Laminate Works will deliver any kind of laminated panel or part a customer needs.
“Our slogan is service that transcends into value,” president Bert Clothier said. “We’re starting with service, rather than delivering a product and then providing service.”
The Kansas City, Kansas, company makes both HPL laminated panels and component parts, and does laminating, edgebanding, contour edgebanding, CNC routing and postforming.
“We go to a customer and try to find out what their bottlenecks are, and to see where we would bring value,” Clothier said.
“We can source the core, laminate the panel, and get it to you in a way you can process it quicker than you could bring in the raw materials yourself.
Panels vs. parts
What’s the difference between a panel and a part? A panel has never been cut, drilled or edgebanded. A part has been cut, drilled or edgebanded.
Laminate Works manufactures both panels and parts, but not finished products. They don’t sell directly to end users, and will only sell to other manufacturers.
“For us the challenge is that if we start selling to end users, we are competing with customers,” Clothier said. “We will not assemble, we will not even screw two parts together.
“If you ask for a cabinet, we’ll ship you the components with each part on a different pallet so we never get close to building knock-down cabinets.”
Laminate Works was founded in Wichita 16 years ago, and has 80 employees. It has been in Kansas City since 2001 and has a 100,000 square foot operation there. A separate 75,000 square foot operation was started in Dallas, Texas, six years ago.
Each plant is its own LLC, with its own balance sheet and assets.
Because of its emphasis on panels and parts, Laminate Works serves many markets, including commercial casework, store fixtures, restaurants, office furniture manufacturers and elevators. No industry represents more than 20 percent of its business.
Elevator panels have been an important market for the company, which may produce panels for 40 to 50 elevators a week using special cases for shipment. Component parts and work surfaces for commercial casework are another large market, along with such things hospital beds and veterinary tables.
“We make unusual odd things in addition to things you think or when you think of laminates,” Clothier said. “If it’s flat and has laminate on it, it’s a potential customer.”
Elevators to office
In 2001, Clothier said that 85 percent of business was for the elevator industry. In the last five years, the company’s business in office furniture, store fixtures and the restaurant industry has grown, especially with the capabilities of the contour edgebanders. Laminate Works bought its first contour edgebander in 2006.
Whatever the market, Laminate Works has been handling shorter runs, and offers regional distribution to serve smaller customers with Laminate Works trucks. Smaller cabinet shops can even have them lay up a few sheets and come over in a pickup truck.
“That allows us not to have minimum orders,” Clothier said. “Our niche has been no freight charges in most areas, or no minimum orders. Our primary distribution model is direct to our customers delivered mainly on our trucks.”
A rail spur in Kansas City near the river allows easy access to raw materials shipments. They stock many SKUs of substrates and laminates and have a variety of particleboard core on hand, often a week or two of inventory. They also keep unusual panels, such as an 8 x 16 sheet of OSB for a specific application.
Laminate Works is also an FSC shop. The FSC material is quarantined, including the backer and liner material.
“We have a lot of different substrates we have to stock,” Clothier said. “Particleboard, plywood, MDF, moisture resistant, fire rated. Fire resistant is used in elevators, for example. FSC projects are driven by commercial casework primarily, school, hospital cabinets.”
Laminate Works uses 20 to 25 press runs a day as a measurement of activity, and usually presses 300 to 600 panels in a shift, largely depending on how thick those panels are. The company normally runs one shift, but sometimes run two.
On the Black Bros. glue line, a panel pusher moves a panel into a panel cleaner and glue spreader or roll coater. An index station brings in the laminate. When a stack is built up on a scissor lift it is rolled it into one of two cold presses. Both Kansas City and Dallas use Black Bros. glue lines.
The goal here is to move a stack of panels into one of the cold presses every 15 minutes. Press time is normally 30 minutes.
Time can vary with glues. The have a primary PDA they use with most HPL applications, and an EVA they use for hard-to-stick materials like metals, acrylics and similar. A two-part fire-rated glue for fire-rate panels dries the slowest.
