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Centralized and distributed food manufacture: A modeling platform for technological, environmental and economic assessment at different production scales

Almena, A., Fryer, P.J., Bakalis, S., Lopez-Quiroga, E.
Sustainable Production and Consumption 2019
case studies, economic analysis, food storage, food transport, infant foods, manufacturing, models, process design, social benefit, supply chain, transportation, United Kingdom
Centralized manufacturing methods have been increasingly implemented in the food manufacturing sector. Proving to be more efficient in terms of production, centralization also involve rigid and lengthy supply chains with high both environmental and cost impacts. Distributed manufacturing, based on local production at small scale, represents an alternative that could provide flexibility to the currently established centralized supply chains, together with environmental and social benefits. A modeling tool for the process design, evaluation and comparison of different centralized and decentralized manufacturing scenarios, both in economic and environmental terms, is presented in this work. The production of a dried food product (cereal baby porridge) has been chosen as a case study. Three decentralized –(i) Home Manufacturing (HM), (ii) Food Incubator (FI), (iii) Distributed Manufacturing (DM)– and two centralized –(iv) Single Plant (SP) and (v) Multi-plant (MP)– production scales were evaluated for throughput values ranging from 0.5 kg/h to 6000 kg/h, and different operational regions (i.e. unfeasible, transition and plateau) were identified for each scale. A production scenario using UK dry baby food demand was also studied. The most decentralized scales (HM and FI) represented profitable scenarios at very low production rates, remaining competitive (HM even providing similar cost) to SP at national scale demands. DM could compete with SP assuming low management costs and further savings on transportation/storage along the supply chain.