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January 31, 2011
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Lubrication Certification: Types, Requirements, Benefits

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This article kicks off a year-long discussion on certification of lube pros, the means by which you can achieve it and what’s in it for you when you do.

Almost every professional group has certification programs to recognize achievement above and beyond what’s normally required just to do a job. Doctors and lawyers aspire to be Board Certified in their
respective specialties. An engineer can obtain a Professional Engineer (P.E.) license that demonstrates a high level of expertise. In the accounting world, it’s desirable to be listed as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). The manufacturing industry also has several certifications. For example:

  • The Vibration Institute has four levels of certification for analysts. There also are certification programs in Thermography and Ultrasonics.
  • The Certified Maintenance & Reliability Professional (CMRP) certification is offered by the Society for Maintenance & Reliability Professionals. Introduced in 2001, this certification program has become very popular among those in the maintenance and reliability field, including many in the lubrication community.

Obtaining such certifications demonstrates a competence and a desire to exceed normal job requirements. This, of course, doesn’t mean that all certified individuals in a profession are more competent than those who are not certified. However, when it comes to selecting employees and/or service providers, the fact that a candidate holds certification from a credible, recognized body can make a big difference in the selection process.

What about lubrication specifically? Are there any certifications available? What are they? Who should have them? What are the benefits? What are the requirements for obtaining these certifications?

Presently, there are two major certifying organizations for lubrication-related activities: the International Council of Machinery Lubrication (www.lubecouncil.org) and the Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers (www.stle.org).

International Council of Machinery Lubrication (ICML)
ICML was formed in 2000 to promote competence in the field of lubrication through the development of certification standards. All of its certifications are in compliance with ISO 18436-4 or ISO 18436-5. Table I lists the certifications available through ICML.

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The two most popular certifications from ICML are the MLT I and the MLA II. The MLA II and III were originally named MLA I and MLA II. When ICML’s work was pioneered into the first international standard on qualification and assessment of oil-analysis personnel (ISO 18436-4), the then-MLA I was deemed too high a standard for an entry level of an international standard and became equivalent to the ISO category II. The then-MLA II became equivalent to the category III of the ISO. To denote such equivalence, ICML renamed its MLA I and II as “MLA II” and “MLA III,” respectively. The Category I of the standard was inspired by the ICML MLT I, with some very basic oil-analysis elements added—as it was being used for a standard targeting oil analysts.

The new MLA I, with the subject areas of the MLT I plus the basic oil-analysis elements, was introduced by ICML in 2010. Therefore, if the formal training in the MLT I class includes basic oil analysis information in oil sampling, lubricant-health monitoring and very basic wear debris monitoring and analysis, both MLT I and MLA I certifications can be obtained from the same class by taking two separate exams.

The MLT I is designed for individuals involved with day-to-day lubrication of machinery. Many of those certified are lubricant end-users, as evidenced by the large number of manufacturing companies that have associates with this certification. MLT II is directed at advanced understanding of lubrication concepts. One lubricant company, Lubrication Engineers, is strongly encouraging its sales representatives to become certified as MLTs—and through a structured training program, the company now has 65 of them certified as such. This type of program benefits both the company and the personnel involved. In addition to the resulting certification, the knowledge gained in preparing for the exam helps generate better solutions for customer problems.

The concepts in which proficiency is required to pass the MLT I exam are as follows:

  • Maintenance Strategy (5%)
  • Lubrication Theory (10%)
  • Lubricants (15%)
  • Lubricant Selection (15%)
  • Lubricant Applications (25%)
  • Preventive and Predictive Maintenance (10%)
  • Lube Condition Control (10%)
  • Lube Storage and Management (10%)

MLA I-III involves demonstration of the skills that are necessary for performing lubricant analysis for machine condition monitoring. The most common certification in this category is the MLA II. The following are the concepts necessary to pass this exam:

  • Lubricant Roles and Functions (4%)
  • Oil-Analysis Maintenance Strategies (4%)
  • Oil Sampling (29%)
  • Lubricant Health Monitoring (21%)
  • Lubricant Contamination Measurement and Control (25%)
  • Wear Debris Monitoring and Analysis (17%)

It’s worth mentioning that the large number of MLA II-certified individuals come primarily from oil-analysis end-user companies and international laboratories—not from domestic oil-analysis labs. Over its short history, ICML has done an outstanding job promoting lubrication certification. Today, there are nearly 1250 companies that have at least one ICML-certified person on staff. A total of over 6200 certifications are now in the ICML system. Table II lists the requirements for various ICML certifications, along with the pass rate.

