Alumnus takes engineering to new heights
If all goes as planned in 2016, Eric Bartsch will retrace American aviator Charles Lindbergh’s famous flight across the Bering Sea. His modern floatplane will run on biofuels.
On January 29, the former MechSE graduate student (MSME '95) retraced another, ongoing journey for ME 390 students. Bartsch explained how he departed from working at Talbot Laboratory 20 years ago and landed in the aviation and biofuel industry today. Bartsch also warned about technical turbulence he encountered along the way.
After graduation from Illinois, Bartsch worked with household products at Proctor and Gamble in Cincinnati, Ohio. After working with products ranging from soap to lipstick in the R&D labs, he was promoted to help the corporate R&D group tackle one of the hardest challenges the company was facing at the time: bottle caps. Bartsch became an apprentice in running advanced injection processes and molding technologies to keep up with the quality and quantity demand for the product.
“They make billions and billions of bottle caps that go on all matter of things,” Bartsch said, “and if you get even one percent of those leaking, you’re talking about millions of dollars of problems, a lot of lost wasted product.”
Bartsch noted that although bottle caps were not the most exciting product on the market, the skills he learned while climbing up the ranks to be crowned “bottle cap king of the United States” were priceless.
“I actually have patents on bottle caps in my name,” Bartsch said, as he explained that making caps entailed working with lawyers and learning about intellectual property and patents. “It’s how your company gets a competitive edge and maintains it—that’s one of the big ways that they are going to do it.”
Other benefits Bartsch reaped while working for P&G included meeting a strong network of colleagues and working at a company that invested in his skills with training programs.
“One of things I learned (at P&G) is that the product is really one small piece of your overall employment experience,” Bartsch said. “The product doesn’t define your career—it’s what you do with it, what you make of it, and how you approach it.”
Therefore, when he saw a chance to work as vice president of product management at Calphalon, a division of Rubbermaid that produces cookware appliances, he seized the opportunity to learn something new. At the company, he developed an appreciation for both great engineering and aesthetics.
“No one needs a $400 set of cookware. You can go to Walmart and you can buy a whole bunch of pans in a box for maybe $20 dollars,” Bartsch said. “You have to really want the higher-end cookware; you have to really want the higher-end cutlery. The people who we’re working with, they didn’t just cook to eat. They cooked because it was their passion.”
And after Calphalon, passion is exactly what Bartsch pursued when he joined Horizon Hobby, a leader in radio controlled products for the hobby market based in Champaign. Merchandise included planes, helicopters, and cars.
Although working with radio controlled cars presented him with a different business culture, the team at Horizon offered Bartsch new manufacturing opportunities that he valued and a career where he continued to produce for “really passionate consumers who live for the products.”
Here, Bartsch learned the importance of being part of a company that interested him.
“You are going to spend a lot of hours, well over 40 hours a week, wherever you go, 48 to 50 weeks a year,” Bartsch said. “You want to make sure that it’s a place you want to be.”
After Horizon Hobby, Bartsch explored what his personal company culture could be like and founded the Chanute Consulting Group. Around that time, he also met Erik Lindbergh, Charles Lindbergh’s grandson.
“We wound up talking a lot about the electric flight industry, because at the time, I was the chief operating officer at a company that was farthest along in the industry and he had been promoting electric flight for about five years,” Bartsch said. “Late last year, we started off with several partners, a company called Powering Imagination. We are working on quiet flight, electric flight, and then sustainable flight, meaning biofuels.”
In preparation for the trip across the Bering Sea, Bartsch and the team of aeronauts that will fly with him are making sure the biofuel they plan to use will not gel at high altitudes. In regards to his trip and future career paths, the MechSE alumnus told the class, “Have a vision or plan of where you are going, but recognize when to change plans.”