Laser savings for Tupelo company

TUPELO – Tupelo Manufacturing found its niche in the furniture industry in the early 1990s, carving out its piece of the market as a contract manufacturer.
The company makes furniture for restaurants, hotels, motels, nursing homes, college dormitories, physician offices and even casinos.
And unlike most furniture manufacturers, the company can custom design and build in-house as many, or as few, as a customer wants.
“Like we’ve always said, you can order one or 1,000 – it doesn’t matter,” company co-owner Mary Werner said with a laugh.
The company has shown its pioneer spirit again, investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in a pair of lasers that have helped save time and money – and possibly opened doors to other business opportunities.
“We can cut steel, plastic, carpet, wood, you name it,” said Will Bohn, Tupelo Manufacturing’s general manager. “We still have CNCs for the larger jobs, but the lasers also give us the ability to engrave glass, granite and Plexiglas.”
Since the company custom-makes orders, “burning” a logo or some other special design into furniture can be easily accomplished.
Bohn can take a photo, and using some software, can created a 3-D likeness on virtually any material.
But that’s with the smaller laser. It’s the bigger laser that has been paying big dividends.
“There’s less waste and more yield,” Bohn said.
Increasing productivity
The bigger laser has its own special room at the company’s sprawling facility on Industrial Drive.
Because of its greater precision, the laser can get more furniture pieces from a sheet of plywood.
For example, a CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machine would have to use six pieces of plywood to produce the pieces needed for a particular chair design because it can cut only a single piece at a time.
That means workers would have had to stop and start the machine five times.
But with the laser, all the cuts are made on a single sheet of wood.
“That’s a lot of time and money saved,” Bohn said.
The laser does have a downside. It is slower than a CNC machine and therefore not efficient for a large run. But for small custom orders, the laser is ideal.
“For an order of eight of this or 10 of that, you really can’t beat the laser,” Bohn said. “It’s not as fast as a CNC, but what you gain in yield makes up for it.”
Werner said the lasers have added a new dimension to the company.
“We’ve been contacted by other furniture companies to see what we could do for them,” she said. “And we’re also trying to generate interest outside the furniture industry.
“We’re trying compete with the rest of the world and show them the things we can do here, that you don’t have to go to China, or anywhere else overseas, for that matter, to get quality work.”
No wonder that the company’s customers include the likes of Starbucks, Hard Rock Cafe and Harrah’s.
Recently, it finished a single chair – a large, circular one that “spiraled” several feet in the air – that Harrah’s wanted to use in Las Vegas. Harrah’s contacted Tupelo Manufacturing first.
“We have the ability to do very small runs that many others can’t do,” Werner said.
And perhaps because of the company’s business model, Tupelo Manufacturing has thrived in an industry that has been hit hard by the recession.
The company has grown to some 80 employees, and Werner said business has been steady.
With the laser, Bohn said two shifts are working daily, and sales are up about 20 percent over last year.
“It’s been one of our best years,” Werner said.
And those lasers might make it even better.
Contact Dennis Seid at (662) 678-1578 or dennis.seid@djournal.com.

Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal