Our Hefei site in China has become our second facility in nine months – alongside the Dubai Personal Care factory – to join the World Economic Forum’s network of Lighthouse factories, shaping the future of manufacturing through digital technologies.
Since 2018, the World Economic Forum has been recognising companies that incorporate Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) technologies into their manufacturing and supply chain operations, effectively creating a network of the world’s most advanced factories.
These sites adopt and deploy 4IR technology – such as artificial intelligence and Internet of Things – to maximise efficiency and competitiveness, and drive sustainable and responsible business growth, while upskilling the workforce and protecting the environment. They also provide a replicable model for manufacturers of all sizes, across different geographies and industries.
We’re delighted to announce that our TaiCang facility in China has now joined the list of ‘Advanced Fourth Industrial Revolution Lighthouses’.
TaiCang is the third Unilever site to achieve the status following our Personal Care factories in , UAE, and , also in China, which joined the network last year. It’s also the first ice cream factory anywhere in the world to be recognised.
As Marc Engel, Unilever’s Chief Supply Chain Officer, says: “Unilever is on a journey to digitise its supply chain. The TaiCang site’s adoption of new technologies has expanded the factory’s efficiency and agility. It has seen a 42% reduction in manufacturing costs, while increasing ice cream market share locally. The TaiCang site showcases a new type of smart manufacturing; one that combines productivity and competitiveness with environmental efforts.”
Seizing growth through digital transformation
At TaiCang – where we produce 2 million Wall’s, Magnum and Cornetto ice creams every day – we use a host of cutting-edge digital technologies to increase speed and agility.
For example, through one-click artificial intelligence sales forecasting, we can accurately predict consumer demand – even for high growth channels such as e-commerce. And by continuously analysing feedback from social media and e-commerce platforms, we’re able to respond to consumer needs in near real time.
This increased speed of response is underpinned by re-engineered production lines, where we’ve cut changeover times by 98%: from about eight hours to just nine minutes. The time it takes to change a line from one product to another – say vanilla to chocolate Magnums – is a big factor when it comes to agility, because it allows us to produce smaller batch sizes while being efficient with raw materials.
We have increased the speed with which we can bring innovations to market: now three months instead of 12. There are several ways we do this. For instance, our R&D team uses 3D printing to mock up packaging samples so we can select a preferred format more quickly. 3D printing also allows us to develop new nozzles about 80% quicker than a typical stainless-steel component.
We have also developed new logistics capabilities to deliver ice cream directly to consumers and, thanks to our new one-scan tracing app, we can provide end-to-end cold chain traceability to assure consumers of the safety of our products.
Upping our sustainability credentials
The TaiCang site is a model of sustainability, with a range of initiatives in place aimed at minimising its footprint on the planet.
We have reduced both the site’s energy and water consumption by 14%, and carbon emissions by 83%. The energy management system collects and monitors consumption data on a daily basis, identifying areas where we can make further improvements.
We are currently installing a solar system which will provide around 20% of our electricity requirement. For the rest, we already use green electricity generated from wind and water. This puts TaiCang on track to join our growing list of carbon-neutral sites in the next year or two.
As Jennifer Han, Head of Supply Chain for our Foods & Refreshment division, says: “The digital transformation of the TaiCang factory marks another milestone in our ambition to develop a fully responsive, data-driven manufacturing network. It has increased our agility, improved efficiency and is creating exponential value for our customers and consumers. It’s a blueprint for other Unilever ice cream factories undergoing a digital transformation.”
In 2020, our homecare factory in Pozzilli, Italy was set for closure. Now it is destined for sustainable success as a state-of-the-art plastic recycling centre based on a zero-waste, no redundancies ambition.
We have developed a first-of-its-kind digital innovation that gives us extremely accurate real-time visibility across our sea freight operations. This will transform how we manage logistics and boost our efforts to drive sustainability across the ocean shipping industry.