Nov 7, 2016 | By Alec

Just two decades ago, you could not go anywhere without being confronted by a pinball machine. Though they have been partly pushed out of sight by digital technology, the world of pinball is still very much alive among a small group of dedicated fans and collectors – and 3D printing is helping. Since 2013, Mezel Mods is offering custom-made 3D printed modifications for pinball machines that are no longer being manufactured, and now one pinball fan from 3D FilaPrint has taken things even further. Tony the pinball wizard has used more than 8.5 km of filament to 3D print a complete pinball machine, down to the bumpers and playtable.

This remarkable machine was designed for display at 3D FilaPrint’s stand at TCT 2016 in Denver, Colorado – which was held last week. As Tony revealed, they were looking for a seaside-themed 3D printing project to exhibit at the 3D FilaPrint stand with the same theme. And as classic pinball machines can take on any theme and require a wide range of different parts, it’s a perfect vehicle for showing off the potential of a diverse range of filaments.

And Tony was the perfect guy to build it. Aside from a pinball fan (he even provided a detailed overview of pinball history), he is also a retired software engineer and electronic engineer – specializing in avionic electronic equipment. “I have also done model engineering as a hobby and also do DIY. All these activities as well as some artwork are fully used in creating a pinball machine,” he revealed. The machine itself follows the typical pinball layout from the 1960s and 1970s, complete with score drum wheels, sound effects, a fantastic ramp and a few very cool decorations. And when we say 3D printed, we do mean it’s entirely 3D printed.

Especially the technical details are mesmerizing. Of course a the different bumpers and display parts would be 3D printed in different filaments, but the sheer number of them is insane. All in all, over eighty different filaments were 3D printed over a process of more than 1200 hours – totaling at more than 8,5 km of filament. And that doesn’t even include failed prints. Most of the 520 parts (170 different designs) were 3D printed on Tony’s own DIY 3D printer, which features an unusually large 400mm x 300mm print bed. The largest of all pinball machine parts was 380 x 280mm in size.

All these parts were designed in OpenSCAD and many, including the bumpers, are made from conductive and flexible filaments. Especially the bumper design is fascinating. Two rings of conductive filament (one stationary and one flexible) make it possible to register a ball hit. When the ball runs into the bumper, the top flexible filament flexes and is brought into contact with the lower ring – registering on the sensor.

If you’ve ever opened up a pinball machine, you’ll also know that it’s a jungle of relatively simple electronics just below its surface, and this 3D printed seaside machine is no exception. Tony meticulously laid out all electronics in a notebook, based around the custom boards and parts. This was also powered by three Arduino processors, which covered the countless solenoids, scoring systems and actuators. All the Arduino software was written in C using the Arduino interface, while multiple processors were simply necessary to provide enough interface ports. The code can be found in Tony’s pinball machine reference guide at 3D FilaPrint.

This is a 3D printed labor of love if we ever saw one, but the results are truly spectacular. Most importantly, it works just as well as any non-3D printed pinball machine out there. While it might be more realistic to use a conventional playtable and case, and 3D print all the other components, this level of dedication is inspiring. What’s more, this table is superior to conventional ones in at least one aspect: its much lighter than most wooden and metal tables, simply because its largely made out of PLA. Perhaps this could be the first step on the road towards a pinball renaissance.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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