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Creativity reigns within laminate casework: Wisconsin-based Creative Laminates makes a case for its commercial work.

Manufacturing architectural casework for commercial customers is the cornerstone of Creative Laminates' success. The 19-year-old LaCrosse, WI-based manufacturer has been specializing in laminate fixtures and clad architectural casework since 1994, when Craig and Jody Lyon purchased the company from her parents.




Creative Laminates began in 1992 as a provider of laminate countertops and replacement doors for cabinet refacing. "After a year or so, a local manufacturer approached [us] looking for custom cabinetry for their luxury boats. These markets, however, were not enough to sustain the company," says Jody, vice president.

However, she adds, "[Company President] Craig realized that with the existing equipment and unmet needs of commercial contractors, we could successfully serve the commercial casework market."

The move proved successful. Today, a majority of sales are in the educational market, followed by assisted living, medical, commercial buildings, public buildings/military, financial and religious institutions. Creative Laminates also continues to provide laminate countertops to local lumberyards and kitchen and bath centers.

Lean Journey

Creative Laminates has implemented a number of process improvements to increase productivity while reducing waste. The company has 19 employees and produces approximately 140 cabinets a week at the 26,000-square-foot facility.

The company's lean journey has been ongoing since 1994, when Craig first reorganized the workflow. That led to an increase in production and the move to a larger facility in 2000.

"Our goal was to increase productivity enough within 12 months to cover the increased monthly costs of our new building--that goal was achieved in less than six months.

"Building our own facility allowed us to design our workflow to be extremely efficient, reducing the amount of material handling required and allowing us the space for future growth and the flexibility to meet varying demands," Jody says.

The company has the capability to perform all manufacturing in-house. Panels are laminated before being cut-to-size, routed and edgebanded. The parts are then line bored and construction bored, and dowels are inserted for assembly.

The box is then "married" up with the toe kick, doors and drawer boxes, Jody adds. Hardware is added and the cabinet is cleaned, wrapped and shipped.

In addition to standard box cabinets, Creative Laminates also manufactures specialty items, including reception desks, teller lines and nurses' stations, as well as laminate and solid surface countertops.

"We have developed strategic relationships with suppliers of marble, granite, glass and other products," Jody says. "As a value added service, we include these items in our shop drawings and provide them along with our custom cabinets."

Improving Efficiency

Not content to rest on its laurels, the company continues to improve its efficiency. "Process improvements are an ongoing theme at Creative Laminates," Jody says. "Some ideas are as simple as creating a form to make sure that all relevant variables are addressed or modifying a work instruction document to organize it in the order that is most helpful in the plant. Other improvements may require the purchase of new tools or equipment."

She cites the recent purchase of a V-groover for making solid surface window sills. "The time savings have been significant. We use and waste less material and the employees benefit from reduced strain on their bodies due to less sanding," Jody says.

Other efforts include the development of a customized production report that sorts and quantifies cabinet sides and finished ends. "The parts are sorted according to this report as they are cut. This has helped streamline the process of machining and routing the sides," she says.

Specialty items, which in the past were produced separately, such as fillers, valances, vanity enclosures and soffits, have also been added to the production software "so that they are optimized and produced together with the cabinet parts," Jody adds.



Recognition & Customer Service

Recognized for its safety record, Creative Laminates continually strives to improve the workplace for the betterment of its employees. "We place a high value on safe attitudes and behavior," Jody says.

For example, the company worked with a safety expert to reduce the physical strain on employees working on the cabinet line by adjusting the table heights "to fit the process and the employee. We've seen fewer injuries and an increase in productivity, because the parts are easier to work with," she adds.

What also sets Creative Laminates apart from competitors is its quality control, on-time delivery and a strong network of suppliers. "We also routinely provide value engineering ideas to save our customers money while maximizing the value and utility of their projects. This is especially important when budgets are tight," Jody says.

"These practices are what keep customers coming back to Creative Laminates."
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Title Annotation:CASE STUDY
Comment:Creativity reigns within laminate casework: Wisconsin-based Creative Laminates makes a case for its commercial work.(CASE STUDY)
Author:Koenig, Karen M.
Publication:Wood & Wood Products
Date:Dec 1, 2011
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