"You get together in meetings like this. You come to a meeting as an attendee. You learn, meet people, network and you take something back to the company. It's not just you learning," Ferguson said. A member can move up to become a conference speaker, then to the division's board, "where you can help shape the future of the division and the industry," he added.
Don Peters, a retired blow molding engineer from Chevron Phillips Chemical Co, introduced Ferguson, his friend since they met in the 1960s — probably, they guess — at an SPE Antec conference. Peters was steeped in HDPE, a key product made by Phillips. Ferguson, a chemist, helped fill in his gaps.
"I soon found out that he was a man of knowledge, and also, he didn't mind giving that knowledge. Because I knew nothing about engineering materials. And every once in a while, I had a need to know something about it, so I would call him up, and what I found out was, he gave that information to me without reservation. He's been a giver all through his life in plastics," Peters said.
Ferguson's plastics and blow molding career began in 1965, shortly after he graduated from Rutgers University with a chemistry degree and began working at Escambia Chemical. He helped develop clear PVC blow moldable compounds with impact modifiers. Back then, PVC compounds had poor heat stability and marginal clarity. They were hard to process.
In the 1960s, brands were looking for more plastic to replace glass bottles, which could be dangerous if something like a shampoo bottle broke in the bathroom. But it had to look more like glass than HDPE bottles of the time. Another part of the challenge was to convert HDPE blow molders to PVC.
He went to work at the Tennepak department of Tenneco Chemicals, and the company used a process using extruded plastic tubes and reheating them for blow molding. Tennepak also was working on with Beloit wheel machines, feeding them with a PVC powder blend.
Ferguson went to Marbon Chemical, a division of Borg Warner Corp., which was developing PVC impact modifiers for several markets, including bottled water. He also contributed to the global development of 20-liter polycarbonate water bottle.
Ferguson moved to Borg Warner's plastics group, developing ABS, an engineering resin, for blow molding. That helped blow molding move beyond packaging to durable long-lasting parts.
"I was extremely fortunate to work with two big companies that were very supportive of blow molding," Ferguson told his fellow blow molding leaders.
In 1977, he earned an MBA in marketing from West Virginia University.
Ferguson worked at GE Plastics from 1988 until he retired in 1997, holding key global blow molding positions.
Ferguson helped kick-start the blow molding division's parts competition, held at the blow molding conference. For the first three years, it was a parts display, to gauge interest. The parts competition began in 2013.
"The parts competition was a way to get more people involved in the industry … but still, many didn't take time to look at the parts," he said. "So then we started the People's Choice [awards] because we wanted the people to look at the parts and decide what the benefits were."
Ferguson also served on a team that developed the Plastics for Life Global Parts Competition, held each year at SPE's main conference, Antec. It's kind of a Super Bowl between parts that win competitions at SPE conferences throughout each year.
Ferguson thanked his family members — his wife, Joyce, and their two sons and two daughters — who attended the Atlanta ceremony. His wife said their house is full of plastic parts Lew has collected over the years.
"The SPE blow molding division is better off for his presence," Don Peters said. "In terms of what he has done to further the cause of the SPE blow molding division, he is the most outstanding person that I have known in the industry."