Unilever invests in digital factories to harness supply chains

By Natasha Spencer

- Last updated on GMT

Unilever invests in digital factories to harness supply chains
FMCG, Unilever, is centering its strategic efforts on its digital transformation as a means of increasing efficiency and cutting costs.

At the Microsoft Inspire 2019 conference, Dave Penrith, Chief Engineer at Unilever PLC shared how it has enlisted the support of global tech giant, Microsoft, and tech innovation company, The Marsden Group, to help its transformation path.

The Marsden Group has supported Unilever with its approach to both innovation and technology by providing a customised digital twin solution. The virtual build is the first to be deployed in Unilever’s factories.

The Factory of Tomorrow

With the support of Microsoft, Unilever’s push towards digital transformation was tested and created in its Valinhos, Brazil factory. By adopting the latest and advanced technologies, the company is building a next-generation digital model of a traditional and established Unilever factory.

Teaming up with Unilever and Microsoft, The Marsden Group has deployed the Internet of Things (IoT) and intelligent edge services to produce a digital version of all factory machines and processes.

By using technology in this way, the trio were able to connect all equipment within the factory to connect considerable amounts of real-time data. Once collected, this information could then be communicated to the model.

Tech, Processes and Operations

Data including productive cycle times, motor speed, temperatures and other production variables are then gathered in the cloud via analytics. This process is achieved through advanced analytics and machine learning that can then monitor physical settings.

Combining these technologies, Unilever will be able to influence operations by predicting outcomes and improving efficiency levels to optimise output.

Unilever will be able to track product quality with handheld devices to model problem-solving capabilities and share data with colleagues located in other geographical areas.

The consumer goods giant will also receive insights on how to use materials more precisely to help reduce the amount of product waste that fails to meet quality standards.

Digital Transformation Goals

Applying this digital approach has “saved Unilever almost $3 million (€2.7 mn) and has driven a 1% - 3% increase in productivity”​, The Marsden Group reveals.

"When your ambition is as great as ours, you need partners who can help you positively disrupt your operations,"​ revealed Dave Penrith, Chief Engineer at Unilever.

"The team at The Marsden Group have shown us new possibilities to improve our supply chain. Their speed, amazing energy, and diversity of thinking have been second-to-none."

At present, Unilever has eight digital twin factories across Europe, the US, South America, and Asia. The personal care giant is streaming data from 15 of its 300 global plants.

Its ultimate aim is to connect 70 factories by the end of 2019 and at least another 100 by 2020.

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