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Table II. Requirements and Pass Rate for Various IMCL Certifications. Click to enlarge.

Language(s), cost, renewal and recertification particulars. . . ICML exams are offered in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, French, Korean, Japanese and Mandarin (and, upon request, can be offered in other languages). The exam cost in most countries is $200USD. Recertification is required every three years, at a cost of $100, along with achieving 15 points related to lubrication activities or retaking a 50-question, multiple-choice exam.

Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers (STLE)
Founded in 1944, STLE was originally known as the American Society of Lubrication Engineers. It offers the certifications listed in Table III.

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Originally designed for lubrication engineers, the CLS is the oldest—and considered the highest-level—lubrication certification. The very rigorous CLS exam (which had a 60% pass rate in 2010) covers the following 16 areas of lubrication:

  • Lubrication Fundamentals
  • Fluid Conditioning
  • Storage, Handling and Application of Lubricants
  • Monitoring and Reducing Consumption of Lubricants
  • Gears
  • Bearings
  • Seals
  • Fluid Power
  • Lubricant Manufacturing
  • Pneumatics
  • Metalworking
  • Solvents and Cleaners
  • Problem Solving
  • Lubricant Analysis
  • Lubrication Programs

Many lubricant companies have stressed the importance of achieving the CLS to demonstrate the competence of their sales representatives and technical personnel. Increasing numbers of lubricant end-users are working to achieve the CLS, and major North American oil-analysis labs have focused on having their analysts obtain both the CLS and OMA certifications to demonstrate their competence. (INTERESTING NOTE: The four oil-analysis laboratories having the most CLS-certified analysts are ALS, Analysts, Inc., Polaris and Herguth. They account for most of the individuals that are CLS-certified oil analysts.)

Some of the major lubricant companies are promoting/encouraging their distributor/marketer representatives to obtain the CLS certification. Chevron is the leader in this area, with the largest number of CLS-certified personnel, as well as the largest network of CLS-certified marketers. Developed nearly 10 years ago, Chevron’s program stressing the importance of CLS certification has been very successful. Still, you don’t have to be a major lubricant company to promote certification.

Schaeffer Manufacturing, for example, initiated a formal training program in 2004 to help its representatives achieve CLS certification. This has led to over 50 people becoming CLS-certified—that’s more than many of the large lubricant companies. Schaeffer’s management believes the certification not only has helped build a sales force that is highly competent in solving lubrication problems, it has opened doors with many new accounts. (INTERESTING NOTE: As a demonstration of Schaeffer’s commitment to the certification of its sales/technical personnel, even the company president has obtained his CLS.)

The latest certification introduced by the STLE is the CMFS (Certified Metalworking Fluids Specialist). This is the most specialized certification that the organization offers—and has the most stringent requirements. In 2010, this exam had only a 50% pass rate.

Another certification, Oil Monitoring Analyst Level II (OMA II), is also rather specialized. Only 17 individuals have achieved this certification. This select group has 50% of its members from Canada. (INTERESTING NOTE: The company Analysts, Inc., has four OMA II-certified associates, the most for any oil-analysis lab.)

Table IV lists requirement for various STLE certifications. All STLE exams are based on multiple choices, with OMA I having 160 questions and the CLS having 155. The pass rates listed in Table IV are for 2010. Only two individuals took the OMA II exam in 2010, thus the pass rate is not listed.

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Table IV. Requirements for Various STLE Certifications. Click to enlarge.

STLE exam language(s), cost, renewal and recertification details…
STLE exams are currently offered only in English. To promote these certifications internationally, the exams will be offered in other languages in the future. The exam cost is $440 for non-STLE members, and $330 for members. The certification must be renewed every three years. The renewal fee is $250 for non-STLE members and $130 for members. Four requirements out of a list of 11 must be met for recertification or the exam must be retaken. The renewal requirements are not difficult to obtain, and demonstrate learning and continued involvement in the lubrication field.

