In 1986, not long out of Baylor University and with a bachelors degree in chemistry in hand, Rob Heverly landed a job in Houston selling component lubricant additives for R.T. Vanderbilt Co. On his first day of work, along with the usual sales lists, keys, tax forms and employee guidelines, his boss Jack Hattendorf handed him something unexpected: a form to enroll in the American Society of Lubrication Engineers. Being active in this group, he heard, was as much a part of his job description as memorizing the names of his customers or the companys chemicals.
Fast forward to today: R.T. Vanderbilt has become Vanderbilt Chemicals LLC, ASLE long ago was dubbed the Society of Tribologists & Lubrication Engineers, and Heverly, a seasoned technical sales representative of 56, is now president of STLE.
Heverly spoke with LubesnGreases during the groups recent annual meeting in Detroit, and said his former boss was right. Throughout his career, he has turned to STLE for contacts, training and networking opportunities, at both the local and national levels. He still enthuses over STLEs technical and professional programs, and especially its educational offerings for the lubricants industry.
My job involves calling on career lubricant formulators, and they are conservative, stubborn, gifted and tough. My products can make their products better, but often their products are already working pretty well, he said. So to talk to these folks, you really have to know what youre talking about, you cant fake it.
Now you can get good basic training at any chemical company, but it may be a mile wide and just one inch deep. To be effective you need to have much more depth of knowledge – and for me thats where STLEs educational courses, certifications, publications and annual meetings come in. For example, if you present a technical paper at an STLE annual meeting, in front of your peers, theres a validity to that. It means that what you present has credibility in the marketplace, and that has real value.
Big Doings in Detroit STLEs yearly meeting is always a big event, and this year drew more than 1,300 attendees. They came for a program crowded with more than 300 technical papers, student posters, training courses (ranging from basic lubrication to condition monitoring to nanotribology), successful trade show, and of course the social events that bring the society together.
During the meeting STLE also offered the arduous test for its Certified Lubrication Specialist program, which identifies the industrys most knowledgeable and skilled professionals. STLE certifies oil monitoring experts and metalworking fluid specialists, too, but the CLS program has been around the longest and now has international recognition, said Heverly, who earned his own CLS in 2000.
Having CLS gave me more credibility in talking to customers. It means that to pass, I had to demonstrate proficiency in this large body of knowledge. There are 17 or 18 categories of questions in the CLS test, and they are strictly administered. Each year, the test questions are tweaked and updated, so you cant cheat by memorizing older tests – you really have to be current on stuff. Historically, the pass rate is only about 50 percent, which gives you an idea of how tough the test is, he adds.
About 600 individuals now have CLS. Best of all, we have data that shows if you have the CLS, you probably make more money, Heverly said. (STLE participates with LubesnGreases every two years on an independent salary survey of lubricant industry professionals, and CLS holders indeed report higher earnings than those without the credentials.)
Because STLEs primary mission is to disseminate knowledge about lubricants, lubrication and tribology – the science of friction and materials – we do education very well, Heverly said. Thats bringing an information-hungry international audience to STLEs doors. With smart phones and tablets, people everywhere can have instant accessibility, Heverly noted. So were planning webinars like one in late June in Brussels.
Stretching the Umbrella
Ed Salek, executive director of STLE, pointed out that a newly formed European Advisory Council is exploring how STLE can be of greater service on that continent. In the past two or three years, weve learned that there is an audience in Europe for what we do and a reason to be there. Many of our members now operate as global companies, and they want their people here, those in Europe, in Asia or anywhere, to share common experiences. So while continuing to support our traditional members, we also want to stretch the STLE umbrella a little bigger.
One way of doing this is to see if we can support our members with a CLS program outside of North America, Salek said.
Heverly applauds this effort. It would mean that my fellow Vanderbilt employees in China could have the same experience as those in Europe, the U.S. and other countries. STLE has a large body of knowledge, and we know it needs to be more accessible. It may be web-based training or our monthly webinars for example; we did a membership survey and the webinars got really high marks for quality.
With this and more, were working hard to add more benefits to STLE membership. Were also trying to make interaction in the STLE community easier, with a redo of the STLE website to make it more user friendly and give greater access to its resources. One example: STLEs scientific journals, Tribology Transactions and Tribology Letters, are free to members online at www.stle.org – a huge benefit for researchers, Heverly pointed out.
Education is clearly close to his heart. For many years, he notes, the Houston Section, has raised money to fund scholarships (about $6,000 a year currently) for graduate work at Texas A&M, Lamar University and University of Houston. We also have a yearly Lube School, where the scholarship students come in to describe the work theyre doing, just a five-minute presentation, but its very heart-warming. Recently, we heard from a tribology student whos doing research on artificial joints. So thats another way that being part of STLE means we give back to the community.
With a daughter in college and son in high school, hes proud that STLE successfully organized a science-technology-engineering-math program – a mini-camp on tribology – during the annual meeting. We have seen this gap in U.S. education when it comes to connecting young people with careers in science and engineering. So we had 30 students from Detroits Cass Technical high school here for a day of hands-on learning, taught by volunteers. The program included 12 tribology experiments, ranging from actually manufacturing a grease to checking friction and viscosity, or conducting a panel rusting test, Heverly said.
Our corporate members really got behind this, with ExxonMobil, Lubrizol, King Industries, General Motors, Ford and others bringing in equipment, setting up test rigs, and sending their Ph.D. scientists to work with the students as they ran experiments on site. Of course, all the tests needed to be simple, inexpensive, safe, but they were actual industry tests. We also put together a teaching guide for their teachers to take back to the classrooms.
In closing, Heverly offered high praise for STLEs professional staff in Chicago. Ed Salek really is the glue that holds the organization together. He has done a super job of pulling in young people, adopting new technologies like social media and webinars, and serving our members.
With Vanderbilts backing (hes the third from the company to rise to STLE president, after Dick Luberda and Bill Wam-bach), Heverly sees a satisfying year ahead, working with STLEs staff and volunteer leaders and visiting as many local sections as he can.