Professional-development rewards run deep for both end-users and suppliers.
Certification programs are an important aspect of countless professions. For example, in our personal lives, when we require information from a doctor or accountant, we want to deal with someone who will provide good information in a competent manner. There can be a wide range of competence among professionals, however: How do you know you’re getting the correct information for your situation? A service provider who has been certified in his/her respective field through rigorous preparation and the passing of a difficult exam could have a substantial edge over a provider who hasn’t. That doesn’t mean that all certified professionals are more competent than their non-certified counterparts. A recognized certification, though, can often help the individual who earned it receive stronger consideration from prospective patients, clients and/or employers. The same holds true for certifications in industrial areas—like lubrication.
Presently, there are two major certifying organizations for lubrication related activities:
1. The International Council of Machinery Lubrication (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.
2. The Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers (STLE) was established in 1944 as the American Society of Lubrication Engineers and later changed its name.
Each organization offers a number of certification pro-grams that have been described in my earlier article (and in Contributing Editor Ken Bannister’s “ICML Certification Series” that’s been running this year in LMT). I will only be discussing the two most common certifications for each organization.
ICML certification programs…
The most common lube certification is that of Machinery Lubrication Technician Level I (MLT I) offered by the ICML. Designed primarily for plant lubricators performing day-to-day lubrication activities, this certification program is international in scope and offered in 10 different languages. Table I outlines the areas and competencies that the MLT I exam measures:
Requirements for taking the MLT I exam include two years of post-secondary education or on-the-job training in maintenance or lubrication. Sixteen hours of documented training in machinery lubrication are also required. The 100-question exam requires the candidate to score 70% to obtain the certification. The cost is $200. There is a one-month waiting period to retake the exam.
The MLT I certification has greatly elevated the competence of lubricators, resulting in more effective lubrication programs. There are currently 6032 people who hold MLT I certification—which translates into a 75% growth from 2011, when there were 3435 certified MLT I certifications. These numbers speak volumes in terms of this program’s success. The well-known companies listed in Table II are among the organizations that have supported MLT I certification to promote better lubrication practices and establish world-class lube programs in their facilities. (Note: While the numbers reflect all ICML certifications in these companies, most are, in fact, MLT I.)
Oil analysis is another area of ICML certification—with Machinery Lubrication Analyst certifications for levels I, II, and III. MLA I and MLA II the most popular. Currently, there are 4177 certified individuals (mainly MLA II). Table III shows the areas of competency measured by ICML’s Machinery Lubrication Analyst exam. This certification has been adopted by many oil-analysis laboratories, as well as by end-user companies that have large oil-analysis programs. The cost is $200 for the exam.
STLE certifications programs…
The Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers offers the oldest certification—that of Certified Lubrication Specialist (CLS), introduced in 1994. There are currently 1162 certified individuals worldwide (an increase of 27% since 2011). You must have a minimum of three years’ experience in lubrication-related activities to take this exam, which is currently offered only in English. (Work is progressing in offering the exam in other languages.) The cost is $470 for non-STLE members and $350 for members. There is a one-year waiting period to retake the exam.
The CLS exam was originally developed to certify manufacturing plant personnel involved in lubrication, such as lubrication engineers—which were popular around the time the exam was introduced. That focus, however, is not particularly relevant now, as very few lubrication engineers remain in manufacturing plants. Instead, CLS certification has become popular with supplier marketing and technical personnel, in that it helps provide a competitive advantage in the sale of industrial lubrication products. This certification has become important for plant lube specialists overseeing lubrication programs. This exam covers 16 areas.
Table IV. Topics Covered by STLE’s CLS Exam
- Lubrication Fundamentals
- Fluid Conditioning
- Storage, Handling and Application of Lubricants
- Monitoring and Reducing Consumption of Lubricants
- Fluid Power
- Lubricant Manufacturing
- Transportation Lubricants
- Solvents and Cleaners
- Problem Solving
- Lubricant Analysis
- Lubrication Programs
Chevron made a commitment over 10 years ago to have most of its technical sales personnel and marketer/distributors CLS-certified. It currently has 89 CLSs—more than any other lubricant company. ExxonMobil is second with 70. Both Chevron and ExxonMobil have promoted CLS with their distributor/marketers and have many more certified individuals outside of company employees. For example Parman Energy, a large Chevron marketer, has 12 CLS-certified people on staff. Two of the second-tier lubricant companies after the majors have also made commitments in the area of CLS certification. Schaeffer Manufacturing and Lubrication Engineers have been very successful in developing training programs to help their personnel achieve certification. Currently, Schaeffer has 42 CLSs and Lubrication Engineers has 38.
