Unilever trials portable ‘travel factories’

By James Ridler contact

- Last updated on GMT

Unilever's new travel factory could be shipped all over the world and offer flexibility for manufacturers
Unilever's new travel factory could be shipped all over the world and offer flexibility for manufacturers

Related tags: factory design & Maintenance

Unilever has unveiled a portable ‘travel factory’ that operates inside a 40ft (12 meter) sea container, able to be moved all over the world.

Currently being trialed in Wageningen, The Netherlands, the digital factory produces liquid bouillon for Unilever’s Food Solutions business, with the possibility to expand production to ketchup, mayonnaise and ice cream in the future.

The travel factory can be shipped worldwide, allowing producers to localise production and respond quicker to changing demand in local markets. Producers can also use the factory to produce small volumes for product trials, freeing up mass production lines.

‘Nano factories’

Olivera Trifunovic, Unilever engineering manager and project lead of the travel factory, said: “This travel factory reflects a new dynamic model where thousands of ‘nano factories’ could be run from a central system, allowing us to have flexible production lines wherever, and whenever, needed. I’m incredibly proud of our team who have worked so hard, and so quickly, to bring this start-up to life.”

Unilever’s travel factory is remotely run by a central Platform Eco System (PES) that uses live production data. Sensors on the line feed data back continuously so adjustments can be made and any problems fixed quickly.

End-to-end capabilities

The factory requires about two to three operators per container and is fitted with all-in-one utility capabilities, requiring just one electricity cable and a single water hose to operate. It covers the end-to-end automated process, from raw materials to cooking through to packaging, to produce 300 tonnes of liquid seasoning per eight-hour shift.

If the trial is successful, Unilever hoped to expand the travel factories capabilities to other parts of its business, including beauty and home care. It also planned to lease, rent and sell the factories to entrepreneurs.

Meanwhile, Siemens Digital Logistics development consultant Phil Lavin and Digital Industries head of food and beverage Keith Thornhill discuss how automation technologies can be used to compensate for the delays caused by our ‘cliff-edge’ Brexit.

Related topics: Emerging Science & Tech, Operations

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