Unilever’s Intelligent Powder Towers drive digital change
Maintaining product quality is a defining pillar of brand building, and automated production to date has needed a helping hand from attentive humans. While the layman might see a manufacturing plant as a simple I/O with raw materials going in and finished products coming out, the reality is awash with skilled monitoring and adjustments to account for environmental factors, machine wear and other inconsistencies.
For companies such as Unilever, the Covid-19 pandemic has thrown it a challenge. It needs to maintain quality control in its products lines while keeping its workforce protected from exposure to the virus. That’s why the household goods giant has created ‘Intelligent Powder Towers’
What are Unilever’s Intelligent Powder Towers?
Powder towers are an essential piece of the laundry detergent manufacturing puzzle. The ingredients for Unilever’s laundry detergent powders, such as OMO, Comfort and Surf, are sprayed into the towers, which are blasted with hot air to dry it into a powder.
The moisture content of the powder is pivotal to product consistency and crucial to maintaining brand standards. Manual operators have historically controlled this balance in the towers, but as part of Unilever’s digital transformation, the powder towers can now be controlled algorithmically.
The algorithms use artificial intelligence and machine learning to predict optimal operating conditions and simulate different scenarios.
Digital transformation driven by Covid-19
The Intelligent Powder Towers are part of Unilever’s supply chain digital transformation, accelerated by the conditions created by Covid-19. The two powder towers that are part of its digital factory environment are in Indaiatuba, Brazil and Guayas, Ecuador. These can now be operated remotely, with staff able to oversee manufacturing while working from home.
And Unilever’s Intelligent Powder Towers have gone beyond allowing flexible working models, enhancing the speed and agility of data transfer through the process, streamlining the manufacturing workflow.
“Now the technicians in the control room can focus on more strategic decisions regarding production and use data intelligence to improve the process, instead of having to constantly monitor each process parameter,” says Daniel Correia, digital manufacturing manager LATAM, Unilever. “The insights are all in one place, accessible through a Power BI dashboard and the Unilever Digital Factory app, which enables faster decision making based on real-time data to optimise the performance of the tower.”
The digital transformation, using technology such as Intelligent Powder Towers, will also allow Unilever to monitor manufacturing machinery from overseas, and to combine data from global operations to increase efficiency.
Microsoft: Building a secure foundation to drive NASCAR
Microsoft is a key partner of The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) and together they are driving ahead to create an inclusive and immersive new fan experience (FX).
These long-term partners have not only navigated the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic with the use of Microsoft Teams and Microsoft 365, but are now looking to a future packed with virtual events to enhance the FX, well beyond NASCAR’S famous Daytona racetrack.
“Together, we've created a secure environment that's allowed for collaboration, but the future is all about the fans”, said Melinda Cook, General Manager for Microsoft South USA Commercial Business, who cited a culture of transparency, passion, adaptiveness, and a growth mindset as to why this alignment is so successful.”
“We've partnered to create a fluid, immersive experience for the users that is supported by a secure foundation with Microsoft in the background. We are focused on empowering and enabling customers and businesses, like NASCAR, to reach their full potential. We do this with our cloud platform which provides data insights and security.”
“Our cloud environment allows NASCAR to move forward with their digital transformation journey while we are in the background,” said Cook who highlights that Microsoft is helping NASCAR
- Empower employees productivity and collaboration
- Improve fan engagement and experience
- Improve environment security and IT productivity
- Improve racing operations
Microsoft Teams, which is part of the Microsoft 365 suite, enabled employees to work remotely, while staying productive, during the pandemic. “This allowed people to provide the same level of productivity with the use of video conference and instant messaging to collaborate on documents. Increased automation also allows the pit crews, IT, and the business to focus on safety, racing operations, and on the fan experience,” said Cook.
“We have started to innovate to create a more inclusive fanbase, this includes using Xbox to give people the experience of being a virtual racer or even leveraging some of the tools in Microsoft Teams to have a virtual ride along experience.”
“These environments are how we create a more inclusive and immersive experience for the fans. We're working on a virtual fan wall which allows people from new locations to participate in these events,” said Cook, who pointed out Microsoft was also helping bring legacy experiences alive from NASCAR’s archives.
“At Microsoft we can take it one level further by letting fans know what it's like to see the pit crew experience, the data and all the behind-the-scenes action. We will continue to improve automation with machine learning and artificial intelligence, from marketing to IT operations to finance to racing operations,” said Cook.
Christine Stoffel-Moffett, Vice President of Enterprise Technology at NASCAR, said: “Microsoft is one of our key partners. They have been instrumental in helping the NASCAR enterprise technology team re-architect our Microsoft systems to ensure an advanced level of security across our environment, contribute to our business outcomes, and focus on fan experience.”