Plastic Technologies Inc. had just commissioned a blow molding machine for its prototype lab as an interesting invitation popped up from Coca-Cola.
The carbonated soft drink (CSD) maker wanted to produce its first contoured plastic bottle in the U.S. and the Holland, Ohio-based PTI used its new equipment to create some samples.
It was a tall order.
The glass Coke bottle patented in 1915 was a cultural icon with its appealing cocoa-pod shape, embossed script logo and design that met two distinct specifications. The bottle had to be recognizable when touched in the dark or broken into pieces.
The evolution of the bottle to plastic in the U.S. was a big deal — and a classic career memory for PTI President Scott Steele.
"Eventually the company decided on a 20-ounce size and design, which became one of the most successful PET packages in history," Steele said in an email of the Coke bottle launched in 1994.
"Today, still there are billions of single-serve shaped CSD bottles produced annually, which in my opinion started in the PTI laboratory in Toledo, Ohio, and I was lucky enough to be the project engineer who supported a massive effort to commercialize it."
How did he get so lucky?
Steele chalks up his first job in the industry to a college professor who worked as a consultant for Perrysburg, Ohio-based Owens-Illinois Inc. The professor encouraged chemical engineering students to check out the company's growing plastics division. Steele did and he became a project engineer for a development team in the plastic beverage operations.
"I joined the group that pioneered plastic beverage bottles in the mid-1970s," said Steele, who earned his bachelor's degree from the University of Toledo in 1979 and became a member of the Society of Plastics Engineers that year.
"My supervisor at O-I insisted I join to start learning more about plastics and materials other than PET," he said.
Steele went on to author 11 U.S. and international patents and has held numerous positions with SPE, including his current post as the finance chairman of the board of directors. He joined PTI in 1987 as one of its first employees and became president in 2012.