Why Laboratory Personnel Should Be Certified

Suzy Hitchcock, ICML
Tags: oil analysis

The certification of laboratory-­based personnel is essential in supporting quality lab systems, as some accreditations do not guarantee technical accuracy. Most lab systems are designed to ensure repeatability of the process, data, product, etc., but repeatability is not necessarily accuracy.

Accuracy in the oil analysis field generally has two dimensions: test results and interpretation. Laboratories require accuracy in both. Lab accreditation typically only addresses the test method in terms of accuracy and repeatability. Accuracy of interpretation involves the certification of individual analysts’ skills, not of the lab’s quality management system. This falls under the auspices of ISO standards for personnel qualification and assessment.

The certification of analysts can be divided into two categories: laboratory analysts, who are usually in an external lab, and field analysts, who are typically at a plant. Both must work together to determine the condition of assets and the rates of deterioration. The key differences are primarily the test method knowledge of the laboratory-based analyst versus the asset failure knowledge of the plant-based analyst. Both knowledge bases are required for accurate oil analysis, which is why individuals from each category should be certified.

The International Council for Machinery Lubrication (ICML) provides certification of analysts in both fields. The organization has always advocated the need for separate certification programs for laboratory-based analysts from those designed for field-based personnel.

ICML’s Laboratory Lubricant Analyst (LLA) Committee assembled a group of lab managers and did extensive work to define and standardize the sets of skills needed for laboratory practitioners around the world. The group expanded the original LLA certification to a three-tier program with specific qualifications. The categories were developed for laboratory technicians (level I), laboratory analysts (level II) and senior laboratory analysts or lab managers (level III).

LLA candidates are required to have a minimum of one, two or three years of experience for levels I, II and III, respectively. A minimum of 24, 48 and 80 hours of cumulative training on the body of knowledge for the chosen level is also a prerequisite.

Subject areas for LLA I include sample handling and preparation, lubricant health monitoring, reagent management and instrument calibration. At this level, practitioners are expected to be able to perform simple tasks related to the handling and testing of machinery lubricant samples in a laboratory setting according to established procedures.

LLA II candidates receive more training hours in lubricant health monitoring, including testing for wrong or mixed lubricants, the various forms of contamination (water, glycol, soot, fuel, air, particle, etc.), wear particle (debris) monitoring and analysis, data interpretation, quality control, and lubricant functions and failure modes.

LLA III candidates must obtain additional training in wear particle (debris) monitoring and analysis, data interpretation, quality control, and lubricant functions and failure modes. Besides these topics, the training covers sensorial inspections, environmental effects on results, alternate technology data correlation and personnel training.

ICML’s programs form the basis of the current ISO personnel certification standards. As the accreditation of quality management systems (QMS) expands to include asset management, it is interesting to note that the latest series of ISO asset management standards requires personnel to be competent in the necessary knowledge and skills. Knowledge management continues to be a key area in this new standard series. Essentially all quality management systems require personnel to be deemed competent in the tasks they undertake, and this extends to suppliers. Given the mandatory requirement for continual improvement within any QMS, oil analysis will become increasingly important in the delivery of effective asset management programs.