Regulations Specs & Testing

The Indicators of a Quality Fluid Testing Lab


The Indicators of a Quality Fluid Testing Lab
© TonStocker; lianez

A fluid analysis lab inspires customer trust when the lab is built on a foundation of quality that permeates every aspect. This includes lab design, testing equipment, expertise, reporting and day-to-day practices such as turnaround time. In short, attention to detail translates to lab quality. 

Some oil analysis labs offer and encourage lab tours. It is a good way to get a firsthand look at how the lab is designed and how efficient the testing is; a quality lab has a clean look and is designed for efficiency. Maintaining the highest quality standards in all areas culminates a high caliber of test data that is imperative for best-in-class maintenance programs. 

Lab Certifications 

ISO/IEC 17025 certification is important. This standard contains technical requirements that ISO 9000 does not, and it is the preferred standard for laboratory quality systems. An outstanding lab will have a quality assurance program that conforms to ISO/IEC 17025 requirements, including continuous improvement.  

ISO/IEC 17025 was first issued in 1999 by the International Organization for Standardization and the International Electrotechnical Commission. The standard contains all requirements that testing and calibration laboratories must meet in order to demonstrate that they operate a comprehensive management system, are technically competent and are able to generate technically valid results. 

Certification means that employees are educated regarding the location and content of quality control documents that are relevant to their responsibilities. It requires that employees carry out quality assurance policies and procedures in their work.

Specific areas this accreditation covers include impartiality, confidentiality, organization and management structure, competence of personnel, equipment calibration, method validation, record control, document control, metrological traceability, vendor approval, review of requests, contracts, tenders, sampling, handling of test samples, reporting of results, nonconforming work, complaints, customer feedback, continuous improvement, corrective actions, internal audits and management review.

Accreditation is confirmation by a third party that the laboratory complies with all of the requirements in ISO/IEC 17025. Thereafter, the laboratory’s quality management system and testing or calibration processes are thoroughly evaluated on a routine basis to ensure that the lab demonstrates technical competence and compliance with ISO/IEC 17025.

Day-to-Day Best Practices

Among the ongoing best practices of any quality lab are participation in Proficiency Testing Programs, use of Certified Reference Materials to verify methods, establishment of a calibration program for instruments and equipment, and adherence to an established training program for laboratory technicians. In addition, there are ASTM methods that must be followed for most test methods in the lab. Another important best practice is regularly reviewing quality-related documents, such as work instructions, forms and records. The lab should be reviewing these and more, at least annually.

Analyst Qualifications

Analysts tend to have varying backgrounds with complementary skill sets. Some analysts have previous lab experience, mechanical backgrounds, predictive maintenance knowledge and quality systems experience. Regardless of the background, a good analyst will exhibit close attention to detail. 

However, the most important qualification of a lab analyst is to be a good fit for the company culture. With the volume of reports, calls and emails, it is important to provide consistent service to customers and work efficiently as a group. Analysts also need to be flexible enough to accommodate the day-to-day fluctuation in sample volume. The ability to work as a team is a key skill that keeps the lab running smoothly.

New hires don’t necessarily have to be certified, but a quality lab will expect certification within the first year of employment. The first step is MLA (Machinery Lubrication Analyst) through International Council for Machinery Lubrication, and eventually top-level CLS through the Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers. This certification is based on an expansive list of topics that are related to both lubricants and machines.

A good lab will encourage self-guided learning among analysts through industry-specific white papers and reputable publications, such as Lubes’n’Greases. Customer contact and site visits are another way to broaden overall knowledge. Attending conferences and specific training events helps as well.

The Role of Management and a Formal Quality Control Program

Company management plays a pivotal role in ensuring lab quality. Management sets policy and implements it—all with the goal of quality control and quality improvement. 

There are several quality control programs out there. An outstanding example is Lean Six Sigma. This program—and programs like it—are critical to company culture and everything that emanates from it. Labs that operate within a recognized quality control program will familiarize lab employees with the program’s principles during the onboarding process and encourage individual certifications if available. 

Some aspects of a good quality control program include the following: 

  • Establishes standard operating procedures for each step of the testing process, ranging from handling samples to calibrating and validating instrument performance.
  • Sets out administrative requirements, such as critical recordkeeping, data evaluation and internal audits.
  • Specifies corrective actions and required documentation and establishes who is responsible for carrying out corrective actions.
  • Maintains a high level of employee cooperation and performance.

Quality control programs led by management help processes to become mistake proof. They also introduce automation with human involvement and institute quality checks at the source to eliminate errors in the beginning of a process. The adoption and implementation of a quality control program by management is a continuous journey of adopting changes and pursuing perfection. 

In general, quality management focuses on long-term goals through the implementation of mid- and short-term initiatives.

The Customer’s Contribution to Quality Results

A few basics are to collect samples while a machine is running or, if not possible, within 30 minutes of shutdown. The sample needs to be from actively circulating fluid and ideally from a lube line. The sample should be collected from a location downstream of the components being monitored but upstream of filtration. The closer to the primary component, the more focused the information in the test data. 