Oil-analysis labs have found CLS certification beneficial because it demonstrates an overall knowledge about lubrication. (Some large projects have required at least two CLSs on staff to bid.) ALS and Polaris with 13 and 8 have the largest number of CLSs.
The Oil Monitoring Analyst (OMA) certification is also offered by STLE. With 410 certified individuals today, it’s the Society’s second most popular program after the CLS. That number reflects an increase of 30% since 2011. The OMA certification is specific to oil analysis. To take the exam, one must have 16 hours of oil-analysis training (which can include in-house company courses). Furthermore, those taking the exam must have one year of active employment utilizing oil analysis. The cost is the same as for the CLS ($470 for non-STLE members and $350 for members). There also is a waiting period of one year to retake the exam.
Several years ago, Chevron embarked on a program to make its field people more competent in working with customers on the use of oil analysis as a condition-monitoring tool. This program has resulted in Chevron now having 40 OMA-certified individuals (not including its lubricant marketers). The company has more OMAs than all other major lubricant manufacturers combined. The major oil-analysis laboratories have utilized OMA certification for their staffs as well. Polaris and Analysts, Inc., have the most OMA-certified personnel—at 16 and 13 respectively.
Reaping the rewards
ICML and STLE have both seen substantial growth in certifica-tion of lubrication professionals (which should continue well into the future as companies—end-users and suppliers alike—realize the importance of technically competent individuals administrating the use and sale of lubricants. How well certification can pay off from both demand- and supply-side perspectives is reflected in the following examples and remarks.
An outside lubricant contractor along the Gulf Coast has been responsible for all lubrication activities in a major chemical facility for four years with excellent results, which were discussed in a previous article, more than justifying the cost of the program. The success in large part is due to the competency of the lubrication technicians who perform all the lubrication activities. They also are proactive in working with plant personnel in reporting any equipment problems observed during lubrication. A rigid standard has been set by the program manager. He requires all his lube technicians to undergo training and pass the MLT I one year after employment. This has resulted in a highly motivated competent group. The following comments came from several individuals regarding the benefits of their CLS certifications:
- “First and foremost, it is the confidence to go educate the rest of ‘our’ world on lubrication best practices and asset management that passing these exams provides to our group. With these certifications, we are confident that we now know more than 95% of the people we deal with on a daily basis about lubrication reliability and world-class contamination control. This ability to educate the masses on lubrication best practices leads to sales generation without the use of a sales pitch. The people who ‘don’t know what they don’t know’ now have a better understanding of how a world-class lubrication reliability program can find hidden profits within their facility. Asset management actually means something now! Without these type certifications for our consultant and management group, we would not have the competitive advantage we currently enjoy as an organization in the world of industrial lubrication.”
- “Since I have gained my CLS, my confidence, as well as my reputation within the industry, has grown. Today companies actually call me to assist with their lubrication programs in design and trouble shooting. Rarely am I called in to just ‘sell’ lubes. I am sought after as an information source in building a Lubrication Excellence Program.”
- “The most surprising thing that the CLS has done for me is with our competition. I was at a trade show where another salesman was giving a seminar. I asked him if I could attend. He was very gracious and said of course. While he was giving his seminar on lubrication, he recognized me and mentioned that I had my CLS. He said he was still studying for his and it was a great accomplishment. He invited others to ask me questions, too. We actually were able to answer all questions posed. The CLS does garner respect from those who know what the designation is!”
