This past weekend I got to spend time in Chicago for C2E2, but Chicago has a deeper meaning to me. If you've been following my posts, then you'll know that Chicago is the birthplace of pinball! So after my weekend at C2E2, I hopped in a car and went over to the Stern Facility in Elk Grove Village, IL. The facility is small and unassuming, and you will absolutely drive by it 68116252 times if you're not careful!
Stern had a long history in pinball, and while I've talked about it before, it can still be a little confusing to follow. Basically Stern has had a hand in various pinball companies for decades. My tour guide, Jody Dankberg, was gracious to show me around the facility. I learned a great deal, such as all machines are made to order, therefor they have no real inventory. They inspect every single item that comes in for a machine, and if 3% of said item doesn't work, they send all of the items back. Imagine if you got a machine from Stern and the bolts weren't right and the machine fell apart in your house. You'd likely be pissed to hell.
One of the cooler things inside the factory was a 4 post press machine, that was originally designed by Gottlieb decades ago. The 4 post press takes a blank playfield and puts slight indents in them, to show the technician where to drill on the field. They do this since the board is waxed (and therefor slick) and they don't want the technicians to potentially slide across a board with a drill.
There are sub assembly lines for everything, and on my visit I saw them for the mini playfield that goes on the Batman 66 machine. The workers go through everything countless times to make sure it works properly. All in all it takes around 30 hours to get a machine out the door, so it's a good thing these are made to order. The attention to detail is clear, and every single person working here does genuinely care about their craft. As Jody even said, many of the people working on these machines have been doing it for decades. This isn't just some skill you can pick up in college, it's passed down from person to person. I enjoyed my time at the factory, and I urge you to visit one day if you're able.