As part of our Pinball Expo trip this year, Pinball News paid a visit to American Pinball at their facility in Palatine, Illinois.
Palatine is a village northwest of Chicago, around 20 minutes’ drive from O’Hare airport and 15 minutes from Pinball Expo in Schaumburg. Downtown Palatine is rather pleasant, with good eateries and a frequent train service to Chicago which takes around an hour.
This was our first time at their ‘new’ premises at 500 S. Hicks Road. Our previous visit in 2018 was to their original location in Streamwood when they were preparing for the move to Palatine. That move took longer than planned, but now we can finally show you around the home they share with parent company Aimtron.
Walking into the lobby, it’s clear the place is kept very clean – something you will see throughout the manufacturing area too.
Two backglasses were on display, but it seems like either Oktoberfest or Hot Wheels was taking a break.
Walking into the reception area, playfields from Houdini, Oktoberfest and Hot Wheels are on display.
We were greeted by Max Senesac, American Pinball’s Sales & Marketing Manager who was our guide.
This visit took place the day before Pinball Expo began, so some of the company’s games and other items were either already in Schaumburg for the show, or were packed and about to depart.
We started our tour in the storage area, where items not immediately needed for the production line or the stock room are kept.
The three Legends of Valhalla machines above were wrapped, strapped and about to head to Expo to appear on the American Pinball stand.
The shelves held assorted game components, including wooden batons for the sides of the playfields, the playfields’ back panels, and various artwork decals for the cabinet and backbox.
There were also more mundane items here, such as cash boxes, side rails and leg sets.
Keeping track of everything is the job of the Stock Room staff.
This is where most of the game parts live until needed for the production line workstations. All parts must be inspected and checked-in when they arrive, and then checked out for manufacturing so that stock levels can be maintained.
However, the more common items such as screws, washers, nuts, bolts and posts are held in grab bins outside the Stock Room so they can be easily accessed if supplies on the line start to run short.
These parts are needed on both the production line and also in the sub-assembly area, where many of the mechanisms which go onto the playfield are built.
This allows entire mechanisms such as animated toys, upper playfields or illuminated back panels to be built in advance, reducing the time needed on the line to build a playfield.
American Pinball’s anti-reflective glass is marketed as ‘Magic Glass’ and is fitted as standard to their higher-end models of each title. It’s also available as an optional extra on the base models.
The more premium models also have bespoke powder-coated legs, side rails and other metalwork which is different for every title and all of which needs to be kept in stock.
The main game manufacturing area consists of two production lines. This allows two different titles to be built simultaneously, or one title to be built while the workstations for the next title are prepared on the second line. Plans are under way to construct a third line too.
Pinballs are constructed in three parts – playfield, backbox and cabinet. The playfield is the most complicated and is different for every title. Although the backboxes and cabinet designs have evolved over the years as new titles are released, American Pinball have been moving towards using a unified cabinet and backbox design for all titles. They also want to redesign the backbox to simplify its construction and to make it easier to connect a topper.
At the time of our visit the company was waiting for a delivery of cabinets. Supply of the wood used to build the cabinets has been impacted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, so alternative (and more expensive) wood is being used instead to ensure game production continues with minimal disruption.
The cut, printed and clearcoated playfields come from American Pinball’s playfield supplier. They are then drilled and populated with the T-nuts, posts and ball guides before being put into a rotisserie and places on the production line for all the mechanisms, sub-assemblies, PCBs, LEDs and switches to be added.
Each workstation has a defined set of tasks to perform. The parts needed are put in bins and the printed instructions are posted above.
Completed playfields are built and stored around the factory until they can be put into cabinets.
The area in the factory where the shipping boxes are currently stored is the intended location for the third production line.
While we were touring the factory, American Pinball’s Senior Production Manager, Barry Engler, was busy getting games loaded into trucks and sent on their way to Pinball Expo in Schaumburg.
American Pinball recently announced their new ‘Classic’ version of their current title, Legends of Valhalla. This involves replacing some of the custom moulded playfield parts with flat plastics and making some of the cosmetic enhancements such as the Magic Glass and interior cabinet artwork optional extras.
Where appropriate, this approach is likely to be applied to earlier titles such as Houdini.
We were also fortunate to visit American Pinball’s Senior Game Designer, Dennis Nordman, in his office and to talk to him about some of his upcoming designs. From what we have seen and played so far, there are some exciting things coming soon from the company.
American Pinball has a healthy pipeline of future titles and is continuing to pursue licences for even more. Their intention is to be in a position to release at least two new titles each year.
Meanwhile, according to the company’s Executive Vice President, David Fix, who was speaking on the Pinball News and Pinball Magazine PINcast, they have a healthy order book and are currently back-ordered on all titles.
That ends our tour of the American Pinball factory. We hope you enjoyed seeing it, and huge thanks to David and Max for the invitation and the guided tour.