Let the good times roll 04 Sep 2019

LACO factory facility Lapauw Belgium with HJ Weir
LACO moved into their current state of the art facility in 2018.

HJ Weir’s managing director, Ross Weir invited Laundry & Cleaning Today to take a tour over to Kuurne in Belgium to the LACO factory. Tina Gleed reports

The Lapauw family set up LACO Machinery in 1994 producing the first single roll 500mm diameter gas heated ironer, over the next 10 years the business developed many new lines of various diameter rollers. 

In 2000 the Comfort was unveiled at the Texcare show in Frankfurt, an automated ironer with feeder, folder, cross-folder and stacker, developed in 500, 600 and 800mm diameters. Growth continued which led to their factory being extended in 2003 from 500m² to 1500m² to accommodate demand for sales. In 2010 LACO Machinery split from its sister company Lapauw. 

It was also in this year that Dominique Lapauw introduced his son Thibault to the business. Continued growth and the introduction of new equipment meant the company now needed new premises; in 2016 the company started work on a new 5000m² production facility just outside Kortrijk in Belgium. 

In 2018 the business moved into the new building and are continuing to expand. Dominique’s daughter Charlotte Lapauw is also involved with the LACO business and manages the logistics. 

According to Wim Opsomer, export manager, LACO Machinery NV “using ‘airstream’ technology can increase your ironing capacity by 25 per cent, although some customers are claiming 40 per cent increase by using the lighter hospital grade linen.” 

The ‘airstream’ principle works by small perforations at the bottom of the ironing bed allowing the drying to start when the felt absorbs the moisture. Ironers not using the ‘airstream’ technology typically suffer from reduced efficiency of the machine as the felt becomes saturated. 

LACO claim the system draws in the fresh air at the bottom of the ironer, the air is pre-heated, and the top of the roll is covered obtaining more suction power at the bottom of the equipment, thus improving efficiency. 

Opsomer claims the three-quarter chest King ironer, was developed in 2013 by LACO to improve speed and efficiency by opening the gap around the drum and perforating the steel roller to draw out more residual moisture than conventional equipment. By launching this in 2014 LACO have ensured the rights of this technology with a patent until 2029. Currently LACO claim there are around 300 units produced with ‘airstream’ technology. 

Ross Weir, managing director, HJ Weir claims “unique features on the smaller ironers for example the LACO Comfort Evolution have the chest heated as opposed to the roll, which is proven to be more efficient than a heated roll for this type of equipment reducing energy consumption, improving quality and drying times.” 

laco machinery belguim patented drum technology
LACO has patented their drum technology which they claim improves speed and efficiency by opening the gap around the drum and perforating the steel roller to draw out more residual moisture than conventional equipment.

Opsomer continues, “Small to medium size laundries processing around a ton of laundry a day and not ready to step up to the two roll 800 ironer at this stage can access the larger ironer technology by purchasing the smaller 500, with or without feeding and with or without folding or by purchasing the compact machine which will ultimately improve efficiency, capacity and quality.” 

He is quick to point out by using the heated chest on the standard machine uses around 0.38kW/kg as opposed to 1.2kW/ kg of linen with the heated roll. Initially people were looking at the buying price of the heated chest as opposed to the heated roll, however initially the former is more expensive but over time within 15 months the difference in cost will be recovered. And the customer will win back the cost of the machine in roughly three years. By then he says, the heated roll may be halfway through its life.” 

Although LACO are currently producing larger ironers their focus still remains with the smaller machines - producing around 220 units per year where the larger machines sell at around 40 units per year. Weir says “general ly customers who purchase the HJ Weir folders, stackers and feeders support this with a larger LACO ironer,” however he does feel there is a market in the UK for the smaller ironers which he hopes to market later this year. 

With the LACO finger constantly on the industry pulse, the company are aware the laundry business is evolving as the needs and requirements are gradually turning to automation. Customers say finding people to operate the equipment is becoming increasingly more difficult as cheaper foreign labour are returning home to their families. 

LACO have a solution to this as one person can operate the Comfort Evolution a feeder, ironer, folder and stacker all in one. Models are available in 500, 600 and 800mm diameter. With 2000mm and 3300mm length rollers. Smaller models can produce 125kg/hour with the larger models producing 250kg/hour. Equipment can be configured for multilane feeding if required. 

The LACO growth is clear to see on a tour of the facilities. Moving into their current state of the art facility in 2018, Opsomer says previously the LACO operation fitted into an area the size of the current parts and spares department. 

The business keep worth of parts for production, last year the business produced 250 rollers, The business turnover increased when the company moved into the new premises from 2017 – 2018 from four to eight million euros and this year are on track for around a nine million euro turnover. Weir is quick to say, “if customers in the UK purchase the LACO equipment, HJ Weir stock a wide range of spare parts, and with Belgium only a stones throw away, parts can also be ordered on a next day delivery basis.” 

Continuing on our tour Opsomer explains the chest is made of two layers of carbon steel as this is the best conductor and expends evenly thus avoiding stress on the welds which stainless steel undergo. The plates arrives laser welded together, and are then formed to the required radius on the bending machine. After rolling, the connections for water are welded to the outer casing. 

The outer layer of the steel, the thinner layer will expand under 30bar of pressure, this forms the inner chamber between the layers for the thermal oil to pass through during operation. During operation only three litres of oil can be held between the layers, however the pump is passing through 30,000 litres per hour meaning the oil between the chambers is recycled 10,000 times per hour. This ensures uniform stable temperatures across the surface of the chest with no cold spots. Indentations over the surface of the chest ensure the outer layer of the plates stay together. 

The LACO principle for the ironers is for the roll to be fixed to the frame and only the chest moves pressing the linen through 30-40 bar of pressure by hydraulics. By having a lifting roll the roll lowers into the chest and under its own weight closes the walls of the chest however this does not apply the maximum pressure, with the LACO principle the pressure is applied from beneath achieving maximum pressure of 3kg/cm². 

Currently the LACO range of equipment includes:
• Typhoon D1200, D1202, D1203 with or without airstream
• King 800 diameter roller with or without airstream in 2500, 3000, 3300 and 3500mm
• Grand King, stand airstream, 1200mm diameter roll in 2500, 3000, 3300, 3500 and 4000mm • Comfort 500, 600 or 800mm roll diameter in 2000-3000mm.

laco machinery belgium mangement team
The LACO management team.

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