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INSIDE CHICAGO GAMING

Rock-ola

Administrator
Shortly before the start of the 35th Pinball Expo, Pinball News made a journey to Cicero, west of Chicago to visit the Chicago Gaming facility.


The Chicago Gaming building in Cicero

The Chicago Gaming company is a relatively-recent offshoot of the older Churchill Cabinets company which made household and office furniture before branching out into arcade cabinets for pinball and video games as well as pinball playfields.

Although Churchill Cabinets subsequently expanded its Chicago Gaming business with a range of remakes of popular Williams/Bally pinball titles, the majority of the factory is still dedicated to woodworking.


Stacked packs of Baltic Birch sheets

One thing you can guarantee when working with wood is the creation of dust. Despite advanced suction and filtration systems, wood dust appears to coat most surfaces in the woodworking part of the factory.


The large sheets are cut into cabinets sides or playfields

One of the many CNC routers featuring multiple cutting heads

Stacks of cut wood sheets waiting to be turned into game cabinets

Churchill Cabinets produces game cabinets for several customers in the coin-op business as well as for their own Chicago Gaming range of pinball remakes and multi-cade video games.


Putting together the pieces which make up a pinball cabinet

One of the four presses which clamp the cabinet pieces together while the adhesive sets

Fully-formed cabinets before the game-specific decals are applied

Cabinets with the artwork decals applied

The cabinet building is relatively simple compared to the production of title-specific playfields. Not only do playfields have to be very accurately cut and routed, they then have to have inserts glued in, be sanded smooth, and then be printed and clearcoated.


Plain Monster Bash playfields are inspected to make sure they are perfectly smooth and flat

Once a playfield had passed inspection, it goes to the screen-printing room to have the artwork applied. The process is still fully manual. Each colour layer has its own screen with the ink applied by hand, starting with a base white layer. Individual playfield designs can use a dozen or more different screens depending on the complexity of the artwork. The playfields are put into racks after each colour is screened, where a pedestal fan speeds up the drying process.


The blank playfields are then screen printed

The next playfield is inspected after another layer of ink is screened onto it

A rack of freshly-printed playfields drying

The finished product on the left, the playfield with just the base white layer on the right

When all the screened layers have been applied and the inks fully dried, the playfield is clearcoated in a special spray room and left to cure before entering final inspection.


Racks of clearcoated Monster Bash playfields

Each playfield is inspected for any flaws in the printing, alignment or clearcoat

So, what happens to all these playfields and the cabinets we saw earlier? They are turned into complete pinball machines in the Chicago Gaming pinball production area.

This is a remarkably compact facility given the number of machines they build and the quantity of components used.

On the right side as you enter is the sub-assembly area, where mechanisms and basic game components are put together, ready for mounting on the playfield.


Making the sub-assemblies

Key components such as solenoids and switches have their connector cables attached here

More solenoids and scoop assemblies

Assembly test area

Speaker panels are also constructed here

Not all parts need assembling though, like these plastics for Monster Bash

Completed assemblies are placed on shelves unless they are needed immediately for production, in which case they go onto the line.


Completed assemblies go onto sloping racks which are picked up on the other side and installed on the playfield

The playfields we saw just now come into the production area and initially have posts and ball guides added.


Side rails and posts are added first

The Monster Bash playfield at the start of the production line

A diagram shows the post locations

Posts are added to the bottom side

With the posts installed, the playfield crosses the room and moves onto the production line where it sits in a custom-designed rotisserie with sliders on the base.


The playfields on the line in their rotisserie

More mechanisms are added

Assemblies are loaded into sloping trays above the line for use when needed

Some of the wiring looms are added

Wiring looms are kept beneath the line

The playfield is flipped over and top-side assemblies added

The whole playfield is then tested

Nearby, the backboxes are equipped with the control boards, speaker panels and translite light box.


Driver boards are put on their mounting plates before going into the backboxes

Circuit boards in the backbox

Pre-assembled translite light boxes

On another line, the games’ cabinets have their electrical components such as the power connector, transformer, switch box, bass speaker, tilt bob, ground straps, flipper buttons and start button, along with the coin door wiring and some pure mechanical parts like the playfield prop, leg bolt brackets, vent covers, lock bar bracket and playfield sliders.


Building the game cabinets

Inside one of the cabinets on the line

When the playfield, backbox and cabinet are complete, they are brought together and tested.


The playfield is installed into the cabinet with the backbox added

Testing the completed game

Although Monster Bash was the game being manufactured during our visit, the company was just launching their new, upgraded Medieval Madness remakes.

The top-of-the-line Royal Edition features a special topper with its own controller board. We’ll look at that topper in a moment, but there were some of these new Medieval Madness games being built in the factory alongside the Monster Bashes in preparation for the reveal at Pinball Expo a couple of days later.


Medieval Madness remakes being built alongside the Monster Bash machines

‘Under the hood’ of the new Medieval Madness remake

The tested complete games are then wrapped, strapped, and packed.


Wrapped games ready for boxing

Machines are rolled into their box which is on a special pivot table so it can then be easily stood upright

Although demand for the remake games has exceeded all expectations, Chicago Gaming’s storeroom had scores and scores of boxed machines waiting to ship to customers.


Inside the storeroom

Completed boxed games

More boxed games, some with toppers attached

Apart from the new version of the Medieval Madness remake, Chicago Gaming were also revealing their new topper which comes as standard with the Royal Edition of the game.


The new Medieval Madness topper

The King and the two trolls are moulded models which are bottom-lit with RGB LEDs, while the back panel has illuminated cutouts for the castle’s windows. The lighting is tied to the game’s rules so it changes colour, flashes and dims in concert with the playfield’s lighting effects.


The models on the new Medieval Madness topper

The three characters began as 3D-printed models before being turned into moulds so they can be mass produced. Chicago Gaming’s Ryan White showed us how the models were made.


The five pieces which are joined together to make the complete model

The five pieces slotted together

The detail in the models

That look at the new topper for Medieval Madness concludes our tour of the Churchill Cabinets factory and the Chicago Gaming pinball production area.

Many thanks to Ryan White and Doug Duba for their hospitality at a very busy time for the company. You can read more about their products at the Chicago Gaming website and see their stand at Pinball Expo in our report from the Vendor Hall.

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