Review and recommendation of ISO 18436-2 certification providers

 

You may have worked with condition monitoring of rotating machinery for many years, but some day you will be asked the question – “Are you certified …..?”. The ISO 18436-2 is a certification standard in four levels, covering every aspect regarding condition monitoring of rotating machinery. The four levels reflect knowledge and experience levels in years. I have been working with signal analysis in 25 years, and the last 13 years, my focus application has been rotating machinery. Three years ago, I faced the certification question above, and decided to get certified.

The so called “big three” certification providers are Mobius Institute (MI) by Jason Tranter, Technical Associates of Charlotte (TA) by Jim Berry, and Vibration Institute (VI) by Ron Eshleman. As a newcomer in the certification area, it is very difficult to select between these providers. VI and MI have received accreditation from respectably ANSI and JAZ ANS and to my understanding, TA is not an accredited provider. They are all highly recommended providers and offer Category I+II+III+IV courses that cover the topics listed in ISO 18436-2. The number of valid certificated persons from each provider is illustrated in the following graph, and it illustrates that all providers have a high track record:

The above data was extracted from the certification database from each providers homepages.

My job is to develop condition monitoring algorithms for pump systems, and all three providers could provide me with valuable knowledge about condition monitoring to my work. But to select the one to go with was difficult – I therefore decided, that it would be “time well spent” by taking Cat I+II+III+IV from all three providers.

Today – the mission is completed – I have read 7300 pages of condition monitoring theory for the courses, calculated 1300 exercises and passed 12 certification tests (42 hours examination and 960 certification questions). To the best of my knowledge, I am the first one to have a full certification track from all three providers – 12 certifications in total:

Today, I have the overview, that I missed at the beginning, and I realize the difference between the providers certification offerings is significant. I am often approach by colleagues how ask advice in selecting a provider, and I would like to share my observations in this review article. I hope and think that these observations will be beneficial for both newcomers, already certified persons and the three providers. In general, my comparison will be relative between providers, and not absolute. If you only have knowledge about one provider, you will not be able to evaluate the level in relation to other providers on the marked.

I will just start with a general introduction of the three providers and their approach/background:

Mobius Institute

MI are well-known for their very illustrative color manuals – cases are illustrated using 3D animations and vibration analysis simulators. In general, MI use PowerPoint and animations for all demonstrations, where TA/VI make live demonstrations on rotor kit, instruments ect. MI are the only provider, that offer a web portal (called a Learning Zone) for students, covering both training manuals for Cat I-III for online reading (flash files, swf) and video lectures by Jason Tranter. As part of the classroom material, MI provide a “Vibration Training – Quick Reference” booklet which is an outstanding signature collection and dictionary of core condition monitoring terms, and a mouse pad + a pen with build-in vibration signatures:

Together with the certifications diploma, you will also receive an ID certification card

and a picture file for your email signature:

The following table lists the content for each of the MI ISO courses:

Technical Associates of Charlotte, P.C.

TA’s instructors use 50% of their time in the field. This is clearly reflected in the training manuals, as much knowledge is based on field reports. It is often stated, that TA material is not training manuals, but more a condition monitoring encyclopedia. A lot of knowledge can be found in the TA manuals, that is not mandatory by ISO, but has been included by TA to provide the complete picture of this area. TA instructors bring a huge number of flight cases to the lectures with motors, rotor kits, instruments and sensors etc to demonstrate measurement techniques live during the classes, reflecting their hand-on experience. TA also offer a signature booklet and signature wallchart, but these are not part of the training material and must be purchased separately:

The following table list the content for each of the TA ISO courses:

Note: The length of Cat I-III is one day shorter, than required by the ISO 18436-2 standard. TA makes up the required ISO training hours by making the students do “self study”. Practically, the self study approach doesn’t always work out well, especially for overseas students. It is not possible to have the material shipped ahead of time, so you will not be able to prepare before coming to class.

