Ultimate Liquids' Technology for Responsive, Agile & FLEXible MANUfac

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Chem Eng and Analytical Science


The proposed project is about manufacturing in Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) markets and the creation of an economic and sustainable manufacturing process to enable a demand driven supply chain. Retailers, such as Tesco and ASDA, want to pass orders continuously to suppliers and reduce lead times from about 20-60 days down to 1-3 days which in turn requires manufacturers to be able to make 'every product every day'. Considerable effort has been focussed on the agility and flexibility of packing lines but little effort has been focussed on the needs of making liquid products. As a consequence Unilever UK, along with Silverson Machines, and The University of Manchester, have initiated this project to bring about a step-change in UK manufacturing competitiveness. The project aims to develop a Short Run Continuous Process capable of small and variable lot quantities with continual switching between products, which necessarily requires processes that are inherently waste free. To achieve this requires a new generation of high shear process equipment and
the integration of recently acquired insights in process scale-up for in-line rotor stator mixers, structure-function relationships for formulated products with complex microstructures and in-line monitoring for real-time quality control.

In FMCG, manufacturing processes have traditionally been designed to minimise conversion costs and have large production runs with few changeovers, to minimise waste and cleaning effluent. This model has come under increasing pressure, with retailers demanding suppliers like Unilever to be more responsive. To achieve this, radically different approaches are needed, towards flexible and agile manufacturing, where products are only made as and when required.

This project aims to develop a new integrated process design concept, which enables a demand driven production schedule. Key is a significant reduction in Minimum Order Quantity without significant reduction in operational efficiencies. The process design that Unilever, with Silverson Machines and The University of Manchester, aim to deliver will allow products to be pulled through the value stream quickly and accurately rather than rely on forecasts well ahead of demand & would be completely new for FMCG.

Planned Impact

ECONOMIC benefits to Unilever lie in reduced inventory (up to 50%) ongoing savings arising from lower storage and distribution costs; it will also give economic models which allow the supply chain cost of product portfolio complexity to be assessed Silverson will benefit from an enhanced market position & development of the underpinning scientific knowledge will strengthen their performance claims. It will contribute to maintaining their UK manufacturing facilities. To Manchester this would be a flagship project for their new Pilot Plant facility for evaluation of in-line measurement techniques & for cleaning, taking advantage of bringing together their traditional and process intensification equipment and build a longer term partnership with Unilever and Silverson. Moreover, it enables exploitation of the recent mechanistic insights of rotorstator mixer design and operation and thereby maintains an international standing. For the UK overall, it implies a strong
improvement in FMCG manufacturing skills.

SOCIAL benefits include development of new skills & capabilities of Process Science and Supply Chain expertise teams based in the UK and increase in skilled staff to operate and maintain technical superior manufacturing process, offsetting reductions related to decreases in stock levels and warehouse activity. For the general public benefits include better meeting consumer needs, more customised products and better quality of life.

ENVIRONMENTAL benefits are reduced carbon footprint, smaller footprint factories and a flexible, demand-driven supply chain which will strongly reduce stocks and waste (reduced cleaning water and reduced waste product). Moreover the new capability will improve transport utilisation by elimination of haulage between supplier's and retailer's intermediate warehouses. All impacts will start to be realised within two years of project completion.


10 25 50
Description A novel instrumentation and data analysis technique was invented, tested and demonstrated to enable inline detection of cleaning of process pipework and fitting during a CIP cycle.
Exploitation Route Discussions with industrial partner and ongoing for factory testing of technique.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Chemicals,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology

Description Cleaning-in-place (CIP) cleans process equipment by circulating cleaning fluids at high velocity to remove fouling. It offers a huge time saving over the alternative of disassembling equipment and has become ubiquitous in the process industries. However, it is reliant on conservative protocols which may not be product specific and may dictate cleaning times and volumes of cleaning fluid several times greater than required. The rigid protocol nature of CIP has been challenged by the push for shorter and more flexible production runs, for example in Fast Moving Consumer Goods manufacturing, where cleaning can once again become a significant bottleneck. Outputs from this project are the result of a collaboration with Unilever and make a significant step forward in the application of Process Analytical Technologies (PAT), in this case Electrical Resistance Tomography (ERT), to the inline monitoring of cleanliness. The project resulted in novel sensor designs and a new algorithm to detect when an item of equipment has become sufficiently cleaned. The unique pilot scale facilities of CEAS enabled industrially relevant trials on full size items which would be visualised by digital cameras and cross referenced to ERT data. The result is a published robust methodology and algorithm for detecting when an item is clean, thus allowing cleaning times to be reduced below that in standard protocols and proving additional process assurance. The technique was selected by Unilever for further assessment for in-house development along with ERT partner Industrial Tomography Systems.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Chemicals,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology
Impact Types Economic

Description EPSRC Prosperity Partnerships
Amount £3,029,905 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/R00482X/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2017 
End 10/2022
Description Industrial funding
Amount £212,000 (GBP)
Organisation Unilever 
Department Unilever Research and Development
Sector Private
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2014 
End 09/2018
Description Industrial funding
Amount £151,000 (GBP)
Organisation Unilever 
Department Unilever Research and Development
Sector Private
Country United Kingdom
Start 12/2013 
End 11/2014
Description TSB - Nutrition for Life
Amount £200,000 (GBP)
Funding ID 101733 
Organisation TSB Bank plc 
Sector Private
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2014 
End 12/2016
Description UK Fluids Fluid Mechanics of Cleaning and Decontamination (FMCD) SIG 
Organisation UK Fluids Network
Department Fluid mechanics of cleaning and decontamination
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Joined this recently instituted SIG
Collaborator Contribution None yet
Impact None
Start Year 2017