Laco Woodworks uses nested-based manufacturing to help optimize the production of its custom creations.


Laco Woodworks specializes in custom cabinetry and casework for a diverse range of commercial markets, including the health care industry.

Nested-based manufacturing is no longer the domain of mass producers. Just ask Laco Woodworks Inc., an Alabaster, AL-based custom manufacturer of commercial and residential cabinetry, casework and architectural millwork, which has successfully incorporated the technique to optimize the production of reception desks, cabinetry and other laminated casework.

Commercial jobs account for almost 85 percent of Laco’s projects. According to Bob Cole, Laco president, the company caters to a number of diverse markets, including: health care, banking, judicial, office, educational and religious institutions. Cole adds that the use of high-tech equipment and software has enabled Laco Woodworks to keep the strict deadlines required by these industries, while at the same time helping the company to maintain quality control and optimize its production and material usage.

“The CNC machinery [also] has enabled me to bring in a different type of workforce,” Cole says. “It has allowed entry-level workers to come into a custom woodworking business — and become experienced woodworkers.”

Larger Plant Allows for New Capabilities

Approximately 70 people work at Laco Woodworks, including installers and office personnel. The company is set to begin another expansion at the 87,000-square-foot plant, which will include a revamping of the plant floor layout and the addition of new equipment.

“When we moved here in 1990, [it] enabled us to have the room for CNC equipment. We bought our first CNC saw and point-to-point boring machine — and from then on, we’ve just blossomed,” Cole says.

And although the company has come a long way since its inception in 1965 as Laco Shutters & Cabinet, it has not forgotten its roots.

“My Dad [A.W. Cole] started the company, doing a lot of residential interior shutters. From there, it evolved into cabinets and millwork,” Cole explains. Although A.W. officially retired in 1976, he continues to be an active presence today, Cole says.

Programs are downloaded to the Komo VR 510 Mach One CNC router for nested-based manufacturing. Nesting has enabled the company to optimize its raw material usage and capabilities, while reducing production time.

The company officially changed its name from Laco Shutters and Cabinets to Laco Woodworks in the early-1980s to better reflect the diversity of its work, Cole says. While the company continues to produce solid wood shutters, window frames and mouldings, the larger portion of its work now is commercial casework, including reception furniture and desks, cabinetry, as well as architectural woodwork. Recent projects include: the Boy Scouts of America headquarters in Birmingham, AL; Piedmont Women’s Center in Rock Hill, SC; the Women’s Health Center, South Tower expansion and ER Department at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Birmingham, AL; Etowah County Jail in Gadsden, AL; and the Tuscaloosa Municipal Court in Tuscaloosa, AL. In addition, Laco produces components, such as shelving, custom baskets and product displays for OEMs. The company is also a factory-certified fabricator for all major brands of solid surface, and distributes Marlite architectural paneling for Alabama and Georgia.

“We cater to a very broad industry. We’ve also done some LEED projects, and are certified,” he adds.

“While we still do some solid wood, the biggest percentage of our business is melamine and high pressure laminate,” Cole says. The company purchases the melamine panels, but has a Black Bros. Panel Express in house for laying up laminated boards, as well as veneers.

Panel Processing Line

According to Cole, the company typically has 10 to 15 projects in the shop at any given time. An average project can take anywhere from four to 12 weeks, depending on the size and its complexity.

Panels are sent to one of two Holzma panel saws for cutting to size; the company plans to add a third saw with the completion of its latest expansion.

After panels are sized, straightline edgebanding is applied by a Fravol or Homag single-sided edgebander, equipped with a Ligmatech material handling system, while a Fravol contour bander is used to apply 3-mil PVC to rounded edges. The Fravol banders are available from DMG, while Stiles Machinery offers the Homag and Ligmatech equipment.

From there, panels are machined on one of two DMG Busellato point-to-point boring machines with routing capabilities. A DMG/Omal HBD is used for drilling and dowel insertion.

The company uses Microvellum and Trakware software for creating the machining codes and tracking the production processes and inventory.

As a service to customers, Laco Woodworks offers removable panels for stations and desks. This feature allows for easy access to the holes routed for electrical wiring

Nesting Adds Increased Capabilities

Although Laco Woodworks significantly increased its panel processing capacity with the CNC saws and boring equipment, a potential bottleneck was beginning to build. In order to take some of the workload from the saw line, the company recently invested in a new DMG Busellato Jet 400 RT CNC router which, in conjunction with an older Komo Mach 510 CNC router, is used exclusively to perform nested-based machining.

“I bought the [CNC router] with the intent of taking some of the load from saws, so we could run other, smaller projects. The CNC nesting routers have allowed us to expand our product capabilities without disturbing the flow of the production lines,” Cole says.

For example, Cole cites how the nesting of two complete bookcases saved the company time and money. “It took one week to run all the panels, but at the end of that week, we had a complete $60,000 order ready to be put together,” he says.

“The reason we’ve gotten some of the jobs we’ve had has been because we were able to do the volume, and get them done on time. And with that, you also get better yield and a high degree of accuracy,” he adds.

The nesting capability of the routers also has enabled the company to offer other added-value services on its casework. For example, Cole says, “On the nurses stations, we’ll make removable panels to hide where we routed out for the electronics. It not only makes it easier for the contractors, but looks nicer.”

While the vast majority of Laco’s projects involve panel processing, an estimated 15 to 20 percent of its work is solid wood machining. In addition to moulding capabilities, which are performed on a Weinig moulder, the company’s array of equipment includes: a Raimann straightline ripsaw, Powermatic saws, an Auto V-Grooving V-groover and an Accu-Systems miter, mortise and tenon machine. Laco Woodworks grinds its own patterns using a Weinig Rondamat tool grinder.

One-Stop Shop

As a custom woodworker, Laco Woodworks is not as affected as a mass producer would be by competition from low-cost imports. “We see less foreign competition and are [therefore] able to have better margins. It’s a challenge for anybody, but we are fortunate to be positioned [as we are]...we can cater to contractors [for jobs] as small as $1,000, or as large as $2.7 million.

“What also helps is we offer contractors a one-stop shop,” Cole says, referencing the Laco Woodworks’ extensive panel processing, solid wood and solid surface fabrication capabilities.

The company’s ability to go “above and beyond” includes design and layout as well. In addition to producing prototypes, Cole says, “With our software, we are able to design and give a layout of the desks in place.” This enables architects and contractors to more accurately configure the placement of furniture and electrical wiring, as well as the impact of structural elements, such as soffits, on the layout.

On the St. Vincent’s hospital project, for example, “We were able to build our [casework] months ahead and have everything ready and assembled. [The time saved] enabled the contractor to come in under budget and ahead of schedule,” Cole says. “This is a good example of how the owner, architect, contractor and good subcontractors can work together to make things happen. Today’s technology helps.”

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