Web based system for tracking pinball issues

Once I had more than three pinball machines on route, I needed a way to track problems. It was just too easy to forget.

I wanted to be able to add trouble tickets for a pinball machine when I was on site, so it had to be web-based. I wanted it to be easy to use, reasonably flexible, fast, and give me options to customize it.

Since I’m an old open source software guy, that’s the first place I turned. I was not disappointed. I chose software called Trac.

Trac, the almost free ticketing system

Nothing is free, but this is pretty darn close.  There are places that will host Trac for $6 a month. That’d be your entire cost.  Or if you’re like me and have your own web server, it’s free.

With Trac I can securely manage the issues on my pinball machines.  Tickets can have custom fields, so I have a drop-down box for each pinball machine I own.

Tickets are ranked in order of severity

I also have a drop-down for how bad the problem is, ranging from CRITICAL all the way to WISHLIST.

Trac has a neat report that groups tickets by their severity so I can see at a glance which machines need the most attention.

I use CRITICAL for anything that makes the machine completely unusable. Could be a coin jam, a blown fuse, or a failed part.

IMPORTANT is anything that has an impact on gameplay, but the machine can still be played. Examples of this are weak flippers, malfunctioning pop bumpers, drop target issues, bad switches or solenoids, and important lights out. These are problems I really want to fix right away.

MINOR is where a lot of cosmetic issues live — for example, non-important lights out, broken plastics, rubbers starting to go bad.

PREVENTATIVE is an experiment for me. I’m using it to store reminders for annual battery replacements, fuse and coil checks, and longer term projects like installing NVRAM boards.

Lastly I have WISHLIST where I add the things that I want to do but usually don’t want to spend the money. New plastics, replacing mylar, playfield swaps, improving lighting, installing cliffys all go on the wishlist.

Tickets have good summaries

I use a good descriptive summary for each issue, for example “WCS2: Fuse 116 check opto issue.”

I start with a two, three or four letter code for each pinball (e.g. WCS2 is my second World Cup Soccer machine). This helps me on site when to see if there are any other tickets for a machine I’m working on.

The second part of the summary is a good description to help me spot recurring problems with a particular machine. I try to be as specific as possible. Sometimes I will change the summary once I have identified the problem.

I also track the time spent on each issue and note any parts I use in the repair to keep accounting and parts ordering. I also generally note down the steps I took to fix the issue.

One an issue is fixed, I close the ticket, which will let me run a report showing me how much time it takes on average to fix a problem.

Triage

Dealing with lots of pinball machines is a little like a doctor trying to deal with too many patients.  And unless you have an unlimited budget or just a couple of machines, something is always going to be wrong.

I stay focused on larger issues and let smaller things slide for a while. For example my Rollercoaster Tycoon had a problem with one of the three pop bumpers that required a new coil. It didn’t make a real difference when playing, so I let it wait for a few weeks while I focused on other machines. I took the opportunity to fix it when another issue cropped up on Rollercoaster that was more important.

I’ve been using the system for six months and I’m extremely happy with Trac.  I haven’t spent any time at all maintaining the system. It just works.  And adding a new machine is as simple as editing one line of text.

Have a look at my actual system in action if you’re curious. Don’t worry, you can’t mess up anything. Trac can hide tickets from public view by the way, I just chose not to.

If anyone has questions about Trac or my maintenance routines leave a comment here!

Brian Jamison
Portland Oregon

Pinball maintenance routines

I do a fair amount of work keeping my pinball machines maintained. Here’s my list.

Keep them clean

Plain and simple, a clean machine earns better.

Here are some pictures of pinball machines on route in Seaside, Oregon. The playfields are so dirty they are black. They looked much worse in person.

I know rock & roll is supposed to be dirty but…
There’s a Game of Thrones under there somewhere
This isn’t what a Black Spiderman is supposed to look like.
Taking the the dirty zombie theme too literally.

I was ready to spend $20 on those pinball machines but I walked away disappointed. As you can see the machines are quite recent. If an operator can’t be bothered to take five minutes to clean the playfield every 300 games or so, they shouldn’t be operating.

Use Silicone Rubbers

I have been switching all of my machines over to silicone rubber. Silicone rubber lasts longer and is dramatically easier to clean. I prefer Titan rubber for the variety of colors and overall quality.

Replacing a slingshot rubber

Die, Credit Dot, Die

Most serious pinball players know what a credit dot is. It’s that dot that appears next to the number of credits shown on the DMD. A credit dot is a clever, subtle way of alerting an operator that there may be a problem without scaring off customers.

However, good pinball players know what a credit dot is too and won’t drop coins in a machine with one. Clearing these on a regular basis should be part of your routine.

At least once a week I check for credit dots. Most frequently they are false alarms. Modern machines throw a credit dot if a switch hasn’t been activated in a certain number of games. Chances are, the switch is fine and it just hasn’t been triggered. If you have a lot of kids or casual players, you’ll see more credit dots.

But sometimes the problem is real.

Just today a switch check showed me a switch was actually bent and non-functioning. On the same machine just two weeks ago I put new rubbers on an outlane post and accidentally blocked the right outlane. I’d played a few games and didn’t notice until the credit dot appeared.

The switch test worked, so I looked for other causes. I discovered the new slightly thicker silicone rubber was preventing the ball from ever entering that outlane. Adjusting the outlane post fixed that. I’m sure the players loved that you could never drain down that outlane, but I certainly didn’t!

 

Check the Mechs

I test each coin mech at least every week. Still, I get a coin jam every month or so. I hate jams because they often go unreported and I know I lose customers any time they put money in and nothing happens.

You’ll find many amusing things stuffed into coin mechs – foreign coins, toothpicks, and paper from coin wrappers. I’ve heard tell of stranger things.

Use Cleaning Cards

I use these inexpensive cleaning cards to clean bill acceptors. Change machines get carded monthly and the ones on pinball machines twice a year.

Swap out Coil Sleeves

When flippers feel weak, the first thing to check is the coil sleeve. I was surprised to find out that often all it takes is this little part that costs less than $1. They are a bit of a pain to swap out, and there are quite a few sizes. I buy them a dozen at a time from Pinball Life.

That’s a dirty coil

Play them frequently

I try to play every game I have on route at least once a week. Oh, the things I do for pinball. But seriously, it does take time. I know my machines and I can feel when the flippers are starting to lose power, or something is out of adjustment.

Sometimes I’ll let a minor issue slide if I personally feel that it doesn’t have an impact of gameplay.

Watch and Listen

I sometimes become aware of problems just by watching people. Other times people will approach me when they see me working on a machine and let me know something I wasn’t aware of.

Track issues

I use a web-based system to track the problems my pinball machines have, and to remind me to perform certain kinds of maintenance like changing batteries.

The software I use is is totally free. Really. I’ll talk about that in my next post.

 

Brian Jamison

Portland, Oregon