A Look at Lapauw

Posted January 12, 2017 at 8:05 pm

Following our tour of the BeMicron® cleanroom plant last year in Belgium, we also visited a key supplier to that company: Lapauw International, a TRSA associate member based about an hour away in Heule-Kortrijk, Belgium.

David Bernstein, president of Lapauw USA, gave us a quick tour of the company’s 22,300-square meter (240,000-square-foot) complex. He was in Belgium last October to attend the World Textile Services Congress (WTSC) in Bruges, Belgium. Lapauw was an “Event Partner,” for the WTSC, i.e., one of two top sponsors of the event, along with Christeyns, a Belgian laundry chemical manufacturer.

Founded in 1933 by Camille Lapauw, the company originally supplied pumps and compressors to the Flemish textile industry. Several years later, Lapauw saw an opportunity in manufacturing commercial laundry equipment. In 1950, the company rolled out its first major laundry-related innovation—the hinged or flexible chest ironer. A first for the industry at that time, the flexible chest offered improved heat transfer, throughput and quality over other ironers, says Bernstein, who is based in Salt Lake City.

Additional innovations followed, including pioneering the development of the cornerless feeder in 1982 and the world’s first self-contained gas-heated ironer in 1994. Since their introduction, other companies have adapted these technologies originated by Lapauw.

In 2010, a new generation of the Lapauw family sold the company to Philippe D’heygere, a noted Belgian entrepreneur. D’heygere and CEO Steven Renders have emphasized investing in research and development to help the company enhance its competitiveness in today’s laundry machinery market. Today, Lapauw offers what it describes as “total washing, ironing, and garment solutions.” We saw several examples of Lapauw machinery in the BeMicron plant, a division of Scaldis St. Martin SA,Péruweltz, Belgium. 

Lapauw builds quality into its machines from the ground up, Bernstein says. For example, he notes that the company manufactures its own springs for ironer rolls. These custom-made springs are highly durable, and they allow more water to escape from wet textiles during ironing, he says. The ironer rolls also have a large number of springs for improved ironing and evaporation of water from textiles. For example, a 130-inch ironer roll will have roughly 16,500 holes and an equivalent number of springs. “People seldom replace the springs,” Bernstein says, adding that, “Our padding is thicker. We think it gives a better finish, better contact.”

Less specialized parts are designed to allow for off-the-shelf purchases from local suppliers so that customers are not required to purchase from Lapauw or a subsidiary, he adds. This saves customers time and money. “We call this our ‘open spare parts policy,’ and our customers tell us it results in Lapauw machines having a lower total cost of ownership.”

During the tour, we saw numerous pieces of machinery at varying levels of manufacturing/assembly—from in-house machining of ironer chests to final assembly of finished goods bound for customers in some 40 countries. One innovation that Bernstein credits to D’heygere is the placement of signs on each machine that dedicates it to a particular customer. “It gives customers a warm feeling when they receive their new machine because they know that each machine was built just for them,” Bernstein says.

Other personal touches include flying the flag of any international visitor who happens to visit the plant on a given day. On the day of our tour, the stars and stripes were snapping in a brisk breeze atop a pole prominently displayed in front of the plant. On a separate pole nearby was an Australian flag, which meant that that someone from “the land down under” also had visited that day.

At the end of our walkthrough, Bernstein led us to a showroom where customers and prospects can see live demonstrations of fully operational washers, ironers, folding equipment and more. The room reminded us of what visitors will see on a much larger scale at the Clean Show this June 5-8 in Las Vegas.

For Lapauw, driving customer satisfaction is the key to success. Making that happen takes a combination of innovative designs and quality engineering. The machinery must deliver efficiency and productivity, along with low overall costs of ownership during the life of each piece of equipment. “We’re in the business of selling machinery that we want to last 30-plus years,” Bernstein says. “We want our customers to be happy with their purchases throughout that entire period.”