,990 to $51,690 or more annually in 2006.

Automotive inspectors also receive other benefits including paid vacation and sick days, health and dental insurance, pensions, and life insurance.

WORK ENVIRONMENT

Some automotive inspectors work in manufacturing plants, where conditions may be hot, dirty, and noisy. Others work in laboratories or workshops where they test and inspect raw materials, electronics, and other substances. Because many manufacturing plants operate 24 hours a day, some automotive inspectors may need to work second or third shifts.

OUTLOOK

The U.S. Department of Labor predicts that the employment of inspectors, testers, sorters, samplers, and weighers in motor vehicle and parts manufacturing will decline through 2016 because of increased automation of quality control and testing procedures. Most job opportunities will arise as a result of people retiring, transferring to other positions, and leaving the labor force for a variety of other reasons.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

For in formation on certification, contact

American Society for Quality

P0 Box 3005

Milwaukee, WI 53201-3005

Tel: 800-248-1946

Email: help@asq.org

http://www. asq.org

For information on careers in the federal government, contact Occupational Safety and Health Administration

http:// www.osha.gov

Office of Personnel Management

http://www.usajobs.opm.gov

U.S. Department of Transportation

http://careers.dot.gov

For industry information, contact

National Association of Independent Automotive Inspectors and Consultants

Email: info@naoiai.com

http://www.naoiai.com

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