Unilever engineers have developed a food factory that operates within a 40-foot sea container, providing a flexible production line that can be moved around the world.

The digital factory is currently being trialled in the Netherlands, and from the end of this month, the prototype will produce liquid bouillon for Unilever’s Food Solutions business.

In addition, Unilever says that production could potentially be expanded to mayonnaise, ketchup and ice cream in the future.

The container is fitted with all-in-one utility capabilities, and requires just one electricity cable and a water hose to operate.

According to Unilever, the unit covers the end-to-end production process – from raw materials through to packaging – to produce 300 tonnes of liquid seasoning per eight-hour shift.

The flexibility offered by the ‘travel factory’ model will enable Unilever to respond more quickly to changing market demand and to take full advantage of local ingredients, as production can be shipped to different locations across the world.

The model can also be used to produce small volumes for product trials, without the need for mass production lines, resulting in low material waste.

Requiring around two or three operators per container, the factory is run remotely by a central ‘Platform Eco System’ that uses live production data.

Olivera Trifunovic, Unilever engineering manager and project lead of the travel factory, said: “This travel factory reflects a new dynamic model where thousands of nano factories could be run from a central system, allowing us to have flexible production lines wherever, and whenever, needed.

“I’m incredibly proud of our team who have worked so hard, and so quickly, to bring this start-up to life.”

The company also plans to lease, rent or sell ‘many’ of these production units to young entrepreneurs.