A small-scale transdisciplinary process to maximising the energy efficiency of food factories: insights and recommendations from the development of a novel heat integration framework


The rise and uncertainty in energy prices in recent years has widened the solution search space by industry to understand the full impacts on operations and to develop a range of workable solutions to reduce risk. This has involved companies exploring alternative approaches to co-create solutions with different groups comprising varying intellectual capital, e.g. consultants, NGOs, and academia. This paper presents the small-scale transdisciplinary process adopted by Nestlé UK in partnership with the University of Surrey as part of an Engineering Doctorate (EngD) programme to co-develop a heat integration framework to improve the energy efficiency of a confectionery factory. The small-scale co-creation process—between industry and academia—for a heat integration framework is described and includes a set of criteria to evaluate the effectiveness of the process. The results of the evaluation process and a reflection of the key challenges and implications faced when trying to implement a small-scale transdisciplinary process are reported which covers the role of an EngD researcher as a manager, facilitator and researcher, time management, finance, communication, knowledge integration, mutual learning, and conflict. Some of the key recommendations for industrial practitioners include: actively engaging in the transdisciplinary process on a consistent basis, staying open minded to developing a solution even when there is a lack of progress, and building relationships with academics by supporting university activities, e.g. lecturing, research projects and funding proposals. For scientists, PhD students, research institutes, and private and public R&D, some of the key recommendations include: communicating expert knowledge to a few points rather than opening out into a lecture, contributing to the transdisciplinary process even if it is on a non-expert level but provides objective and critical input, and visiting industrial sites to gain exposure to industrial problems first-hand. Overall, the range of recommendations provided can help both industrial practitioners and scientists, especially doctoral students seeking to operate in the industry–academia domain on a small—practically manageable—scale.

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We wish to gratefully acknowledge and thank the EPSRC and Nestlé UK Ltd for their assistance and support in funding this research as part of the Engineering Doctorate on Sustainability for Engineering and Energy Systems (EngD SEES) programme at the University of Surrey. We would also like to thank three anonymous reviewers and two guest editors for their suggestions and comments on previous versions.

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Correspondence to J. H. Miah.

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Handled by Roland W. Scholz, Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology (IGB), Germany and University of Zurich, Switzerland.

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Miah, J.H., Griffiths, A., McNeill, R. et al. A small-scale transdisciplinary process to maximising the energy efficiency of food factories: insights and recommendations from the development of a novel heat integration framework. Sustain Sci 10, 621–637 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-015-0331-7

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  • Transdisciplinary
  • Energy efficiency
  • Heat integration
  • Pinch analysis
  • Food factory
  • Sustainable manufacturing