Vibration Institute

VI are the most theoretical of the three providers. Topics are always covered with great mathematical deep and thoroughness. Just an example – Following a MI/TA track, you will be provided with standard equations (with unknown coefficients) to convert between displacement, velocity and acceleration. But when you are following a VI track, you will be trained in doing the domain mapping by multiplication/division by 2*pi*f and you will know why! Be aware, that VI state, that “we do not train you for the test”, and this is related to the structure of VI – they have a strong separation between the course and the certification departments. These two parts do not cooperate, and there is no alignment between the courses and the tests. You can and will therefore be tested in topics that are not covered in the courses! The following table list the content for each of the VI ISO courses:

Note two things: 1.VI have added 1 extra examination question per 20 questions, as they are following a psychometric approach. 2. I have termed the courses Category I-IV course, but VI do not relate the courses to any specific ISO level, as the courses are not targeting any specific ISO level, but are giving as general courses. This is related to the VI statement “We do not train you for the test”. I will comment on this later in the discussion section.

The next section will present the four categories, and outline some of the difference between the three providers:

Category I

This first level covers all the elementary topics and outline “provider specific” terms. Each provider has their own notation, rules of thumb and recommendations that you must know and be able to apply at the certification exam. It is not a mandatory course for the following Cat. 2 and people often ask, if it is necessary. To answer this question by yourself, TA have on their homepage made a small pre-test. I think, that you will be amazed by the level of Cat I. To my experience, do not skip this level in your learning – I have been to many Cat II-IV lectures, where students have asked elementary Cat I questions, that they are supposed to know. If you have the time to get certified, you also have the time to do a Cat I.

Category II+III

These categories build up the knowledge about signal analysis of rotating machinery, mechanical models for vibrating machinery etc. In these parts:

  • MI build up a virtual understanding of many topic using very illustrative 3D color animations in the classroom lectures. A strong signature portfolio of nearly all fault types are build up by MI and supported by the booklet.
  • TA are using their field experience to present topics with reference to case studies. Their unique approach (The Proven Method) to setting up robust alarm and severity levels, as an alternative to the known ISO levels is just an example. Many topics are illustrated live in the classroom using running motors and instrumentation. TA also have a strong signature approach to fault analysis supported by a signature booklet (must be purchased seperatly).
  • VI start to make deep dives into a number of topics – like two plan balancing using vector algebra by hand calculation – where other providers just refer to software packages, you will learn to calculate the cross-factor coefficients by hand. In comparison to MI/TA VI do not have the same focus on signature analysis, and are not offering signature booklets.

Category IV

  • MI has divided Cat IV into a part A (online video section) and a part B (classroom lecture). Part A must be completed before Part B. Part A – the online part is 42 hours of video, with approximately 22 hours review of the Cat I-III material and optional topics, and 20 hours for covering Principles of Vibration, Rotor Dynamics, Fault Diagnosis and Balancing. The classroom lectures will be a review of the online video section. No training manual is provided for Cat-IV, but a copy of the overheads from the online video section will be provided at the classroom lecture.
  • TA has divided Cat IV into two classroom lectures Cat-IVa and Cat-IVb of each one-week duration. The training manuals for these two lectures are 1000+600=1600 pages + exercises. It will demand approximately 500 hours of preparation. The lectures cover deep dives into topics like rotor dynamics, ODS, FRF, Anti resonance … etc. One of the extra topics’ TA is offering in Cat IV is how to setup robust severity levels by combining vibration and current signature analysis, another is how to analysis very low/high speed machines. TA founder and President Jim Berry demonstrated a range of measurement techniques like the imaginary Amplitude “Quadrature Picking” Method at the classroom lectures, and Ken Singleton covered some deep dives in rotor dynamics.
  • VI has divided Cat IV into three sub-courses on Advanced Vibration Analysis, Advanced Vibration Control and Rotor dynamics, with a page count of 358+243+282=883 pages. For each chapter, a list of exercises is provided to reinforce your learning. VI estimate 100 hours of preparation for each sub-course = 300 hours of preparation for Cat IV. VI goes from one deep dive to the next deep dive – the four equations for damping, equations for modulation and beating, AM and FM sideband, power series expansions for sum and difference frequencies, Envelope detection using Hilbert transformation and the analytic signal ect. Topics like ODS is however not cover to same deep as offered by MI/TA.

