Date: 18th October 2022
Location: 500 S Hicks Rd, Palatine, IL 60067, USA

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.

The American Pinball factory in Palatine
The American Pinball factory in Palatine
The entrance to American Pinball
The entrance to American Pinball

Walking into the lobby, it’s clear the place is kept very clean – something you will see throughout the manufacturing area too.

In the foyer
In the foyer

Two backglasses were on display, but it seems like either Oktoberfest or Hot Wheels was taking a break.

Backglasses on display in the foyer
Backglasses on display in the foyer

Walking into the reception area, playfields from Houdini, Oktoberfest and Hot Wheels are on display.

Playfields for Houdini, Oktoberfest and Hot Wheels
Playfields for Houdini, Oktoberfest and Hot Wheels

We were greeted by Max Senesac, American Pinball’s Sales & Marketing Manager who was our guide.

Max Senesac, American Pinball's Sales & Marketing Manager
Max Senesac, American Pinball’s Sales & Marketing Manager

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 storage area
The storage area

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.

Cabinet and backbox decal storage
Cabinet and backbox decal storage
Oktoberfest cabinet and backbox decals
Oktoberfest cabinet and backbox decals

There were also more mundane items here, such as cash boxes, side rails and leg sets.

More storage
More storage

Keeping track of everything is the job of the Stock Room staff.

T-shirts on the front of the stock room
T-shirts on the front of the Stock Room

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.

Inside the stock room
Inside the Stock Room
Inside the stock room
Inside the Stock Room

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.

Generic parts outside the stock room
Generic parts outside the Stock Room

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.

Sub-assembly construction
Sub-assembly construction

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.

Components for the sub-assemblies
Components for the sub-assemblies
Rubber kits for various American Pinball titles
Rubber kits for various American Pinball titles

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.

American Pinball's anti-reflective Magic Glass
American Pinball’s anti-reflective Magic Glass

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.

Each title's legs have a different finish
Each title’s legs have a different finish

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.

The game production area
The game production area

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.

Power supplies waiting to be installed in the games
Power supplies waiting to be installed in the games
The backbox construction area
The backbox construction area
The P3-ROC pinball controllers
The P3-ROC pinball controller boards used in all current American Pinball titles
Legends of Valhalla playfields and backboxes, plus an Oktoberfest backbox
Legends of Valhalla playfields and backboxes, plus an Oktoberfest backbox

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.

A box of Legends of Valhalla playfields
A box of unpopulated Legends of Valhalla playfields
A box of Houdini playfields
A box of bare Houdini playfields
Drilling the playfields for screws, posts and ball guides
Drilling the playfields for screws, posts and ball guides
Drilling the playfields for screws, posts and ball guides
Drilling the playfields for screws, posts and ball guides
Racks of playfields with posts and ball guides installed
Racks of playfields with posts and ball guides installed
Racks of completed Legends of Valhalla back panels
Racks of completed Legends of Valhalla back panels
Preparing decals for Oktoberfest
Preparing decals for Oktoberfest

Each workstation has a defined set of tasks to perform. The parts needed are put in bins and the printed instructions are posted above.

More back panels and controller/driver boards
More back panels and controller/driver boards
Populating the underside of the playfield
Populating the underside of the playfield
More playfield population
More playfield population
Each workstation adds a defined set of components
Each workstation adds a defined set of components
Oktoberfest playfields on the line
Oktoberfest playfields on the line
Working on the underside of the playfield
Working on the underside of the playfield

Completed playfields are built and stored around the factory until they can be put into cabinets.

Oktoberfest playfields make their way down the line
Oktoberfest playfields make their way down the line
The underside of the playfield is nearly finished
The underside of the playfield is nearly finished
Each workstation confirms they have installed the required parts
Each workstation operative confirms they have installed the required parts
Completed Oktoberfest playfield with Legends of Valhalla playfields on the line
Completed Oktoberfest playfield with Legends of Valhalla playfields just coming off the line
Completed Legends of Valhalla playfields
Completed Legends of Valhalla playfields ready for testing
Finished playfields are tested
Finished playfields are tested
Plenty of shipping boxes for future production
Plenty of shipping boxes for future production

The area in the factory where the shipping boxes are currently stored is the intended location for the third production line.

Finished, boxed and palleted games ready to ship
Finished, boxed and palleted games ready to ship – these are destined for Australia
An overview of the American Pinball factory
An overview of the American Pinball factory

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's Senior Production Manager, Barry Engler
American Pinball’s Senior Production Manager, Barry Engler

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.

An original Houdini and an upcoming Classic model
An original Houdini and an upcoming Classic model

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.

Dennis Nordman, American Pinball's Senior Game Designer
Dennis Nordman, American Pinball’s Senior Game Designer

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.

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