Energy audit achieves 20% savings for Unilever

How simple changes save thousands on compressed air at Unilever Port Sunlight

We are manufacturers as well as trainers at Festo, so we’re all too aware of the impact of rising energy costs.

Combine this with the challenges of an uncertain economic climate and a highly competitive market place, and it becomes clear that we all need to reduce costs and become more efficient in order to compete.

Unilever is a global company that produces some of the world’s best known brands. From Magnum and Cornetto to Dove, Comfort and Persil, Unilever brands can be found in 98% of UK households. The company’s manufacturing history began in the historic Port Sunlight site on the banks of the Mersey in 1887.

Factory 3 at Port Sunlight manufactures over 1 billion laundry detergent pods every year for worldwide distribution. And compressed air is used in almost every stage of the process. From mixing the liquid and forming, filling and sealing the capsules, to operating the shuts and traps that drop capsules into their packaging.

The challenge

Richard Diamond, Factory 3 Engineering Manager, was set an ambitious target of saving nearly 30% in compressed air costs over the next three years. Based on previous experience, Richard chose Festo as a partner to develop a specific Energy Efficiency Improvement Programme.

Richard said, “Our main compressor house is new and extremely efficient, so we knew that savings would be hard to make there. We were generating compressed air efficiently but not using it effectively enough. That’s where Festo came in, helping us to identify and reduce inefficiencies within each production area”.

Three step solution

At Festo we use a three stage process to get to the heart of the issue, get everyone on board, and create real, sustainable change.

1. Engagement

As with any change project, it’s vital to get your senior stakeholders excited and inspired from the outset, so that they are willing to drive any recommended actions forward. It’s human nature, people need to feel ownership and see what’s in it for them. At Festo, we achieve this through a ‘Seeing is Believing’ workshop with managers, that shows step by step where real cost savings can be made through good practice.

When managers see the potential for savings of up to 80%, demonstrated on a simple system, it’s easier for them to fully understand the possibilities. A factory line tour after the workshop provides an immediate opportunity to see the potential reward and gain commitment.

2. Baseline measurements

In the case of Factory 3, we measured air consumption for the whole factory, and then ran an energy audit of each individual line, when running and when static. This established a baseline and gave us a breakdown of consumption by specific area and machine. By capturing photographic evidence of poor practice and opportunities for improvement, we could already see where significant savings could be made.

Neil Lewin, L&D Consultant at Festo, said, “A lot of companies do a leak detection audit that tags leaks, but they are never fixed. Engineers don’t have the time and don’t see the value, particularly when there are other more pressing priorities. But that little hissing noise in the background could be costing thousands of pounds a year.”

3. Engineers’ workshop

To transfer both skill and knowledge to Unilever engineers, the next step was a training workshop designed to help those who work with compressed air to:

• Understand the potential costs of wasted energy

• Identify poor practice and inefficient machine design

• Explain the need to set – and maintain – optimal settings

• Introduce tools to help engineers measure, and sustain, energy use

• Build team confidence and a proactive approach to energy efficiency

Engineers were now able to spot new potential savings just by walking down the factory line immediately after the workshop.

This workshop not only shows engineers the potential cost savings, but also the impact that inefficiencies might be having on their equipment. For example, a factory might be running on 7 bar pressure when the bulk of the equipment could operate at 4. With a reduction in pressure in most areas, everything will run as quickly but with less force, wear and tear, and noise. This impacts everything from health & safety to the longevity of equipment.


An audit report and recommendations, focusing on three or four key areas, is produced and shared in a final workshop. This includes the calculations of any potential savings identified.

In the case of Factory 3, our initial observations identified possible savings of over £85,000 per annum, with no new equipment needed – just the investment of the engineers’ time. Our full report later showed that £140,000 pa could be saved. What’s more, when new equipment is ordered, energy efficient design is now an important part of the specification.

Sustainable change

Accountability is an important way to make any change sustainable. We know that assigning engineers to specific areas and getting them to present back 6-8 weeks after an audit is highly effective. At Unilever, apprentice Luke Hodgers, took a particular interest and has taken on the role of project lead.

Managers, engineers and apprentices from other factories at Port Sunlight have now taken part in our ‘Seeing is Believing’ workshop, creating a wider team of advocates to roll out savings across the Unilever site.