One consideration could also be the student passing percentage:

The above curves have been drawn using inputs obtained from course instructors, providers and by correlating students list for each of my classes against the provider certification databases. They might not be 100% accurate, but they will serve the purpose of illustrating a couple of thing.

  • Mobius Institute has the highest passing percentage.
  • The passing percentage for higher categories are very different. To state an extreme – a MI Cat-IV can be done with 42 hours (20 hours cover Cat IV material) of preparation with a passing rate of 70%, whereas a VI Cat-VI will take 300 hours of preparation with a passing rate of only 20%. It is a difference with a factor 15 for preparation (=learning) for core Cat-IV material, but with factor of 1/3 of passing the certification examination. I know of MI Cat IV certified persons who failed a VI Cat IV certification examination, and only two persons has passed the VI Cat IV without a higher academic degree.

Discussion

In general, a course has the purpose of increasing the knowledge of a student to a predefined level, and the subsequent test has to measure to what level this has been achieved. When only 20% of the students pass a VI Cat IV examination, something is wrong with the system, not the students. I think to some extend, that Vibration Institute has misunderstood the original intentions of the ISO 18436-2 certifications. It is not a University degree, but an applied approach to condition monitoring. If you want to do deep dives into signal processing, rotor dynamics there are much better offers at our Universities. Overall, I would have expected a passing percentage close to the MI course for all providers.

The technical level of Cat IV is very different for the three providers. I feel, that the level of MI is too low, VI is “misaligned” and TA is spot on.

Another issue is, that the three providers do not all accept each others certification, so this makes it difficult to combined providers in your track. MI and VI accept each others certifications, but not TA. TA accept both MI and VI. This missing alignment of levels, passing percentage and acceptance of certifications is a problem for all of us. My hope is, that Jim, Jason and Ron would meet one day, and align the levels for both courses and the certifications examinations. Currently, we are comparing apples and pears. When you state to be certified – the next question will by “by which institute?” It’s like interpreting a dB number – you need to know the reference.

If your background is Management or Service, MI could be a good path to follow because they will provide you with a solid overview of condition monitoring. Their infinity number of color 3D animations make very complicated topics easy to understand. MI is the only provider, that have color training manuals (… VI/TA has started to update their manuals with colors), and video lectures by their founder Jason Tranter can be found on the training web portal. The courses do not demand much preparation, and the certifications test are straight forward after you have followed the course. Good alignment between course and exams.

If you have a more technical background or is in a pure development function, VI or TA could be the path for you, because they will drive you from one technical deep dive to the next. Where MI is super strong in animations, VI/TA use math and live demonstrations to build up your understanding. In general, a VI/TA track take considerable amount of hours for preparation, and this has to be taken into consideration. A sub split could be, that TA are more targeting field specialists, where VI has a more academic target.

Just another comment to the TA self study. When you are not able to receive the manual before the lecture, it is mission impossible… No body can read and understand an 800 pages Cat III manual over 3 days. When I took TA Cat III, I had to decline my certifications test after the course, because I felt my learning after the lectures was insufficient. I returned some months later and passed the test. As I told Jim,” I am her for the learning and not for the certification paper”.

A good suggestion to newcomers in this certification field is to do the certification track together with a colleague, so you have someone to discuss your learning with. The learning curve for the material can be very steep, and it is nice to have someone to discuss / challenge your learning with.

The last observation is, that there is no “The best provider” or “One size fits all” – each provider has a profile, that has to be match with the student’s need/application and resources. I hope that by reading this article, you will have a more clear understanding of which provider, that you should approach.

Note, the more you get certified, the more amazed and humbled you will be, realizing how much more there is to learn in this field – this is a life long learning.

Last – a big thanks to the teams of very skilled instructors from all three providers. I have really enjoyed our discussions a lot – you all made it worth doing:

TA: Jim Berry, Ken Singleton, Vito Sabato, Barry Cease, Skip Hartman
MI: João Pedro Pais, Roengchai Chumai
VI: Ron Eshleman, Jack Peters, Ray Kelm

Author: Flemming Munk, Chief Specialist – Condition Monitoring at Grundfos Water Utility