Gottfried Mehnert, founder of Bekum Group and member of the Plastics Hall of Fame, died Aug. 1 at age 87.
Mehnert, who developed his first blow molding machine at age 21, leaves a lasting mark on the industry. He started Bekum Maschinenfabriken GmbH in Berlin in 1959 and built a global group of companies that has delivered more than 18,000 machines to more than 100 countries in addition to innovations that resulted in more than 40 patents.
Mehnert was born in Wilthen, Germany. Educated as a toolmaker, he served a year as an apprentice at Fiedler Tool and Engineering in Meissen. His father, Rudolph Mehnert, started Meno GmbH, a company that did injection molding, built molds and made injection molding machines.
After World War II, that region became East Germany. In 1952, the government seized Rudolph Mehnert's property, including the company. The following year, the family fled to West Berlin.
In a 2006 Plastics News profile when Mehnert was named to the Plastics Hall of Fame, Mehnert spoke of his feelings of liberation and youthful exuberance.
"That was a positive feeling at that time, because if you're very, very young, nobody thinks negative," he said.
In 1953, he and his father reestablished Meno and bought a mold shop. The move into blow molding came when a customer in West Berlin asked Meno to supply bottles. The customer had been getting bottles from West Germany, but the logistics of getting product to West Berlin, which was surrounded by East Germany, were too complicated.
Meno used its first blow molding machine, designed and built by Gottfried Mehnert, in 1955, to make baby bottles and cosmetic bottles, plus bottles for lighter fluid, oil, lemon juice and eye drops. He left his father's company in 1958 and he and his brother Horst Mehnert founded Bekum in Berlin's Mariendorf area. They worked feverishly for a pivotal coming-out party: a 1959 trade show in Düsseldorf, Germany.
At the trade show, Bekum displayed its first machine, which blow molded bottles from the top of the extruded parison. Another showstopper was neck calibration and finishing. Each bottle came out with a perfect neck, 100 percent completed. That set Bekum apart.
Mehnert's inventiveness also paved the way for further developments in the extrusion blow molding machine sector. These included PVC blow molding for edible oil and water bottles in the 1960s and the invention of the world's first double-sided shuttle machine, which was presented at the1963 K show in Düsseldorf.
In the 1970s, Mehnert developed a six-layer coextrusion process that opened up new markets for oxygen-sensitive products and diffusion-tight fuel tanks. Other inventions followed including tie-bar-free clamping systems at the end of the 1980s.
Mehnert's contributions to the industry were recognized in 2006, when he was inducted into the Plastics Hall of Fame.
In 2016, Mehnert placed the management and shares of Bekum in the hands of his youngest son, Michael, who has overseen product launches, award-winning machine designs, advances in energy-saving extruders and an Industry 4.0-capable control system.
Bekum Group includes Bekum Maschinenfabriken GmbH, Germany; Bekum Maschinenfabrik Traismauer GesmbH, Austria; and Bekum America Corp.
Gottfried Mehnert stood by and supported his son with his decades of experience in an advisory capacity. It was difficult for him to withdraw from active day-to-day business, and he would say that Bekum was one of his children.
He is survived by his wife, Heidemarie Mehnert, and sons Michael, Matthias and Andreas.