World’s first ice cream factory to join WEF Lighthouse Network

By Jim Cornall

- Last updated on GMT

The site at TaiCang has been operating since 1996 and produces 2m ice creams a day. Pic: Unilever
The site at TaiCang has been operating since 1996 and produces 2m ice creams a day. Pic: Unilever

Related tags Unilever Ice cream China WEF

Unilever’s 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 maximised efficiency. The TaiCang site is the third Unilever factory to achieve the status.

The site at TaiCang has been operating since 1996 and now produces 2m ice creams a day, for brands such as Magnum, Cornetto and Wall’s. This is the equivalent to 60m liters of ice cream each year. The factory’s adoption of new technologies, such as digital smart machines and AI, has resulted in increased speed and agility and paved the way for Lighthouse status.

Unilever said 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 e-commerce. Average changeover time of a production line (switching from Magnum vanilla to chocolate, for example) has been reduced from eight hours to nine minutes.

Digital platforms gain the latest insights from consumers through e-commerce and social media channels, and One-click AI Sales Forecasting is able to accurately predict demand. Being able to combine consumer insights with a digital R&D platform has also shortened the innovation lead time, from 12 months to three.

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, 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’re 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 ice cream market share in China The TaiCang site showcases a new type of smart manufacturing; one that combines productivity and competitiveness with environmental efforts. We see this as the future of manufacturing.

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