STLE: Streamlined for Succes


Its ability to change is one of STLEs most important accomplishments, says William E. Wambach, 2005-2006 president of the Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers. STLE was founded in 1944 as a society of lubrication engineers, but over the years that changed. The function of lubrication engineering still exists, but the function has been transferred increasingly from the end user to the lubricant supplier.

There are two types of professional societies, Wambach explains: membership-driven and content-driven. STLE was membership-driven when all its members were lube engineers, but today its content-driven.

STLE is very diversified, but all our members want content. They want information about the latest technologies, the latest products, the science of lubrication. STLE has adapted to the times, becoming stronger in technical areas and giving members the content they want.

Wambach, regional account manager in R.T. Vanderbilt Co.s Petroleum Department, has been in the lubricant business for many years. His first job was formulating chemist at the Keystone Lubricating Co., then he became research director at Hulburt Oil and Grease – both companies long since swallowed up by multiple acquisitions. Nearly 20 years ago, following stints at FMC and Kimes, Wambach joined R.T. Vanderbilt, a family-owned diversified chemical company based in Norwalk, Conn.

R.T. Vanderbilt manufactures specialty chemicals at plants in Murray, Ky., and Bethel, Conn., that it sells into the petroleum, rubber and plastics, pulp and paper, and other industries. The primary products it supplies to lubricant blenders and to other additive companies include antioxidants, antiwear chemicals, extreme pressure additives, and rust and corrosion inhibitors.

STLE Initiatives

Wambach points to two major initiatives that the Park Ridge, Ill.-based STLE is focusing on today. First is this months World Tribology Congress, which STLE and the Tribology Division of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers jointly organized, in cooperation with the International Tribology Council. Culminating five years of planning, the Congress meets Sept. 12 to 16 at the Hilton Washington Hotel in Washington, D.C., and 1,000 industry and academic specialists are expected.

The second initiative, a restructuring of the society itself, flows from a membership needs study that STLE completed earlier this year.

We found that 41 percent of our members are lubricant suppliers, 23 percent are what we call thought leaders or tribologists, 12 percent are additive suppliers, and 8 percent are end users, Wambach says. The remainder fall into a variety of other categories.

Given the significant changes in the societys membership over the years, much of the STLE boards focus now will be organizational and structural. STLEs original structure was organized around local sections, but over the years many sections have declined, Wambach says. Now we need to adapt to a new situation and new needs. We have to figure out what structure we want. We want to keep local sections, as many members value them. But the model has changed. Wambach estimates a three- to four-year process to adapt STLEs constitution and bylaws to a new structure. Its a massive job, he notes.

Goals for Growth

Our first priority for the year ahead is to promote membership by promoting member services, Wambach says. We need to determine what each of the groups [in the membership] needs, and how STLE can best serve them.

In addition to promoting membership, says Wambach, STLE anticipates partnering more with other organizations. A number of other societies and associations touch on tribology and lubrication, and if we share resources, we can all benefit, he says. For example, STLE developed its new metalworking fluid certification program in cooperation with the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, which is also involved with issues surrounding metalworking fluids.

And we want to advance the technical aspects of the society, to tell members what is happening in the technical area faster and sooner, continues Wambach. One example is the new Tech Beat column in Tribology & Lubrication Technology, STLEs monthly magazine.

The societys web site,, is another medium for enhanced member service. Members want to see job postings, current tribology and lubrication information, breaking news. And they want all of this online, so STLE is focusing on the web, and continuing to update its web site.

Just as the membership has evolved, so has the societys headquarters staff. Under Executive Director Ed Salek, its now better organized to respond to member needs, Wambach says. Education manager Robert Gresham and publications manager Thomas Astrene are helping to assure that STLE delivers the content that members demand.

STLEs future is bright, Wambach concludes. We realize change is constant, and were adapting. We have a tremendous board and staff, and were customer-driven.