Those new manufacturing sector jobs

Since 2008, Ford has been continually expanding its Asia Pacific odor laboratory in Nanjing, China. Today, the team consists of 18 ‘super smellers’, who conduct about 300 odor tests each year on materials and components that go into its Asia Pacific vehicles.

…Every year Ford runs an application process to select its team of super smellers in China. Would-be testers can come from any department within the company and are asked to judge material samples in 16 jars. They are judged on their smelling ability and consistency, but must also meet other requirements to qualify for a spot on the prestigious panel.

“You can’t smoke or have allergies and sinus issues,” says Mike Feng, a Ford smell tester for four years. “Wearing perfume, leather jackets or nail polish is also not allowed, and you shouldn’t use strongly scented shampoo to ensure your senses aren’t compromised.”

Ford’s super smellers must requalify annually to maintain their position on the panel and must be available to attend regular odor tests throughout the year. A small group of six panelists form the smell jury for each test and an average of their scores is given to each material sample.

“I’ve always been able to smell things before other people,” adds Feng. “My colleagues say that I can smell what the canteen is serving for lunch before anyone else.”

Here is the full story, via John Chilton.


"You can’t smoke"

Slightly odd. Yes, taste and smell are different but very closely related. And the usual advice to coffee, tea etc tasters is that you can indeed smoke. But whatever it is that you do you must be doing consistently. Smoking a pack a day might well not be a good idea but it's not a bar to being a taster. Smoking one cigarette every three days is going to cause more problems because variability.

I smoke. My hand, hair and clothes smell to tobacco, even after a couple cigarettes.

Buy a smoking cap and protect your hair.

I nothing else, I imagine it can disturb the other smell testers in the lab if someone is walking around smelling of cigarettes.

Many people have a positive association with "new car smell" but the industry has been working really hard to get rid of it. Car interiors get exceptionally hot on sunny days, which promotes release of volatile compounds from materials. Suppliers to the automotive industry have to take special measures to keep odors to a minimum. It's not a health thing, it's an aesthetic preference. Sensitivity to odors is much higher now than it was a few decades ago when cigarette smoke, widespread perfume/cologne use, and heavy diesel exhaust were the norm.

If there were legal ramifications, sophisticated but bogus technology would already have been developed for this purpose, like alcohol breath testing apparatus, computer finger print analysis, DNA analysis and so on. Since, as yet, there are no issues with these kind of odors that can be converted to income by the attorneys, there isn't enough forensic demand for development of the equipment. Humans haven't been replaced by machines in this area, so far.

"Humans haven’t been replaced by machines in this area, so far."

It does seem to be an area that would be low hanging fruit for automation. But I imagine the "smellers" are just a group of employees that are called upon occasionally do such testing. So, the cost is small and the employees probably enjoy the variety of the task which gets them away from their day to day assignments.

They almost certainly do include GC-MS of automotive interior air among other QA batteries. Reducing volatile organics from automotive interiors has been a longstanding goal. However, it's helpful to complement objective data by a subjective sniff test to ensure your measurements aren't missing a critical dimension.

Not 100% sure if super smellers belong to manufacturing or marketing department.

Sometimes, people talk with a bit of awe how the industrial ice cream is been tasted by super X people, thus it's an above average good.

They are indeed designing consumer experiences, but using what? odors or stories?

Many years ago I worked at a company in the food packaging business. They had a small group of blind employees to help test that new packaging materials were not affecting the taste or smell of the foods. The loss of their sight, had led those employees to more highly develop their other senses and they could detect small taste and smell signals that sighted people could not.

Karl: [Eating potted meat] I reckon it tastes alright.
Frank: You really think it's got peckers in there?
Karl: You know better than that. You ought not say that word.
Frank: It smells funny.
Karl: Yeah, it's pretty loud. Looky there. I believe you right. I believe I see one right in there.

Yes, I would say that a smelling job is one of those ol' factory jobs.

Compared with acute vision or hearing, a superior sense of smell is a mixed blessing. The superior smeller is more aware of the abundant unpleasant smells all around.

"Mixed" is an optimistic description. Imagine working in an Ambercrombie & Fitch adjacent to a Cinnebon, inside a jail located in Gary, Indiana. This is what your office building is like for me.

I doubt that these jobs are new in industry. Decades ago I spent a summer working as an office assistant in an FDA office. One of the people there was IIRC called an "organoleptic specialist" but nowadays they seem to be called "sensory analysts". An example of what they do: they inspect seafood by sniffing it.

If the FDA was doing this decades ago, we can bet that manufacturing firms who have concerns buyers' reactions to odors were also employing sensory analysts.

Hmm, 1978 seemed to be a local peak of interest in these matters. Here's a Chicago Tribune article about replacing a retiring inspector, and indeed it calls them organoleptic specialists.

And in 1978 someone conducted oral history interviews of retired FDA staff, where they tell stories about how to detect rotten salmon and tuna (canned tuna is harder to inspect because the smells are steamed out).

The guy who worked in my office had an article written about him, IIRC the article implied that some people are better at detecting smells than others are. These articles though emphasize training -- foreshadowing ongoing debates about the "fixed mindset" vs "growth mindset" or nature vs nurture.

Am I the only one who doesn't think this story passes the smell test?

These people won't lose their jobs to artificial intelligence!

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