Career profiles: Sjef

Team Leader, Pilot Plant

I work at Unilever’s Global and Regional Product Development Centre for Structured Emulsions in Vlaardingen as team leader for the pilot plant organisation. My job is to make sure that our pilot plants offer the optimum level of support to our projects, so that they can be delivered on time and in full.

We’re in the process of transferring pilot plants from various locations to Vlaardingen, which is a hugely complex task. This must happen with no impact on the ongoing projects. So we need to get everything up and running again as quickly as possible. I look at the transfer from a technical point of view, ensuring Vlaardingen is ready to receive the new equipment, technology and lines. For instance, we built a completely new pilot plant to relocate work from Dijon. We started the move two weeks ago and anticipate being fully operational in three to four months.

I’m not a scientist, but with my experience and knowledge, I act as the bridge between science and sourcing, understanding how we can bring new technologies into production. How long a project takes depends on the technology in question. If we’re adapting something we already have, it could take as little as a month. If we’re developing something completely new, the programme could last a couple of years.

I’m also involved in a cross-category quality project, setting up a system that covers the entire lifecycle, from make to buy. Based on consumer perception, we’re looking at why people buy our products – the triggers – then trying to figure out how we can use this information to deliver precisely what people want.

I’ve worked in Unilever R&D for almost 30 years in a variety of roles and locations. Changes seem to be happening faster and demands are always different. But I love solving these problems. Knowing that we’ll come up with a solution - perhaps not today, but always tomorrow – is why I find it such an exciting and stimulating environment.

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