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

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