Back to Engineering Basics : The Plastic Soft Drink Bottle

Technews Writer
Thu Sep 15, 2011

IIT's Armour College of Engineering kicked off the Armour Distinguished Alumni Lecture Series on Tuesday, September 13, when they welcomed Gautam Mahajan (MS MEC '70), an expert in strategy, general management, and globalization, who presented the lecture "Back to Engineering Basics: The plastic soft drink bottle."

A long time ago, probably around the time our parents went to college, IBM had computers where you had to punch holes in 7x4 cards with digital information in holes with predefined positions. Now an obsolete recording medium, they were widely used earlier for input, data processing and storage. Those who developed them may not even have imagined the progress that has been made today.

What do we learn from this? That things now considered simple were complex once upon a time. To render them simple we had to resort to the fundamentals periodically. Mr. Mahajan frequently touched upon some secrets of his success - it’s important to be imaginative, it’s important to have a vision, and to take risks. Business will always have a say in engineering, and entrepreneurial changes will always be rejected initially if they aren’t exactly sticking to the formula of raking in the profits.

In his presentation, Mahajan discussed how returning to engineering basics helped to develop a new petaloid base, which is found on the bottom of today’s soft drink bottles. He also discussed the business component of developing new products, including the introduction of the half-liter PET bottle (since the challenge was to replace the 2 liter bottle that expanded and exploded after prolonged exposure to sunlight). Later challenges included ensuring the bottle would hold pressure, not lose gas, not contribute to the taste/flavor of the liquid inside, not expand/shrink, not be carcinogenic, wouldn’t contribute to leaching in the soil, be economical and recyclable.

Mahajan currently serves as president of Inter-Link Services Pvt. Ltd., an international consulting firm that helps companies become established in Asia and India, specifically regarding entry strategy, technology transfer, marketing, business development, and operations. For 17 years Mahajan ran the plastics businesses of Continental Group, which was the world’s largest packaging company. In addition to his master’s degree in mechanics and Ph.D. coursework at IIT, Mahajan received an MBA from Suffolk University as well as fellowships from Harvard Business School and IIT. He was the recipient of the 2000 IIT Distinguished Alumni Award. He holds 18 US patents.