Certification Benefits
A common question from lubricant sales and technical representatives, along with plant personnel, is “What does a certification do for me, and which ones should I get?” The answer to the first part is “greater compensation and possibly greater opportunity.” Consider the following:

The November 2006 issue of Lubes’n’Greases documented the monetary value of a CLS through a survey of salaries of lubricant sales reps. The survey revealed that those with a CLS were better-compensated than their peers without the CLS. This was quite evident in the area of distributor sales, where CLS-certified reps earned $30,000 p/yr more on average. Having the CLS shows you have passed a difficult, all-encompassing exam in the lubrication field. (INTERESTING NOTE: Some lube companies put such value on certain certifications that they make them prerequisites to future promotions. Companies even have been known to pay a bonus for passing a certification exam—from $500-$5000, in some cases.)

There are lubricant- and oil-analysis-bid situations where having a certain number of Certified Lubrication Specialists is part of the requirements to submit a bid. The MLT certification is very popular with plant-equipment lubricators and supervisors. For too many years, oilers were not recognized as vital to plant operation. This has changed, and the requirement for more knowledgeable lubricators is emerging. Certification programs have helped in this process. A very important benefit of obtaining a certification is the knowledge gained in preparing for the exam through structured training classes and self-study.

A certified person who is purchasing a lubricant or service is more prone to deal with someone who has demonstrated his/her own competence by also obtaining a certification—I know of actual situations where lubricant sales reps were unable to arrange appointments with potential customers until they achieved a particular certification. This has become even more prevalent in our current economic environment.

End-users must cut into already precious time to see sales reps. An unknown, uncertified rep will have more difficulty arranging a face-to-face meeting with purchasers than an unknown, yet certified individual.

A certified rep, at least on the surface, appears to signal greater competency. Thus, he/she stands a better chance of getting an appointment with someone who IS familiar with lubricant certification programs.

One of the requirements for both STLE and ICML certifications is that lubricant-related activities, such as attending conferences and training classes, need to be documented every three years for purposes of recertification. This requirement, in turn, results in certified individuals having more of a tendency to continue learning than uncertified personnel. (INTERESTING NOTE: Certified individuals often exude more confidence in the work environment than those who are uncertified.)

Conclusion
For those who attain lubrication certification, there are many benefits—both monetary and personal. The avenues to certification are available through two major certifying bodies: the International Council of Machinery Lubrication (ICML) and the Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers (STLE). To date, ICML has granted 6000 certifications through six programs. STLE has granted over 1200 certifications involving four different programs.

What certification is best for you? Presently, the MLT I and MLA II are the most popular (with a large number of manufacturing-plant personnel holding these certifications). The CLS is especially popular with lubricant companies and their sales representatives and lubricant personnel—it’s still considered the premier certification for the total field of lubrication, as it involves demonstrating knowledge in 16 separate areas. Interest in the CLS, though, is also increasing in manufacturing plants, primarily with individuals heavily involved in lubrication decisions. As noted previously, the major oil-analysis laboratories consider the CLS important for their analysts. Other certifications, such as the MLT II, MLA III, CMWFS and the OMA II, are more specialized, as evidenced by the small number certified.

How do you achieve a certification? First, having experience in the lubrication field is very important. Next, you will need to do some self-study. (The more time and effort you put into self-study, the greater your chances of passing an exam.) Finally, attending a certification preparation class is very helpful­—and is mandatory for any ISO-compliant certification. Your chances for success improve by taking certification exams soon after taking the associated training program. For more information on certification classes and to see who is certified, go to www.lubecouncil.org and www.stle.org.

What’s next?
This series continues through 2011 with discussions of topics found on the MLT, MLA, OMA and CLS exams. In the next issue, we’ll cover “Basic Principles of Lubrication.” LMT


Contributing Editor Ray Thibault is based in Cypress (Houston), TX. An STLE-Certified Lubrication Specialist and Oil Monitoring Analyst, he conducts extensive training in a number of industries. Telephone: (281) 257-1526; e-mail: rlthibault@msn.com.
For more info, enter 01 at www.LMTfreeinfo.com

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