But most of these glues don’t change the press time as much as the cure time. Two-part glue takes several days before it gets its full strength. Glue suppliers stock the glue in the Laminate Works operation, and it’s the supplier’s glue until the drum is tapped.
Equipment includes a Schelling fh4 beam saw and Holzma HPP 82 Optimat panel saw. The Schelling beam saw has been the primary saw in the Kansas City location for four years.
”It’s been a great saw. Our plant comes to a screeching halt if the saws or CNC routers don’t work. Keeping machines running is very important here.”
The IMA-BIMA 400V is a contour edgebander that can also be used as a point-to-point.
“IMA invented contour edgebanding. (You) will see a lot of IMAs in Europe,” Clothier said. “It’s the real deal.”
Laminate Works bought two identical BIMA’s, one for Kansas City and one for Dallas. Both were installed last summer. The Kansas City machine was displayed at IWF.
“They were able to come in with a great product, great price, great service,” Clothier said. “They did some unusual things to make it a good fit for us. They trained a tech we use, and they have their own techs here. So we have the capability of tapping into a local tech if we need to. (Our tech) went to Germany, he helped with the installation.”
“They approached us, they truly wanted to create a partnership with Laminate Works, as opposed to selling us a machine. That’s how we go to market, so for me it made all the sense in the world.” Other vendors, he said, were not as focused on a partnership.
Also in Kansas City, a Homag BAZ point-to-point CNC router has contour edgebanding capability. A CMS nested-based router, which they have had for 15 years, can run two shifts. There is also a Homag BOF nested-based router and a large Homag straight line edgebander. A Midwest Automation postformer is used to wrap the radius edge.
A Topmaster machine shapes the parts for a tabletop, grooves the part and rolls the T-molding in. This is still a popular product for some applications, as shown by the amount of T-molding in stock.
They also flush trim HPL laminated panels. Edges are hand trimmed to make the shipped product have a better appearance.
In the newer Dallas operation there are five main machine cells: glue line, saw, straight line edgebander, contour edgebander and point-to-point router. In Dallas, it is all SCM equipment, with a Gabbiani saw, Stefani edgebander, and Morbidelli point to point. The glue line in Dallas is also Black Bros. KC uses carts, Dallas has gravity conveyors linking machines together.
One issue in dealing with many different industries is getting the terms right.
“Everything we make has to have a CAD drawing. Whatever you give me drawing-wise is what we’re going to make,” Clothier said. “If we’re going to edgeband a cabinet door, don’t give me your cut size. We want to know your finish size.”
Another challenge is that Laminate Works customers have short lead times. Most panels can be delivered within a week, and most component parts are delivered in two to three weeks. There are no finished goods anywhere in the plant, except what was made in the last 24 hours.
Clothier said the focus this year will be upgrading machinery, expanding capacity at the two locations, and adding a new nested-based router. The company also plans to install gravity conveyors in Kansas City this summer.
The company is installing an OmegaCube Technologies ERP software system, which will give them more visibility. Sales people will be able to see in real time where the job is.
“We’re constantly challenging why we do things. I’m always wondering if there is another way to do it.”
“Technology is an accelerator, not a creator.”
Laminate Works Inc.
Laminated panels, component parts
Plant size: Kansas City, Kansas, 100,000 square feet; Dallas, Texas, 75,000 square feet.
To see the IMA BIMA contour edgebander at Laminate Works, watch on your smartphone or www.fdmcdigital.com/ArticleDetails/tabid/162/RegionID/0/ArticleID/95170/...
Black Bros. Glue line
CMS North America Inc. CNC router
IMA-Schelling Schelling beam saw, IMA contour edgebander
Midwest Automation Postformer
SCM Group North America Gabbiani saw, Stefani edgebander, Morbidelli point to point
Stiles Machinery Inc. Homag router, edgebander, Holzma panel saw
Topmaster KRP Manufacturing T-molding machine
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