IAS and the Dingley Press changing the way a maine company does business

When Chris LeBel incorporated Industrial Automation Supply in 1993, his goals were relatively modest: “I saw the original equipment manufacturing (OEM) market in Maine being underserved,” LeBel says. “Maine manufacturers weren’t getting the service I felt they deserved in the automation sector, and I felt that, as a distributor, I could provide something better.” An engineer himself who worked closely with the products he would sell and the OEMs he would do business with, LeBel founded IAS, and the first office on Evergreen Drive in Portland opened quietly in the late summer of 1993.

Thirty-one years later, Industrial Automation Supply has grown into one of the most successful industrial automation distributors in New England. The Evergreen Drive office was replaced by a larger, freestanding business on Industrial Way (home to some of Maine’s foremost breweries, including Allagash and Foundation), and business continued to grow. Dealing mainly in the electrical side of automation (terminal blocks, wiring, control panels, and DIN rails)

On the other side of the world, in the late 2010’s, Doosan corporation of South Korea was undergoing a major project that would affect not only the automation world, but also manufacturing writ large: collaborative robotics.

Robotics have long been used in manufacturing, and their impact is undeniable, but there was one major factor when implementing robots into a production floor: the very real element of danger, and the need for safeguards around the robots to ensure the security of workers. Essentially, robots don’t know when an employee is entering into its workspace, and can potentially harm workers that wander too close. With that, companies erect safe spaces, gates, fences and other forms of accident management to make sure that the robots work unimpeded and employees can safely do their jobs.

Enter the collaborative robot.

Collaborative robots, or “cobots,” are designed and intended to work alongside employees—often working hand-in-hand. They perform repetitive tasks, such as inspecting with an optic attachment or picking with an end-of-arm tool, and are equipped with sensors that program the machine to immediately stop when contact is made with the cobot.

These cobots free workers from the repetitive tasks and allow them to focus on more delicate and sensitive jobs - not replacing human workers, but working alongside them to create more productivity. And, in a time where finding workers has become more and more difficult, the cobot is quickly integrated into businesses’ workfloor with little or no hassle—not replacing human workers, but allowing workers to be more productive.

Doosan launched three series of cobots with different capabilities, reach distances and carrying payloads: The A Series, H Series and M Series, and, released in 2023, the food-grade E Series. They were immediately a market leader in their home country, and throughout Asia. Now, Doosan has arrived in the U.S.—they are finishing a North American headquarters outside of Dallas, Texas, they’ve established a major warehouse in Chicago, and they have chosen IAS as their exclusive New England cobot distributor.

With the $711 million collaborative robot market expected to skyrocket to over $11.8 billion by 2030, IAS is getting in on the ground floor of an industry that is gearing up to become a massive player in manufacturing. Doosan wanted to be sure that they chose the right partner in New England, and IAS was more than ready to fill that need. In fact, in March of 2024 IAS was named a Platinum Distributor of Doosan Robotics, the company's highest distribution honor.

“Strategic partnerships are the key to success for Doosan Robotics and with the addition of IAS we are continuing to expand our reach across the U.S.,” said Alex Lee, General Manager, Doosan Robotics Americas. “We look forward to partnering with IAS and a successful future together.”

“We are extremely excited about our partnership with Doosan,” Chris LeBel says. “The collaborative robot market in the United States is growing and evolving every day, and Doosan is a truly special partner with so much to offer in the ever-expanding realm of collaborative robotics.”

Enter Dingley Press

The Dingley Press, a nearly century old, Maine-owned company in Lisbon, proved to be one of the early adopters of collaborative robots. Dingley Press is a catalog printing and mailing house which distributes millions of catalogs each year, and conducts all production and mailing in-house.

In order to compete as a smaller company in a massive, highly competitive business, Dingley has been a longtime proponent of automation, utilizing it throughout their manufacturing processes, and their production team has become expert at maximizing the production of their automation pieces and being true trendsetters in their industry. So, when IAS approached Dingley about the possibility of Doosan’s cobots, they were excited about the opportunity to see just how much collaborative robots could increase Dingley’s efficiency even more.

Dingley currently has a fleet of over 10 Doosan H-Series collaborative robot sorting sets of catalogs for mailing, and its impact has been so immediate that they plan to expand implementation throughout the plant, with the potential for many more.

“The cobot’s doing exactly what we want it to do,” said Dingley Press Bindery Manager, Rex Stickley, “one of the things that we see in our industry is changes in productivity with the change of shifts, and we’re seeing consistency from shift-to-shift all day long and all night long. Consistency is very important as the company runs 24 hours per day 7 days per week and has weekly delivery deadlines.

“We had expectations of what we wanted to see, and I think we’ve even exceeded them a bit,” continues Stickley, “and we're seeing success in areas that tells us that not only can it do that for Dingley, but for all kinds of manufacturing. We have reduced crew size and increased throughput with our first cobot. The cobot also reduces our employee’s exposure to repetitive motion injuries, which is also a significant improvement in our processes. And as we wait for the components to arrive to install the next (cobots), we anticipate we'll achieve the same results or better!”