The day started with a rushed breakfast since we had to leave the hostel at 7 am. Our journey to Unilever Heilbronn was supposed to take 1.5 hours but traffic jams on the way delayed us. When we finally arrived at Unilever Heilbronn we were greeted by our host with coffee and cookies. We then heard an introductory presentation about Unilever and Knorr. Two more presentations were planned about Unilever current processing topics and the Global Development Center, but as we were behind schedule, the presenters kindly summarized their presentations for us.
Such care with the schedule was due to the fact that our host invited the company employees to join us and see our presentations. Twenty to thirty Unilever employees finally attended to what they called the "open forum" and participated in all the presentations with questions at the end of each one. Remko Boom presented first and introduction about Wageningen University, the FPE group and our research topics. Jun Qiu was next and gave his presentation on the exploitation on mild film drying technologies for more efficient dehydration of liquid concentrated foods. Patricia Duque Estrada followed presenting her research topic on microencapsulation of iron for fortification of plant protein-based structured foods. The third presentation was done by Martijn Weterings on the aroma release and losses during food processing and the last presenter from our side was Jaap Dijkshoorn on the up-scaled ratchet technology for large-scale separation of particle suspensions.
When we were done with the presentations it was time for the pilot plant tour. But first we had to suit-up. Our host brought us a pile of safety shoes and disposable lab coats and when we were ready we headed to the plant. Our guide first explained us that the pilot plant is located next to the production plant and it is used for testing of new products and optimization of the process. He showed us the different parts of the plant being the first one dedicated to the drying processes with equipment such as spray dryer and vacuum dryer. The next part of the plant is dedicated to the mixing of dry ingredients where they have low and high shear mixers and a mixer that combines both types of mixing. We also saw the forming equipment used to make stock blocks. Finally we were shown the packaging line of the pilot plant. When we were done it was already lunch time. The air in the pilot plant smelled like a cafeteria at lunch time and that made us more and more hungry!
Our hosts at Unilever kindly organized a networking lunch for us for which they invited some R&D employees to join. It was a very nice idea and we enjoyed the interaction very much.
Before leaving the company, we thanked our hosts and gave them some gifts. In return they also gave each of us a bag with Knorr products produced in the site. Among them the Erbswurst, the first product of the Knorr company produced since the 19th century.
It was then time to move again. This time to Universität Hohenheim.
We arrived on schedule and were greeted by prof. Kohlus, the managing director of the ILB Hohenheim.
After an introduction by prof. Kohlus and prof. Remko Boom on Universität Hohenheim and Wageningen University and their respective research topics, the PhD candidates from both universities presented their work.
Jaap Dijkshoorn presented once more followed by Zeynep Ataner. In her presentation, she gave first an overview on the research topics of the Dairy department of Universität Hohenheim and then went deeply into her topic of separation of milk protein fractions and her approach to obtain fractions with a high purity using a decanter centrifuge.
After the coffee break, Lu Zhang presented the topic study on the bread baking using miniature bread baking approach. The next presentation was given by Olivier Paquet-Durand on the estimation of the hydration kinetics of wheat grains for optimization in cereal processing. The second to last presentation was given by Eline Both on the morphological analysis of single drying droplets comprising sugar and/or protein. And finally, Annika Linke explained us her work on the encapsulation of fish and algae oil by spray-drying and its structure effects.
After the presentations we were divided into two groups to visit the pilot plant. In the pilot plant, we could see their emulsifier coupled with a spray drier, their fluidized bed setup and their scrapped surface heat exchanger. Prof. Kohlus also showed us their CIP equipment used to clean various setups.
We also visited their cereal technology lab that smelled like when you pass by a bakery early in the morning (and at that point we were already hungry again)! We saw their equipment for cereal processing and a demonstration of an equipment that measures the volume of a loaf of bread using laser. After we had the chance to quickly visit part of their dairy plant.
And then there was the smell of barbecue!
The local PhD candidates kindly organized a barbecue for us including bread and sausages made by themselves in their pilot plants. Everything was delicious and the barbecue was also a very nice opportunity to integrate and talk with the local PhD candidates. It was a very intense day with a packed program but very fruitful both scientifically and socially.