Inventing, making and selling home and personal care products is more complex and time-consuming than often imagined. The level of complexity of Unilever’s product portfolio has been
compared to that of designing a Boeing 747. Just one example is the challenge of formulating
a fabric conditioner. This product tends to be unstable, especially when it is shipped to very
cold or very hot countries. Traditional stability tests on the laboratory bench tend to be boring
and very time consuming, typically taking 8 to 12 weeks. However, the comparable test on a
supercomputer takes only about 45 minutes.
Unilever now has a base at the Hartree Centre at STFC Daresbury Laboratory. The partnership
with the Hartree Centre gives Unilever R&D a competitive edge by harnessing the power of
supercomputers to accelerate the product discovery process.
For example, a computer formulation tool will help scientists at the bench pre-screen a number
of possible ingredients so that they can focus on fewer and better experiments when designing
a new product. The HPC capabilities at the Hartree Centre are coupled with a specialist 3D
visualisation suite, which Unilever product developers can use to explore the data and see
correlations that are otherwise elusive to the eye.
For a fast moving consumer goods company, speed is all that matters, especially when it needs
to put hundreds of new products on the market every year. Today, “to out-compute is to outcompete”. Speed is what gives a company like Unilever the competitive advantage.
“The Unilever R&D strategy commits us to a digitally enabled future of eScience and
big data. Our partnership with the STFC Hartree Centre will give our R&D community a
powerful competitive edge. When we have the HPC computing capabilities of the Hartree
Centre fully integrated with our global strategic science partnerships, we’ll be able to
tackle even bigger scientific challenges and unlock breakthrough innovations faster.”