Date: 30th May, 2014
Our previous update on Heighway Pinball's progress took us up to their appearance at Pinball Expo. Now, in the first of two reports, we bring you up-to-date with recent developments at the company, how the factory looks now, and what they've been working on in the past few months.
Pinball Expo is a landmark event for any pinball manufacturer, and Heighway Pinball held a popular seminar there featuring several members of the team. However, there is no escaping the fact that they didn't have a sample of their first title Full Throttle to show to guests.
Despite that, company head Andrew Heighway felt it was a successful appearance. He told Pinball News, "Expo went well for us, considering we didn't take a game for the 2013 show. We have a lot of interest about our products in the USA so Expo gave us the perfect platform to communicate with people directly. Joining us in our seminar was our IT expert, Janos Kiss; software developer Brian Dominy; design engineer Oleg Korepanov and of course our star designer, Dennis Nordman. During our seminar, we updated our guests on progress of Full Throttle, our new factory in Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales; and we showed a lot of our new technology."
As if making the presentation in Chicago wasn't enough, one week later the Heighway Pinball team were in St Étienne in the south of France to hold more seminars and exhibit at the Festi Flip show. And this time they had their sample game with them, featuring the newest iteration of their cabinet design.
"With FestiFlip taking place only a week after Expo, you would think that we wouldn't have much extra to show our French guests", Andrew told us. "However, our latest prototype cabinet was built by Romain Fontaine, our chief electronics engineer at the time, and so we decided to take a flippable version of our game to Festi Flip, in the new cabinet. The prototype playfield was 8 months old, and the same we showed at Berlin in early 2013 - but it gave French pinball enthusiasts a taste of what we are doing. We had a lot of interest during the event and we held a number of seminars over the two days - hosted by myself, Romain and our French distributor, Ben Duplan."
That all took place six months ago, so what have they been up to since then?
The answer is building up the factory and the staff numbers, and manufacturing a whole bunch of games.
But, as we shall see, there's more to this story than you might think.
The factory currently has 30 metres of roller production line, but Andrew tells us that this will double in the coming week as they kit out the sub-assembly workstations and complete the packing area.
"The deeper we got into development", Andrew said, "the more we realised that our supply chain could be the weakest link for us - having to rely on so many part from overseas - so we have set about making as many parts as possible ourselves. Of course, some parts will still be shipped in from overseas."
The size of the team at Heighway Pinball has also expanded, with eleven staff based at the company's factory in South Wales, and four more overseas. In addition, Romain Fontaine has been promoted to Technical Director and now oversees all technical aspects of their games.
But the biggest news is the revelation that over the past few months the team have been designing, building and shipping games.
Andrew explains. "In January this year, we secured a contract to design and build a new pinball-related game. In only 4 months, we designed this game, manufactured 251 games, and shipped them out globally. Our factory has been in full production for the last 6 weeks."
These games are promotional items for a major multinational business and have been sent all over the world. Although we are not yet able to name the company concerned or show you the finished product for commercial reasons, we can show you these shots of the factory taken during production of the games.
Andrew explained how the deal came about. "We were approached [about making the games] late last year and began doing a feasibility study. Promotional campaigns were due to begin in April which meant that there were only 4 months to design and build these games. Other companies were quoting 9 months to turn this project around. We knew this would be a massive challenge but we were confident we could design and build a quality product in such a short time frame. We have received feedback in the last few weeks that our client is very happy with their games and they are performing well on location."
Designing and building these games obviously had a knock-on effect for the production of Full Throttle, but it also provided the opportunity to set up the whole manufacturing process and learn from any issues, before scaling it up to build larger runs of more complex machines. Andrew said, "This has been an excellent exercise for us. We have learnt so much in the last few months - such as how to manage suppliers and the supply chain, the importance of quality control and all the intricacies of running a production line. Now we have had a taste for it, we can't wait to start making our own pinball machines on our production line."
So where are they now with development of Full Throttle?
Designing and building the promotional game necessarily impacted on bringing Full Throttle to market, but Andrew says work has continued on developing it and bringing it closer to full production. "Development on Full Throttle didn't stall, but it did slow us down. Clearly we had undertaken a huge task, and at times all our resources were diverted to finishing our production run."
He continued, "Now we have shipped out the final units, all of our focus is on releasing Full Throttle. A lot of what we need is now in place. We have more factory operatives waiting to join us in the coming weeks. We want to bring more skills into the company as we get closer to production - in particular, people to monitor quality control from Goods In, through production, at testing, and then Goods Out."
With the comapny's first products shipped and production of Full Throttle getting ever closer, we asked Andrew how the journey has compared to his initial expectations.
"I know that unbridled, and unrealistic optimism is prevalent with pinball manufacturers - and I understand why. We have been guilty ourselves about unrealistic timeframes - but I set out to make a high quality product that could re-define pinball - and such a feat takes time."
"People are amazed when I talk about future games in development and the opinion that we should concentrate on finishing our first game first, is a valid one. However, our business model requires that we release 3 games a year and with it taking 8 months to a year to design a game, it is important that we keep our other games in development - which currently consists of 3 licensed games and 2 unlicensed games."
"We are getting very close now and we can't wait to show everyone our progress."
With so much taking place in the factory, the team have not been able to do any of that showing at industry or collector shows. So our second article will focus on Full Throttle, showing you the playfield changes, additional features and new artwork which are now in the game.
We will also be introducing you to this guy:
We'll be back to reveal all in part two of this exclusive Pinball News Heighway Pinball update report.
© Pinball News 2014