Amsoil plants flag in Asia: Superior lubrication experts climb to top in wind energy
Already with naming rights to Amsoil Arena in Duluth, the Superior-based synthetic-oil manufacturer spread its close connection to University of Minnesota Duluth hockey onto a world stage earlier this month.
In sealing a deal Jan. 18 with a group of wind energy partners in China, Amsoil owner, president and CEO Alan Amatuzio gave his partners UMD hockey sweaters graced with culturally lucky numbers.
The gesture occurred in the Chinese capital of Beijing and sealed the company's long climb to the top of the renewable energy market.
"We're a significant global supplier of wind turbine gear lubricants," Amatuzio said. "We compete with only a couple other majors — Exxon Mobil, Castrol and us."
Amatuzio spoke with the News Tribune last week, explaining the strategic agreements Amsoil entered into with three major Chinese companies — Envision, NGC and CLCP. In order, the partners are a turbine maker, a gear-box manufacturer and a service-and-maintenance enterprise.
Working together, the four companies will conduct business worldwide. Amsoil will serve the Asian market from Singapore, where it has partnered with a manufacturer that is already making Amsoil's revolutionary PT series of wind-turbine gear oils.
"It's a great pleasure to witness this strategic cooperation among the leading wind companies from China and the U.S.," said Qin Haiyan, secretary general of the China Wind Energy Association and vice president of the World Energy Association, in an Amsoil news release.
Prominently headquartered off the Bong Bridge in Superior, Amsoil remains a privately held, family-owned company with 330 employees. It was started by Amatuzio's father, the late Al Amatuzio, in 1972. He led the company as it pushed the boundaries with synthetic automotive motor oil.
"We're continuously seeking technology and combinations of technology to solve problems," Alan Amatuzio said.
The company's expansion into an Amsoil Wind division owes itself to roots as both an innovator and nimble operator.
"The barriers to entry are really, really big and it's extraordinarily expensive," Amatuzio said about the wind energy market. "But we took a leap of faith. That's the benefit of being privately held. We can make decisions and act on instinct."
The company started in wind energy through a service-and-maintenance window. Wind turbines have two components requiring of lubrication — main and pitch-and-yaw gear boxes. Gear boxes are among the top failure points in wind turbines, Amatuzio explained, and changing oil is expensive — it's not easy getting a crane 300 feet up in the air for starters. Over time and through years of rigorous testing, the company developed a lubricant that pushed the industry standard of oil changes from every three years out to a service life of 10 years.
"It's so effective we effectively tripled what was previously recommended by manufacturers," Amatuzio said.
As partners with the Chinese outfits, Amsoil will be part of new installations from the beginning — the first lubricant in every gear box it's associated with.
"It's a badge of honor," Amatuzio said. "We've absolutely exceeded expectations. We never really projected ourselves in this position. We started in service fill, where the turbines were already up and installed. But we've worked way deeper into the market to where we're a big player in this."
Amatuzio won't talk about company revenue, but the partnerships in Asia make for healthy vital signs. The Singapore outpost now making Amsoil lubricants marks the company's first foray out of the Twin Ports, which still handles most of the company's manufacturing and its research and development.
"Right here in Superior," Amatuzio said.
Offered a chance to share his final thoughts in what was a rare interview, Amatuzio took on the perception of the oil industry.
"Everything needs lubrication," Amatuzio said. "The world would grind to a halt without it. We want to do our part and our share for environmental responsibility. In your car, when we extend protection to 25,000 miles without changing oil, it's clearly environmentally beneficial. We're a strong participant in renewable energy and making energy more affordable. These are strong points for Amsoil and benefits we provide."