Automation In Lieu of Labor

December 16, 2022

As we draw to the end of 2022, it’s a good time to reflect on what we have been through, obstacles overcome and adaptations made. One could argue that the last eighteen months have presented one of the greatest labor challenges our industry has ever faced. Yet many owners have shared they have not felt those pains as much as some others. What are they doing differently? How were they less impacted? Here we’ll explore some developing practices that companies are implementing to help offset the current labor market.

One of the key lessons that should be learned from these last few years is the current labor force of Millennials and Gen Z have been raised differently than prior generations. Digital efficiencies have been ingrained into their daily lifestyle, so walking into a very analog workflow does not often yield positive results. When I hear business owners complain that “nobody wants to work,” this sentiment is often correlated with a company workflow and culture which is not keeping up. Let’s review some options to help attract and retain excellent teammates for this new era.


LPN Barcode ScanningOne of the modern tools to help is the utilization of Barcode Scanning. The act of completing an action which has moved beyond handwriting and even keyboard-based data entry is via a barcode or QR code scanning method. This is ideal for frequent and repeated actions such as receiving orders. We’ve even seen a significant increase in customers and contract decorators utilizing our LPN Barcode service, which can greatly improve the receiving and organizing of packages you get every day.

In addition to the LPN service we provide, you can also use a code scanning process for updating the status of your decoration workflow. Scan a label to designate that an item is being loaded into production, scan again to then note decoration has been completed. Scan another time to verify the items are ready for shipping out. The speed at which you can scan a code, versus manually keying in these updates is significant. Scanning can also update status portals (more on that shortly) and allow for your team to spend more time focused on the tasks at hand.


Coating MachineDecorators everywhere are increasingly investing into automated systems that help their process be more efficient and rely less on manual labor. My first wakeup moment with this concept was during a visit to a decorator who was running two automatic presses, but had also invested in a CTS (Computer-to-Screen) machine, Coating Machine, and also a Screen Cleaning and Reclaim system. The owner shared that he had to convince the manufacturer to even sell him some of this equipment since they were not used to anyone buying it running less than 10 to 12 automatic presses. He made the case for how the automation enabled by these systems will greatly increase his ability to hire and retain the personnel needed for these tasks, since it reduced fatigue and improved enjoyment. How much is that worth?

Even in relatively unchanged processes such as embroidery, there have been improvements to help with automation. The Pulse system from Hirsch is a great automation example that does wonders with improvement for embroidery and other techniques. Systems such as this can not only reduce your training time for new hires, but also improve the daily workflow for your operators and greatly reduce manual errors.


Shopworx Order PortalThe last of our offerings for automation might be the most important, especially for contract decorators, who process orders for a wide range of customers. UPS, the Domino’s Pizza Tracker, Amazon and many other systems have us all spoiled on availability to instant updates on how our orders are being processed. These systems are not new, but with our industry’s jolt of technology adoption over the last few years, users expectations are rising, thus your provided service should be keeping up.

Shopworks’ Manage Orders is a great example of creating a web-based portal system in which end users or shared accounts can have direct access to see the status of their order. This includes connections to payments, reviewing designs/proofs and status details for shipments. They’ve even incorporated our LPN barcode scanning to further automate reconciliation of orders and updating of status. Teesom and many others are also adding features to this Status Portal concept which can now include text-based outreach with your clients. The use of text messages is another growing enhancement as we are all dealing with crowded inboxes and important emails getting lost in the spam folder.


With awareness as to how automation can help greatly improve your company, now is the time to start researching these tools and implementation. We can all succumb to the “too busy to work on this” pitfall but make the time and you will see the dividends from your investment for years to come. Our team can help with providing you links and key contacts for those companies who are part of our Affiliates program, located at the bottom of our Decorator and Digital Solutions Team landing page. Also, if you’re need of scheduling a Tech Talk, that journey can begin by sending an email to