Why and How to Earn an MLE Certification

Paul Hiller, ICML

When the International Council for Machinery Lubrication (ICML) introduced its new Machinery Lubrication Engineer (MLE) certification last year, a healthy amount of interest was expected from those individuals seeking to manage entire lubrication programs. However, while the scope of the MLE is beyond that of the organization’s other certifications, practitioners of all stripes have been sitting for the exam.

The engineering-grade, management-level certification, which targets reliability and asset leaders with a strong emphasis in lubrication and oil analysis, covers a comprehensive, 24-part body of knowledge (BoK) derived from an extensive domain of resources. ICML’s committee of 35 subject-matter experts researched, wrote and vetted questions for several years to produce a 150-question exam. Rather than a continuation of the Machine Lubricant Analyst (MLA) or Machinery Lubrication Technician (MLT) levels, the MLE is a standalone certification that was purposely developed alongside the new ICML 55 standard for lubricated asset management. Still, it does benefit from the MLA and MLT experiences.

With the MLE having no formal training requirement, most candidates in 2019 conducted whatever amount of self-preparation they deemed necessary to take the exam. Several independent trainers have since completed or are currently developing optional preparation courses to support the certification.

Now that practitioners from around the world have sat for the exam for the better part of a year, potential candidates may be curious about what these early adopters think about the MLE experience. Therefore, ICML contacted those individuals who have already taken the exam and asked a few key questions.

Why Earn the MLE?

Not surprisingly, Machinery Lubrication Engineer candidates wanted to be certified for the same types of personal and career growth reasons that attract practitioners to the MLA, MLT and Laboratory Lubricant Analyst (LLA) certifications. Several respondents sat for the MLE exam as a means to gauge their own knowledge gaps while also anticipating that certification would establish credibility with their clients.

Pathiri Sampath, a senior condition monitoring tech at Qatargas Operating Co., acknowledged that he took the exam for personal self-assessment and to refine, update and evaluate his gaps in tribology.

“I still have a long way to go for deep understanding of primary and remedial solutions,” Sampath said.

Wojciech Majka, president and CEO of Ecol and Ecol North America, saw the MLE as a means of gauging and establishing his comprehension of relevant industry knowledge.

“I feel the need for being up to date with the latest industry standards and concepts,” Majka explained.

Of course, staying well informed is an ongoing challenge. With seven years in the lubrication business, Jose Camilo Valest Sandoval, technical support engineer at Tritech, tries to keep up to speed with lubrication science through reading, research and work experiences, but that isn’t always enough.

“We need an entity to certify that knowledge, and I found a better way in ICML and its certification,” Sandoval added.

Nnamdi Achebe, lead engineer at Petrosave Integrated Services, agreed.

“I needed to take the MLE exam to put a value tag on my level of experience, knowledge, competencies and professionalism that I bring to my daily work,” said Achebe, who has more than 25 years of experience working with lubricated machines. He also noted that this value is conferred by ICML’s status as a platform that is globally accepted, acknowledged and respected by leading lubricant and equipment manufacturers.

Nurudin Bn Mochamad Djamil, technical specialist for Pertamina Lubricants, thought the MLE would be a great way to increase his confidence as a leader.

“By having the MLE certification, it makes me feel confident to lead an excellent lubrication program and improvement, to achieve excellent plant reliability in my company facilities, and to assist our customers well,” he said.

Establishing credibility is a common benefit of all ICML certifications, but the broad scope of the MLE takes this to a new level. Its body of knowledge accommodates accumulated knowledge and expertise in a way that other certifications don’t. This knowledge and expertise can only be obtained through practical experience. This fact is not lost on candidates who manage lubrication programs.

“I have worked in the reliability maintenance industry for more than 15 years, and over that time I have continued to learn as much as I can about maintaining the function of industrial assets and operational systems,” said Gabriel Delgado, senior technical instructor at Freeport McMoran. “The MLE was an opportunity within one body of knowledge in lubrication and asset management to demonstrate my learned abilities through the certification.”

Nathan Thomas, maintenance reliability engineer at Oxy USA, concurred, as he offered his take on the long-term career application of the MLE.

“The average industrial plant engineer’s aim is to maximize the return on assets by optimizing each step in the life cycle from cradle to grave,” Thomas added. “But other lubrication certifications available today have tended to focus on the knowledge and skills of technicians, analysts and lubricant specialists. The MLE is the industry’s only lubrication certification created specifically for testing the knowledge and experience of plant engineers as it relates to the management of assets.”

Independent trainers also have good reason to be interested in earning the MLE certification. It makes sense for them to familiarize themselves with the exam experience as they consider developing optional preparation courses for future candidates. In fact, ICML requires any trainer conducting an MLE preparatory class to first hold an MLE certification.

How to Prepare for the Exam

Preparation for the MLE exam has run the gamut from months of reading to nothing at all. With no formal training classes being offered for most of 2019, last year’s candidates were forced to prepare through any combination of self-study, work experience and bravado. For assistance, ICML provided the MLE body of knowledge online and cross-referenced each section with resource materials and links in the domain of knowledge (DoK).

Of course, every candidate is unique, so there’s no single best way to prepare. Individuals who spent little to no time studying for the exam tended to be those with years working in the field as trainers or reliability engineers and holders of multiple certifications. Their success underscores the general perception among respondents that work experience offers an advantage over a strictly academic background. ICML actually requires MLE candidates to have at least five years of post-secondary education or on-the-job training.

“In a sense, I am constantly preparing by performing my job duties,” noted Delgado about the value of experience as it relates to exam preparation.

Other experienced practitioners decided to use the MLE body of knowledge as a refresher. Rüdiger Krethe, OilDoc’s managing director, and Brad Owen, a fluid and lubrication specialist for Cameco, were two such candidates.

“I checked the BoK to see where I should have improvement, prepared and went to the exam,” Krethe said.

Owen’s experience was similar: “I reviewed the areas of examination on the ICML website, and the areas where I thought I could use improvement I searched out additional resources on the internet,” he explained.

In addition to tapping both the body of knowledge and domain of knowledge, some candidates also reviewed their own supplemental notes and papers from previous training classes and conferences. Like Krethe and Owen, they tended to focus on their weaker areas. Others purchased and read the new ICML 55.1 standard, which was developed in concert with the MLE BoK.

As for the intensity and duration of the preparation, this will depend on each individual candidate. Achebe read a number of technical articles. Majka reported it took him a week to prepare, while Sandoval studied by himself for two months. Sampath developed a strict regimen.

“Three to four months of daily self-studying for three to four hours and reading lots of articles from MachineryLubrication.com, my training notes from Noria, and the Maintenance and Reliability Best Practices book by Ramesh Gulati helped a lot,” he said.

Thomas also benefitted from a regular habit of reading lubrication- and reliability-focused books written by Gulati, Heinz Bloch and Ricky Smith. He even reviewed sample test questions he received as part of his machinery lubrication and oil analysis training classes in 2014.

For the actual exam day, Achebe offered a few last-minute preparation tips.

“The night before the exam day, in spite of my anxieties, I made sure I slept for eight hours,” he said. “I arrived at the exam venue one hour ahead of the commencement time so I could get 45 minutes to review my exam preparation notes. Then I took several minutes for silent meditation in prayers to God. I avoided coffee that morning and made sure I emptied my bladder just before the exam started. These are very minor details, but they really count.”

Anyone who has ever sat through a four-hour exam knows Achebe’s advice should not be taken lightly.

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