Unilever announced that its ice cream factory in TaiCang, China, has joined the Lighthouse Network, the World Economic Forum’s community of manufacturing sites. Lighthouse sites adopt and deploy Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies to transform business operations through innovations, sustainable practices and maximized efficiency. The TaiCang site is the third Unilever factory to achieve this status.
The site at TaiCang has been operating since 1996 and now produces two million ice creams a day for brands such as Magnum, Cornetto and Wall’s. This is the equivalent to 60 million liters of ice cream each year. The factory’s adoption of revolutionary technologies, such as digital smart machines and AI, has increased speed and agility and paved the way for Lighthouse status.
Digital and environmental breakthroughs
According to the company, the technology used in TaiCang has enabled the factory team to become more agile and efficient, keeping up with fast-paced consumer demand following the unprecedented boom in eCommerce. Average change over time of a production line (switching from Magnum vanilla to chocolate, for example) has been reduced from eight hours to just nine minutes. In addition, new Unilever research shows that the Cornetto wafer cone is four times crispier than other available products through smart automation.
Digital platforms gain the latest insights from consumers through eCommerce and social media channels, and One-click AI Sales Forecasting is able to predict demand accurately. Combining consumer insights with a digital R&D platform has also drastically shortened the innovation lead time from 12 months to three, giving consumers what they want faster. The factory’s digital transformation has also accelerated sustainability efforts. Carbon emissions have been reduced by 83%, with electricity and water consumption being reduced by 14%. The site is on track to be carbon neutral within the next two years, directly contributing to Unilever’s target to have zero emissions from its global operations by 2030.
Jennifer Han, Unilever’s Head of Supply Chain Foods & Refreshment, said, “We are thrilled to have TaiCang part of the prestigious Lighthouse Network. By digitally transforming our value chains, we have been able to match the fast demands of the consumer and continue to produce our iconic and much-loved ice cream brands at scale. In addition, innovative technologies have allowed our factory workers to harness new, digital skills.”
Marc Engel, Unilever’s chief supply chain officer, said, “Unilever is on a journey to digitize 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 China's ice cream market share. The TaiCang site showcases a new type of smart manufacturing that combines productivity and competitiveness with environmental efforts. We see this as the future of manufacturing.”