3D Printed Pinball Repair

3D Printed Pinball Repair

Reclaim Arcade gets more serious as the days go on and if the past few weeks are any sign of things to come the new year is going to take that to another level. We're live on social media, the design firm is in high gear generating construction documents, and I've been lining up vendors for all manner of things necessary to run the business like point of sale, payroll, food and beverage distributors, etc. I'm selfishly looking forward to getting past some of that to the point where we're picking out furniture and seeing the space transform into our vision, but for now my retreat is in the games themselves, of which we have managed to gather over 40 classic arcade games and we've even purchased our first pinball machines.

Pinball is something I was not sure how I was going to tackle originally. For one it's quite a bit more expensive than your typical arcade game with prices averaging from $2,500 on the low end up to $8,000 for a new machine (and even more for some of the more collectable titles! Big Lebowski recently came up for sale by a private seller for 15k and sold within a few hours). On top of the cost factor, I've heard from pretty much everyone that pinball can be a maintenance nightmare. I'm no stranger to what's necessary to maintain arcade cabinets having done restoration work and repairs here and there already, but perhaps this image of the underside of a pinball machine will put things into perspective (and this is roughly half of the electronics, all the PCBs are behind the backbox not shown here and audio/power in the lower cabinet)

Yeah....that's a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the reason I have it opened up is that just a few days after we got it the right flipper stopped working. I steeled myself for the job ahead of me and started inspecting the mechanics of that flipper and it didn't take long at all to identify the issue. A flipper works via a large coil called a solenoid (You can see the two of them near the top of that image). Here's a great video showing how when current runs to and from the solenoid a plunger moves in and out which operates the flipper.

Upon inspection the plastic part that connects the plunger to the rest of the flipper assembly (which I would later learn is called a "link arm") had simply snapped, thus you could hear the solenoid get power when you pressed the flipper button, but the flipper could not turn since there was no connection to the plunger anymore.

Now luckily the part in question is only a few dollars, you can even buy it already connected to a new plunger to save you from taking the set pin out. But looking at that part I immediately thought "that seems like a dead simple part to print" and went in search of a model that might already have been created and of course found one https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:2619071. The shape wasn't the same, presumably for a different game but I figured I could try it first and modify it if it didn't work.

The hardest part of the process was getting the set pin out since I didn't have the best tools for that, but I found a good size hex bit that I could put on a screwdriver and use with a hammer to knock it free. With the new piece assembled I put everything back together and lo and behold it works perfectly! I'll probably order some replacements given that part seems like a weak point given how much use the flippers get and anything plastic is going to wear over time, but this repair job took 1 hour with half that being the time to print the small piece at highest quality and density.

Not only am I excited because of the possibilities and the opportunity to finally put our printer to use on something very specific and necessary, but this also dovetails really nicely to the vision of the arcade being host to a makerspace that can teach real skills within a fun and unique frame which I wrote a bit about at https://blog.timowens.io/arcade-repair/. I am already talking to partners like the local library to develop programming around that which will be a wonderful way to add a community element to what we are doing with Reclaim Arcade.