Running like a Well-Oiled Machine

Renkert Oil
Written by Pauline Muller

The cogs of our modern world are lubricated with ancient mineral oils – and by that, I don’t mean fuel. Petroleum refiners produce varying grades of mineral oil for use in just about everything on the planet. Therefore, when it comes to quality, you know you’re onto a good thing when your competitors’ staff join your team because your product outperforms everything else on the market and nobody can work out the secret.
Renkert Oil may be small, but it is as agile as it is consistent. Supplying multi-national companies worldwide with standard specifications, Renkert’s team of highly qualified experts supports its wide array of customers with creative applications for mineral oils.

“Mineral oils are used in every aspect of industry today. We can serve nearly any company on the face of the earth, because our product ends up in so many everyday items,” says owner, Mark Proudfoot. A chemical engineer who worked for Mobil Oil R&D before he joined Renkert Oil, Mark is in charge of quality, technology, and new product development.

The company has developed a range of mineral oils that are added to plastics and rubber to improve their properties. Mineral oil makes rubber softer and more pliable, for instance. Using this technology, rubbery plastics known as ThermoPlastic Elastomers (TPEs) have been developed that are used in injection molding of automotive, consumer, food contact and soft touch applications as well as many other fields. Renkert’s oils are highly refined and offer UV-ray stability, which is particularly useful for maintaining color constancy in plastics.

It isn’t only plastics, rubbers, and composites that Renkert Oil’s products are used in, either. “We put mineral oil where it makes an important difference,” says Mark. While the company doesn’t fabricate end products itself, it does supply numerous manufacturers with mineral oils used in a long and varied list of products and applications. This includes myriad different types of lubrication, food contact materials like pan-release agents, pharmaceutical and cosmetic uses, electrical insulating transformer oils, and base oils used for car engine oils, heat transfer oils and many more.

Renkert Oil’s confidence in its technology and capability led the team to bid on FermiLab’s NOvA project. This ambitious project spanned 2011-2014 after Renkert Oil was awarded the FermiLab NOvA project supply contract. Renkert’s highly refined, specialized mineral oil was used to create a super-clean Scintillator detector fluid. The Scintillator fluid must be perfectly clear and emits a blue glow when it comes in contact with neutrinos – hard-to-measure subatomic particles that permeate our very existence. The lab judged Renkert’s highly refined oil as the very highest quality above all competitive offerings for use in the NOvA research project. FermiLab ordered 8000 tons of oil blended for delivery to their custom detector array in Minnesota. Renkert Oil built a food-grade quality blending facility which produced and delivered over 2.7 million gallons of 100 percent approved quality scintillator on time and on budget. It was rewarding to satisfy FermiLab’s high-powered physicists in their quest to better understand particle physics.

The business was founded by Mike Renkert over 30 years ago, supplying the rubber industry with process oils, and is based in Morgantown, Pennsylvania. Mark joined Mike as a partner in 2000 and together they have grown the business twenty-fold over nearly 19 years. “Mike founded and developed a very stable company with a trusted reputation. Those are the two most important things in this industry. Mike is very well respected by both our customers and competitors,” says Mark. “We have added many team members, an additional owner-partner and processing facilities in Louisiana, Indiana and Illinois.”

Today, Renkert Oil distributes mainly across North America, but also ships worldwide to places like Latin America, Africa, the Caribbean and further afield. For its European customers, it has set up an operation in Antwerp, Belgium which comprises about a fifth of its total business. Renkert Oil also services its clients through rail transflo facilities which transfer and truck oil to them locally.

Renkert Oil is an easy company to do business with. It has earned great trust, as it protects customers from inconvenient disruptions by planning ahead. Renkert invests in large inventories which allow customers access to oil during times of shortage, like when Gulf Coast refineries shut down due to hurricanes or other emergencies. “We’re very proud of the fact that, with Hurricane Katrina that closed refineries in Louisiana and Texas, we had built up a very large inventory to ensure that our customers were safeguarded when other suppliers had run dry. We stood out as the most reliable supplier and managed to get through the extraordinary two-month downtime without any customer being short of oil,” says Mark.

The company also has no shortage of expert knowledge and expertise. Vice president of sales, Mike Burnett, a chemical engineer and anthropologist, has years of refining experience and moved over from Ergon Energy. He regularly volunteers with the International Mission Board in Eastern Tanzania where he helps drill water wells in poverty-stricken villages. Mike works with product development and applications. The company’s operation manager and co-owner, Nick Livanos, is a chemical engineer who worked for Chevron for many years. Nick has a vast knowledge of the workings of big oil companies as well as international markets.

A team of 25 keeps this operation running smoothly. An interesting feature of the company’s sales model is that sales executives run their own businesses within the greater organization which supplies the logistics, billing and all other support needed to deliver mineral oils. The sales team, in turn, serves its customers, ensuring that their needs are met. Everyone in the company has a lot of responsibility and micro-management is unheard of. “We’re a small company so everyone knows each other. This means that we do extensive cross-training, so people can fill in for each other easily. Our salesmen basically run their own companies within our company and they are successful because they rely upon and appreciate the support we provide,” says Mark.

Renkert Oil is always busy developing new products and its latest is a high molecular weight, low volatility oil, Renoil 1500 -LV, used to create low-fogging plastics used in automotive vehicles and anywhere migration of oils is undesirable. Thanks to its higher molecular weight, Renoil 1500-LV allows a significant reduction in plasticizer evaporation from vehicle interior plastics onto windshields. “We’re ahead of the game with this product because we know that stricter requirements are coming. So we’re ready to continue to serve our customers in the automotive industry,” says Mark.

As the fourth largest food grade oil producer in the U.S., this market leader is fully compliant with the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and is in the process of obtaining Safe Quality Food Institute certification. “At Renkert Oil, we take food safety seriously. Not everybody in the food grade oil industry goes to the lengths that we do to protect customers and their consumers. We stay ahead of regulatory trends,” says Mark.

The team is also exceptionally generous and apart from Mike Burnett’s African expeditions to support water projects in rural villages, the company engages a great deal in sponsorship and support for a number of other charities. Each employee supports various causes and Mark Proudfoot is involved in the Pennsylvania Free Enterprise week, an entrepreneurship initiative that exposes 10th and 11th graders to a college campus for a week where they are taught how to run a business. Teams compete against each other in a bid to learn about how free enterprise works in real life. The program covers everything from inventory and sales to advertising and investment and includes a number of motivational speeches from top businesspeople from around the country. His advice to young people looking to go into business is to find something useful to do. “Don’t just push paper around. Go learn from people, ask a lot of questions and don’t be fixated on one particular thing. Try things out and shift as you need to,” he says. “Don’t be so rigid that you don’t see when you need to make a change in your life or your business,” says Mark.

The company’s approach, using experienced industry experts coupled with motivated support staff, satisfies its customers with good solutions and excellent service. For Renkert Oil, significant multi-national growth brings an increased focus on expanded logistics and support of its wide and effective operation which will no doubt continue to grow strongly, operating like a well-oiled machine.

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