HOLLAND, OHIO — Remember the 64-ounce glass soda bottle? Thomas Brady does: ``It was like a bomb. If it broke it would take out a wall.''
Brady is president of Plastic Technologies Inc., a leading PET packaging research and development firm in Holland, a suburb of Toledo, Ohio. Back in 1971, Brady joined Owens-Illinois Inc.—just in time to help make plastics history.
``In '71, people were just beginning to think about putting carbonated soft drinks in plastic,'' he said. Beverage manufacturers were looking to sell soda in bigger and bigger containers. Glass has some obvious limitations.
Brady joined a team studying alternatives to glass. They developed an early commercial PET bottle for Pepsi-Cola Co. Soon after that, he said, Owens-Illinois began selling to Coke.
Brady ended up as vice president of technology at Owens-Illinois' Plastics Division. He left the company and in 1985 founded PTI in downtown Toledo. The company moved to Holland in 1994, and then in 1996 moved across the street to a $3 million, 36,000-square-foot headquarters. PTI is adding another 7,000 square feet to the building.
PTI's customer list includes some of the world's biggest consumer products companies — Coca-Cola Co., Graham Packaging Co. and Colgate-Palmolive Co., which packages its Ajax liquid cleaner, Palmolive dish washing liquid and Murphy Oil Soap in PET. PTI helped develop Coke's PET contour bottle.
``We also do a lot of work for the resin companies,'' Brady said in an interview in Holland.
PTI is a hotbed of PET talent. About 25 of its 63 employees are engineers. Another 25 are technical associates. Many of them are former Owens-Illinois employees.
Brady said the company continues to have long-range plans to injection mold recycled-content PET preforms for commercial sale, using resin from its recycling operation, Phoenix Technologies LP in nearby Bowling Green, Ohio. Phoenix has a small solid-stater, a piece of equipment it can use for development work to polymerize PET.
Last year, PTI won a $140,000 state grant to help develop a way to turn post-consumer PET into resin for food-grade packaging.
Phoenix, which employs 35, takes in PET flake, cleans it and repelletizes it, then sells the pellets to bottle makers. The factory's three reprocessing lines turn out 48 million pounds of PET a year.
While PET continues to be PTI's main focus, the company also develops polyethylene and polypropylene bottles, Brady said.
PET has come a long way in soft drinks. Today it's hard to find a glass bottle. Brady said other food packaging—especially hot-fill—represents the next generation of PET packaging.
``It's just beginning to happen,'' he said. PTI, for example, helped developed Graham Packaging's apple sauce jar.
The growing area of wide-mouth PET bottles presents a basic economic challenge: Necks of the preforms are large.
``You can't mold 96 of these at once—it's not possible. So the injection molding economics are reduced,'' Brady said.
PTI is equipped to work on solutions. For a prototyping house, it looks a lot like a full-scale molding factory, with six blow molding machines. The shop includes six small-tonnage injection molding machines—four of them run single-cavity molds. One injection press can do coinjection, for creating bottles with a barrier layer or an inner layer of recycled plastic.
PTI needs that talent and technology for speed. Brady said the firm can turn an idea into a prototype bottle in less than two weeks.
Once new bottles get made, PTI can give them a rigorous test in a laboratory with temperature and humidity rooms and equipment for hot-filling, pasteurizing and filling with carbonated liquids.
Some customers want hundreds of thousands of sample parts. ``When we make a prototype part, it's production quality,'' Brady said.