Even a lab with an excellent reputation for quality needs a quality sample from the customer for the most accurate results. The sample should be collected the same way (wipe, flush, same collection method, etc.) and from the same location every time.

Another area where customers contribute to quality results is ensuring the lab has accurate and up-to-date information about the machine and the sample, including sump size, lubricant product in use, any recent maintenance, oil top-offs, oil changes, etc. Many test results are trended over time, and changes in operating context can change the interpretation of the results.

It is very important for the customer to have a strong working relationship with a lab or service provider. This ensures rapid issue resolution and also gives a lab the ability to provide the best possible service and recommendations.

10 Quality-Related Questions to Ask Your Lab

Customers that are dedicated to their oil analysis programs need to carefully vet the testing labs they are considering. Below are 10 vital questions to ask labs under consideration:

  1. Does the lab offer a tour?
  2. Does the lab have a quality management system and an active quality control program in place such as LEAN Six Sigma? 
  3. Does the lab leverage the latest technology to ensure accurate reporting and data double-checking? Does it back all this with personal verification?
  4. Has the lab received proper accreditation, and has it remained in good standing?
  5. What efforts is the lab taking to ensure results are accurate and quality is continuously upheld and improved?
  6. Are test method procedures, standards and processes internally and externally audited? If so, how often, when and by whom?
  7. How does the laboratory manage and handle equipment maintenance, both preventative and corrective?
  8. How often is lab equipment calibrated?
  9. Does the lab have a culture that fosters continuous improvement, customer excellence, and ethical behavior and reporting practices?
  10. What are typical turnaround times for tests?

Satisfactory answers to these questions are important because no matter how careful the customer is in taking samples, once the samples leave the customer’s facility, they are putting all their faith in the lab.

The Role of Training

There is really no substitute for on-the-job training by an experienced analyst. However, a great lab encourages analysts to complete specific training classes and (in some cases) receive associated certifications. Other training options include webinars, white papers and books.

ICML has two levels of LLA (Laboratory Lubricant Analyst) certification geared toward people that work in the lab. STLE recommends OMA (Oil Monitoring Analyst) certification for lab personnel. Other certification options would be IMCL’s MLA (Machine Lubricant Analyst), which has two levels and covers both field lubrication practices and lab analysis. STLE also offers the CLS (Certified Lubrication Specialist) certification, which demonstrates a broad range of knowledge in the field of lubrication. 

While certification might not be necessary, a certification class can be a great way to fill in any knowledge gaps and demonstrate the necessary skillset. 

Lubricant Industry Certifications

STLE Certifications

Certified Lubrication Specialist is for anyone that could be designated a “lubrication engineer” by their employer. This includes people from a variety of backgrounds, including sales and management. It requires three years of experience. 

Oil Monitoring Analyst I is for predictive maintenance professionals who oversee the oil analysis program for a shop or plant. These employees are generally mechanics, engineers, operators, tradesmen, chemical managers or on-site lab personnel. It requires one year of experience and 16 hours of training.  

Oil Monitoring Analyst II is for professionals working at the supervisory level. These include reliability engineers, lubrication engineers, tribologists, maintenance supervisors or onsite or commercial lab management. It requires one year of experience and 16 hours of training.

ICML Certifications

Level I Machine Lubricant Analyst is
for anyone in the field of lubricant analysis-based machinery condition monitoring. It requires one year of experience and 16 hours of training. 

Level II Machine Lubricant Analyst is for the lubricant analysis-based machinery condition monitoring field. It requires two years of experience and 24 hours of training. 

Level I Machine Lubricant Technician is for fields that include machinery lubrication, engineering, mechanical maintenance or maintenance trades. It requires two years of experience and 16 hours of training. 

Level II Machine Lubricant Technician is for fields that include machinery lubrication, engineering, mechanical maintenance or maintenance trades. It requires three years of experience and 32 hours of training. 

 Two of the most important aspects to look for in a training class are an experienced instructor that holds at least the certifications they are teaching, and a curriculum that meets or exceeds the body of knowledge. Ideally, the instructor will be open to an ongoing mentor relationship that will continue after the class is completed.

There are many moving parts in a high-quality lab that work together like well-oiled gears. It pays to do some homework, ask a few questions, ask for referrals and even take a tour of the lab and speak with the lab manager. After all, if the machinery is only as good as the maintenance, then maintenance is only as good as the lubricants, and the lubricants are only as good as test quality and follow-through. Why wouldn’t everyone want to give their operating equipment the best possible chance of a long and healthy life?  

Monika Malcolm, David Gawelek, Matthew McMahon, Micheal Shaw and Tim Skully contributed to this article.

Mary Messuti is the president of Eurofins TestOil, Inc. located in Strongsville, Ohio. Her lab offers a full line of lubrication testing as well as fuel, coolant, grease and associated tribology services. Mary has over twenty five years of experience in laboratory management as well as heavy industrial and aerospace manufacturing environments.