When Philippe D’heygere acquired the family-owned Belgian laundry equipment manufacturer Lapauw, he compared the company to a power boat operating in a small pond. It was his aim to steer it into a wider ocean.

One year on, the company – now named Lapauw International – has already achieved much in terms of both greater recognition on the world market and product development. The management team is firmly in place, led by D’heygere as president with CEO Anthony Geerinckx and Stefaan Dewulf as CFO.

Wim Demeyer is the sales network manager.

The open house brought together the distributor network and representatives of partner companies as the team outlined future strategies and aims.

It also marked the launch of a fully refurbished showroom, which was formally opened by Belgium’s Prime Minister Yves Leterme

Setting goals

Philippe D’heygere outlined the route the company would take. When he took charge the company had an excellent brand with long-lasting machines. It had a competent team but one that needed to stretch itself.

For the past 10 years turnover had remained steady at 15million Euros per year.

D’heygere has already set targets for that expansion. He aims to double turnover to 30million Euros within five years and increase it to 50million Euros within 10.

That will be achieved by internal and external growth, by product development that will include a wider portfolio and by increased productivity.

Expansion on the world market is essential. The company is strong in Europe and particularly in France where it has a subsidiary. It also has a good presence in the Middle East.

Earlier this year Lapauw secured an important contract with the Saudi Bin Laden Group, the multi-national construction organisation, to supply 60 washer-extractors as part of a project for Saudi Arabia. This is believed to be the largest contract for washer-extractors in the industry.

However, Lapauw needs to build markets in other regions such North America, Australia and Asia.

It has already taken steps in this direction with assembly companies in Australia and Asia (China).

It has also strengthened its identity in China by reflecting the country’s culture by adopting, the LongBao protective dragon as a mascot. This is intended to symbolise protection for the company’s business but also reflects the way the environmental features of the machines protect linen.

Technology and ecology

Anthony Geerinckx’s presentation discussed the strategy for future product development and highlighted the company’s commitment to developing technology that reduces consumption of resources.

The first question he asked when deciding on a future development strategy for the company’s ironers, was “should this be based on steam- or gas-heated equipment?”

While steam is the traditional heat-source, the central steam boiler has many disadvantages. It operates on a single pressure level and needs heavy maintenance. Once produced, the steam needs to be distributed round the plant and on average 5% of the steam produced is lost during the process.

The need to pre-heat fuel can result in 2% loss. The water used to produce steam has to be heated, which is an expensive process. There is also the risk of steam-heated ironers suffering damage to the ironer chest.

In contrast a decentralised heat system where machines are heated individually by gas has considerable benefits and indeed Lapauw is a pioneer in gas-heated ironers.

Heating machines individually means that the heat level can be controlled according to the requirements of a specific machine and to production needs.

Machines can be taken out of production, for maintenance for example, without disrupting the whole line or plant.

A decentralised system based on gas heating should therefore be the focus for future development.

Geerinckx conducted a similar examination of the pros and cons of carbon-steel and stainless-steel in relation to ironers.

Lapauw has worked exclusively with carbon-steel for its ironers since 1950 and Geerinckx pointed out that the company is the only manufacturer to do so.

This, he told the audience, is very important as good thermal conductivity of the ironer chest is essential. Carbon-steel’s thermal conductivity is three times greater than that of stainless-steel. The use of carbon-steel allows the ironers to heat up and cool down faster and it also retains the heat better.

Carbon-steel also allows the ironer chests to be thicker.

Ecology matters

The influence of ecology on the laundry sector has been increasing over the last decade and is now extremely important. Lapauw is firmly committed to an ecological approach to development, both from the environmental point of view and because this has efficiency and cost benefits for the laundry industry. Indeed, he said it is leading the market in this respect.

So when Geerinckx was looking at product development strategy, he asked: “How can the company improve the performance of its ironer”?

The goal is to improve efficiency by 30% and he felt that incorporating turbo fan technology, would help to achieve this.

The development will improve ironer performance by allowing the smart modulating gas burner to work more efficiently.

It reduces the counter pressure in the combustion chamber and thus increases the burner’s modulating range. As a result the Turbo Fan gas ironers will produce the maximum consistency in temperature.

The technology is being introduced first in the 1201 Turbo Fan gas ironer and the Turbo Fan 1601 gas ironer will be introduced by the end of 2012.

Though ironers are core to the Lapauw range, there other areas to consider.

In terms of washroom equipment, the company continues to focus on washer-extractors and believes these still offer many benefits in terms of flexibility and reliability.

They also allow a moregradual approach to investment in increasing capacity, which laundries, small- to medium-size laundries in particular, may appreciate.

The washer-extractor market has also been enhanced by a development from Christeyns, which has now introduced a compact system to make washer-extractors more resource efficient.

Total solutions

The ability to offer a full product portfolio is essential to development in a worldwide market.

Geerinckx said that the best way for Lapauw to do this is to join forces with other companies and it used the event to introduce some of these.

Vega Systems has been called in to re-engineer the feeder and folder range, essential to

any manufacturer.

The laundry logistics specialist WSP will be working with the company on projects in this area.

Christeyns will be lending its expertise in laundry chemistry and resource saving.

Where customers want both tunnel washers as well as washer-extractors, the company has various options for arranging this.

It is also working with Goudkuil for refurbished machines.

Online development

In a worldwide market, communication via the internet is essential and Wim Demeyer outlined the online tools that the company has introduced to help both distributors and customers.

The re-designed website will provide laundry managers with all the information they need about Lapauw’s machines and give a full list of distributors and dealers. The website has also introduced additional features.

The Nearly New section will provide full information about the range of refurbished machines in stock but it will also help those buying a new Lapauw machine as the customers can list their old equipment on the site

The Dealer Desk provides distributors with a virtual desk at the company.

They will have a unique user name and website and can put their complete Lapauw range online.

The section provides direct communication with Lapauw, making ordering and quoting much easier and will also help its distributors to select the right machine for the customer.

Internet technology has also been applied to machine logistics and maintenance through the Electronic Lapauw System (ELS).

Each machine has a system that connects its microprocessor to the Lapauw server.

The machine is also supplied with a tablet computer so that the company’s engineers can work on a machine remotely and review service information applications, machine status and a log of events.

Demeyer concluded his presentation by a detailed examination of the Lapauw ironer, the machine category which has always been regarded as the company’s showcase.

He compared ironer performance against the competition in areas such as burner power, chest technology, springing, which Lapauw designs and manufactures, and the padding system.

This gave an opportunity to recap on some of the advantages already described such as burner power and chest construction. In addition to the presentations the event also marked the official opening of Lapauw’s showroom and the company was honoured to receive Belgium’s Prime Minister Yves Laterme, who had agreed to perform the ceremony.

After the opening of the showroom the company held a presentation ceremony for its distributor guests in which each was given a certificate confirming their official status as part of the Lapauw worldwide network.