Level I Certification for the Machine Lubricant Analyst (MLA)

Drew Troyer

The International Council for Machinery Lubrication (ICML) is pleased to introduce its first technical certification, the Level I Machine Lubricant Analyst (MLA). The Level I MLA targets individuals who apply lubricant analysis techniques in machine condition monitoring. It is intended to ensure that individuals can perform the following tasks:

  • Install sampling hardware such that a representative sample may be efficiently and repeatedly extracted from mechanical systems commonly found in industrial and fleet applications.
  • Effectively extract representative samples from typical industrial machinery, and prepare them for analysis.
  • Employ basic oil analysis techniques to identify and troubleshoot conditions of wrong or degraded lubricants, and devise and implement corrective actions.
  • Employ basic oil analysis to identify and troubleshoot contaminated lubricant conditions, and devise and implement corrective actions.
  • Employ basic oil analysis techniques to identify and troubleshoot abnormal machine wear conditions, and devise and implement corrective actions.
  • Inspect and receive new oil deliveries.

In order to become certified as a Level I MLA, the individual must satisfy application requirements set forth by ICML (see www.lubecouncil.org for more information) and pass a 100 question multiple-choice examination that corresponds to the body of knowledge (see Body of Knowledge sidebar).

Once certified, the certification must be kept up to date as directed by ICML (see Maintenance of Level I MLA Certification sidebar). Examinations are conducted at various public venues (see www.lubecouncil.org for a listing of these sites). Or, examination can be arranged onsite for groups by contacting ICML.

Why Seek MLA Certification?

Individuals, companies and the industry at large should encourage certification. A certified individual has been examined by experts in his/her field and proven to possess the skills required to carry out the tasks associated with basic aspects of lubricant analysis for machine condition monitoring. It is the mark of a professional. A certified individual can present objective evidence of his/her value and capability.

Employers or prospective employers must view experience with skepticism due to subjectivity about its applicability to the job function. Certification, on the other hand, is objective. An employer needs only to compare the body of knowledge of which the individual is certified to his/her requirements to determine if a certified individual is the best fit for a position within the organization. In other words, it is easier for the MLA certified individual to prove his/her worth to the employer or prospective employer.

During the past several years, cutbacks have produced consolidation of work tasks for which managers are responsible. Managers’ (and engineers’) time is being spread increasingly thin. Often, a manager, even a technical manager, does not have time to gain expertise in each of the job functions over which he/she is responsible, making it difficult to gauge the competency of technical staff persons.

Certification by an objective, third-party organization like ICML simplifies the manager’s job. Rather than trying to get up to speed on lubricant analysis so he/she can hire and evaluate technicians effectively, the manager needs only to require ICML certification for an individual to work in the lubricant analyst role, or to receive compensation at a particular pay grade. In this respect, ICML becomes a valuable time saving tool for the manager.

The manager may also choose to tie promotions and/or increased compensation to achievement of higher levels of certification (or additional certifications) from ICML or other technical societies.

Certification is good for the industry at-large too. In the absence of certification, individuals may present themselves as experts in a field, even if they lack the necessary skills to effectively function in the job. Loose cannons like this can compromise the overall credibility of the entire industry. The lubricant analysis industry is presently at a critical phase in its development. We have gained the attention of managers in industries like power generation, pulp and paper, etc.

They expect lubrication excellence and lubricant analysis to deliver bottom line profits. We need to be sure that the individuals responsible for delivering the necessary change are fully prepared and competent. On-target certification by ICML accomplishes this objective.

Exam Development Process

An important role played by ICML in certifying oil analysts is the development of an examination that tests the individual’s knowledge relative to the body of knowledge. The MLA examination development process is carried out by a volunteer committee selected for their expertise in lubricant analysis for machine condition monitoring.

To facilitate and expediate the process with a minimum amount of travel and meetings, the question development process is accomplished online at ICML’s Web site using its password-protected custom software. The process begins with a primary question which is a simple question and answer extracted from the domain of knowledge (see Domain of Knowledge sidebar).

The domain of knowledge is a list of readily available books from which questions must be drawn. The primary question may come from anyone, not just committee members. This allows for participation from numerous industry experts. Once the primary question is approved, a secondary question is written by a committee member.
The secondary question is the actual examination question.

Once completed, it must be approved by another committee member to be included in the 500 question test bank. Each committee member contributes 50 questions and approves another 50 questions. No single committee member may see all the questions. The 500 question bank must be proportional to the topic area allocation percentages designated in the body of knowledge.

The exam itself is produced using a special software package that randomly draws 100 questions from the 500 question bank. The questions and the answer options within each question are randomized so each version of the exam is unique. Because the test is generated randomly from a proportionally weighted bank of questions, the tests will generally conform to the topic weighting set forth in the body of knowledge.

The examination process is procedure-driven and takes significant measures to avoid compromise. Local exam proctors are selected carefully by the ICML executive assistant based on several specifications. Their area of expertise must be unrelated to lubrication, oil analysis or equipment reliability engineering.


This marks an important step for the lubrication and oil analysis industry. In addition to its other activities, ICML is responding to market demand by delivering on-target competency certification. The Level I MLA is the first in a series of certifications that will have a profound and positive affect on the development of machinery lubrication excellence.

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