- “I initially took the CLS 14 years ago in 1999 after working in the lubricant business for three years. Preparing for the exam on my own was a challenging undertaking, but passing it gave me confidence when calling on customers who had been around lubricants all of their working lives. I knew it would show them that I had a level of professionalism that many others who would call on them didn’t have. I even have one manufacturing customer that uses the CLS certification as a guideline as to whether he will take the time to meet with other sales people. I also wanted the certification because I knew that one day I would be calling on someone who would have the CLS, and how would it look if I didn’t have it?”
- “I have been selling lubricants for over 20 years. It wasn’t until I received my CLS that I became a lot more successful. Previously I sold on price and didn’t have the technical skills to call on certain industries such as construction and power generation. After the CLS I was able to get into accounts that previously turned me away. The training and hard work I did in preparing for the CLS exam resulted in dramatically increasing my technical competence and confidence, which resulted in a large increase in sales.”
- “Because of the training I received in obtaining my CLS, I was able to solve a gearbox problem at a large potential account. The solution to this problem resulted in sales, which increased my yearly compensation by 39%.”
Lubrication is a key component in achieving the highest level of equipment reliability in all industries but in some cases is relegated to a secondary role. We need more technically competent individuals both using and selling lubricants. Training is very important in improving technical skills. Training should be combined with accountability—through demonstration of knowledge gained by passing a certification exam.
Certified individuals are able to earn more money. A recent survey conducted by Machinery Lubrication magazine found that ICML-certified plant personnel earned 7% more than their non-certified peers. A survey conducted by STLE in 1996 and published in TLT magazine indicated that CLS-certified distributor sales representatives earned on average 30% more. It pays to be certified. Also, there is a matter of pride that you have elevated yourself to the top of your profession, but remember to continue to learn and grow.
The benefits of lubrication certification can best be summed up in three words: credibility, confidence and competence. In some ways, though, the road to becoming certified can be more important than the certification. That’s because knowledge gained in passing the exam will help candidates become more effective in their jobs. LMT
This is my final regular article for LMT. I’ve been writing for this publication under its current title and its former one (Lubrication & Fluid Power) for nine years. I don’t know where the time went. I enjoyed very much trying to impart some of my knowledge, and hopefully provided some measure of help in your lubrication endeavors. I learned a great deal from writing the articles and thank you for reading them. I appreciated your comments. Feel free to continue to contact me as shown below.
Long-time Contributing Editor Ray Thibault is based in Cypress (Houston), TX. An STLE-Certified Lubrication Specialist and Oil Monitoring Analyst, he conducts extensive training for operations around the world. Telephone: (281) 250-0279. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Getting The Sale:
Be A Problem-Solving Partner And Keep On Learning
It’s a fact of life: The lubricants business is declining. Companies that survive will be those with quality products and a high level of technical service. Technical service starts with the technical skills of the sales representatives to help the customer solve problems. These days, end-user organizations are relying on lubricant suppliers to make decisions that can directly impact the bottom line. Making the wrong decision can result in equipment failure and expensive machinery downtime. Is it any wonder, therefore, that companies want to work with the most competent people possible?
End-users across industry are under more time pressures than ever before—and they certainly don’t have inordinate amounts of excess time to spend with sales people. That goes double for sales people who are considered to be “peddlers.” Demonstrating little technical competence, peddlers give the lubrication industry a bad name, and make it difficult for competent reps to get appointments with plant personnel who remember bad experiences with unprepared, technically deficient sales people.
One way a sales person can get in the door is by a having a certification demonstrating technical knowledge in the lubrication field: Plant personnel who can deal with a certified individual have more confidence their time will not be wasted.
Lubricant sales people need to elevate themselves along the following continuum with their accounts:
Peddler Vendor Supplier Partner
If you work in a lube-related sales area, let’s hope you’ve never been referred to as a “peddler.” Your goal should be to partner with your accounts as a “problem-solver.” That will require you to develop technical skills for solving your customers’ problems.
Although obtaining a certification demonstrates technical knowledge, it doesn’t guarantee success. I’ve seen certified individuals who never improved their technical skills. Years of experience don’t always translate into technical competence. Some people can claim 30 years experience, while others may have one years’ experience 30 times over. Who would you rather deal with? For yourself, certified or not, you need to continue learning.