Inspection plays an integral role in quality systems and initiatives. Equally important are the people behind the inspection. This month’s “Speaking of Quality” enlists the services of John Vandenbemden, ASQ Inspection Division, to draw on personal experience as a salute to the quality inspectors performing the tasks that make products better.

Inspectors have a significant impact on the success or failure of an organization.  These individuals are highly skilled, dedicated and motivated employees. Unfortunately they are often treated as non-essential personnel since many feel they do not provide value to the product. These are truly unsung heroes in our organizations. Inspectors perform inspections, which are also known by many other names, such as checks, evaluations, audits, assessments, validation or verification. So let’s look at what our unsung hero provides to an organization.

Inspection is an organized examination, audit, assessment or formal evaluation. In product validation or verification, inspection involves the measurements, tests, and gages applied to certain characteristics in regard to an object or activity. These results are usually compared to specified requirements and/or standards for determining whether the product or activity is in conformity with the requirements. The inspection process is normally defined in an inspection procedure or standard, such as ASTM in order to ensure consistent results. Inspections are usually nondestructive.

Inspections may be a visual inspection or involve sensing technologies such as ultrasonic or eddy current testing, accomplished with a direct physical presence or remotely such as a remote visual inspection, and manually or automatically such as an automated optical inspection. In addition, many nondestructive inspections are performed by a precision scale, or a checkweigher when in motion. Inspectors use stereo microscopes when examining small products such as circuit boards for defects.

Traditionally, when the term inspector is mentioned one thinks of manufacturing and the role the inspector plays in quality control. This role is critical to the organizations that do manufacture a product, but the role of our unsung hero has as much or greater impact on us as consumers and customers.

My daughter recently was going through the process of purchasing her first home. In order to obtain her loan a due diligence was required to have the home inspected by a home inspector. This individual had to be certified in order to inspect the home for code compliance. A very detailed report was the result of this inspection. What made the report so impressive was that it included an assessment of the exterior as well as the interior. The temperature was below zero with several inches of snow that he removed in order to gain access to areas and perform a proper inspection. This demonstrates again the dedication that our unsung heroes have in order to ensure the job is completed correctly.

Let’s consider the medical field; even though we do not call doctors or nurses inspectors, they perform examinations using a variety of gages and test equipment. A significant task is to perform a medical inspection as part of the examination, and the visual inspection uncovers or verifies many symptoms.

We know that regulations establish many standards in food safety. Regulatory inspectors are charged with ensuring that all meat and egg products in the United States are safe to consume and accurately labeled. In our government offices, even if they are not called inspectors, individuals perform evaluations applying various criteria to assess documents, facilities, records and other assets. These evaluations include visual as well as interviews to make their assessment. Where would we be today if we did not have these unsung heroes perform aircraft and nuclear facility inspections?

 Inspectors perform a critical task to protect our environment as well as our safety—ensuring the quality of the food we eat, bridges we walk on, vehicles we drive. The inspectors are dedicated and key for all of us to have a good quality of life. These are our unsung heroes.