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Manufacturing Case Studies

Laguna Tools Builds Machines That Are Built to Last


Laguna Tools serves global clients including General Motors, Georgia-Pacific, Lockheed Martin and Fender Musical Instruments Corp.

When Laguna Tools builds an automated machine for the woodworking, metalworking or signage industries, it does so with the best parts available. For example, when one looks at its CNC controls, they can see that the components are from FANUC, the renowned control manufacturer based in Japan.

“They are considered the industry standard for high-end controls,” says Steve Alvarez, the director of sales for Laguna Tools. The company also uses a high-end control from B&R Industrial Automation GmbH, based in Austria.

Laguna Tools also partners with suppliers that provides the frames for its machines. The frames are built to its specifications and helps keep the machine prices competitive by not having to support a whole manufacturing facility.

But Laguna Tools does not stop there. All of its CNC machines are squared and spindles trammed using the latest laser leveling equipment and dial indicators for precision spindle alignment.

Once these steps are complete, Laguna Tools thoroughly tests each machine by performing several 2-D, pocketing and 3-D operations and measuring the results. Once the machine passes the QC process, it is sent to shipping and prepped for delivery. “That is going to ensure a quality product that will run for years and years,” Alvarez says.

Based in Irvine, Calif., Laguna Tools offers products such as three- and five-axis CNC routers, plasma and laser cutters, as well as bandsaws, planers and table saws. President Torben Helshoj started the company in 1983, when he saw the opportunity to bring European woodworking machinery to the United States.

The firm initially launched combination machines. And, after creating its line of woodworking machinery, Laguna Tools developed its own CNC automation software.

Excited and Eager

Today, Laguna Tools serves global clients including General Motors, Georgia-Pacific, Lockheed Martin and Fender Musical Instruments Corp. “We’ve got thousands of those high-end customers, as well as small-, large- and medium-sized businesses and home hobbyists,” Alvarez says.

The company also recently grew through its acquisition of Michigan-based Dake Corp., a metalworking company that specialized in presses, bandsaws and additional machine tools. The acquisition provided Laguna Tools with a strong platform for the development of its metalworking products and offerings.

“Dake Corp. has skillfully built its brand, and by combining forces we will take it to the next level,” Laguna Tools CEO Stephen Stoppenbrink said in a statement. “We continue to be impressed by the dedication, loyalty and skill across the board with the Dake team — we are excited and eager to see what we will all accomplish together.”

COO Brian Rosenberger noted that Laguna Tools plans to preserve and build on what made Dake so successful. “A company like Dake Corp. that has been in business for well over 130 years knows a thing or two about longevity,” he said. “We’ll be looking to leverage that knowledge.”

Boosting Productivity

An 11-year veteran of Laguna Tools, Alvarez not only credits the company’s success to its machine quality, but also its ability to stay in tune with the industry. “It’s always a matter of keeping ahead of those trends,” he says.

One way the company has done that is by providing its clients with greater productivity through more automated features on its products. “We’re continually trying to develop those to make the machines more efficient and more productive,” he says.

One example of that is a material-handling application Laguna Tools developed for a CNC machine. Alvarez explains that this consists of an autoloader that allows an operator to load a stack of sheets for the machine to cut, rather than inserting each one manually.

“The machine will actually pick up a sheet, load it and cut the parts that are needed,” he describes, adding that the machine then sweeps the parts onto a table. “It is basically a hands-free operation where the machine is loading and unloading parts.” 

Opening the Door

Laguna Tools recently made “a big push” into the metal fabrication industry, Alvarez says. As the company has taken this step, it added a high-speed development spindle to its CNC machines. 

This gave its machines the ability to cut ferrous metal, as well as steel. “It really opened the door,” he says, adding that the company recently introduced the innovation at the FABTECH expo. 

Laguna Tools also has launched a new line of fiber laser cutting machines that can process parts at extremely high rates. “[They can cut] very accurate, detailed parts out of steel up to two inches thick,” Alvarez says.

Although the company is currently building the marketing campaign for the machines, customers already have deployed 12 of them in the field. 

“It’s just a matter of letting those machines work and getting feedback,” Alvarez  says.

The early client responses have been positive, Alvarez reports. “All the machines are working great,” he says, noting that Laguna Tools hopes to build a referral base. “Now we can start pushing the growth of that particular market niche.”

The company also has introduced a laser grading attachment to its iQ and Swift series of machines. “They can run as a three-axis CNC cutting parts,” he says. “That will allow it to do fine engraving on the parts.”

Aiming for Efficiency

Laguna Tools is focused on reducing costs and improving efficiency in its operations. Alvarez notes that these initiatives will be in place when the company opens its new manufacturing center in Grand Prairie, Texas.

Spanning 160,000 square feet, “It will be centrally located in the country for ease of shipping everything from the West Coast,” he describes. The new facility will have a showroom, a full CNC support center and offices for sales staff.

Currently, the center is 60 percent complete in its construction. “We are planning to be fully operational by June of this year,” Alvarez says, adding that the company will need to add employees to staff the facility. 

The Grand Prairie location also will utilize lean manufacturing techniques. Laguna Tools’ new COO, Brian Rosenberger, “will be spearheading the setup of the manufacturing processes there in Texas,” Alvarez says. 

Laguna Tools also is focused on improving its responsiveness with a new, cloud-based integrated software system from Bright Bear Technology Solutions Inc. According to Alvarez, all of Laguna Tools’ employees can instantly communicate with one another via the system. 

“All of our phone lines are tied to the system,” he says. “We are hoping that is going to make us a more efficient, streamlined operation as far as communicating with all of the departments.” 

Sharpened Skills

Laguna Tools takes the time to enhance its employees’ skills. Regularly, Alvarez says, workers can learn new skills through its cross-training program in its CNC production and support areas.

For example, support technicians will go to the company’s production area to receive training on how to build its machines from the ground up. Through this process, the worker “learns intimately about wiring all components of the machine,” Alvarez describes.

But if its production employees want to learn how to provide support services to clients, “We will rotate them,” he says, explaining that they receive training on taking phone calls and troubleshooting customer issues. “We [can offer that] if that’s something our employees are looking to do.”

Ready to Grow

Alvarez is proud of Laguna Tools and how it has grown. “In the last 10 years, we’ve gone from under $10 million in sales to over $50 million,” he says, noting that this reflects how the company is perceived in the marketplace. “We’re a very well-known brand,” he says. “To have achieved this type of growth in a short period of time is a big achievement and I’m proud of that.” 

Laguna Tools wants to break into new markets and continue its growth trajectory. In the next decade, Alvarez says, it wants to emerge as a key player in the metalworking industry.

Laguna Tools will offer five-axis CNC applications to the aerospace and defense markets. “That’s the direction we’re moving towards,” he says. “We see future growth in those high-end and very advanced applications.” 


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