May 9, 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 as Tim Mezel shows, they do not spurn modern technologies, but embrace them. In late 2013, Mezel founded Mezel Mods together with his wife Kristin, and they have become a huge hit selling custom-made 3D printed modifications for pinball machines that are no longer being manufactured.

Mezel Mods is a fantastic business that shows exactly what can be achieved if you combine your passions with modern making technologies. After being infected with a love for pinball while working for Intel, Mezel began collecting pinball machines and was confronted with the same problems as the rest of the community. Right now there’s only one pinball manufacturer left in the world, a company called Stern, while many existing machines from a few decades ago are no longer supported by anyone. So if a machine is incomplete, or part of the playing field breaks down, you have a problem.

Mezel experienced this himself with his “High Speed 2: The Getaway” machine. The digital display had a ‘Donut Heaven’ feature while the field still had one empty spot, but there was no heaven to play on. “When you play, the image of it comes up on the screen but it’s not on the play field,” Mezel recalled. While some people in the digital pinball community had tried making their own cover, Mezel put in a lot more effort than others. Purchasing a MakerBot 3D printer in August 2013, he quickly 3D printed a modification complete with LED lights.

This mod was immensely loved by the community, as was a modification for his Metallica machine to give a snake fangs. This was a feature in the original game, but left out of later models. A huge response from the community led to dozens of purchase requests, and Mezel soon found himself selling 3D printed modifications on Etsy. Unable to cope with the huge demand, Mezel’s wife Kristin Browning-Mezel left her job as CEO of an Albuquerque courier company to become CEO of Mezel Mods. “It was right before Christmas and I said, ‘You need to get these out,’” she said in an interview.

With her help, Mezel Mods began to thrive. There is a lot of demand for customization in the pinball world, just as in any other hobby community. “They’re a lot like cars. You know, people get their cars and they want to customize it. They want a custom license plate, they want a custom dash mat or floor mat. Well, pinball is the same way,” Browning-Mezel explained. They also explore existing games and see what kind of modifications that can produce. Sometimes, a mod can be a whole new feature for a playing field, and sometimes an LED panel is more than enough to add a new dimension to a game.

In 2015, they even moved to a 1500 square foot facility in Rio Rancho, near Albuquerque, where they can house machines and work on modifications. Right now, they have 12 pinball machines on site and sell over 50 different products through their website. They get around 500 orders per month, have two 3D printers in operation and have even set up deals with a German reseller and various US distributors as well. “Our goal is not just to get a lot of orders but really high quality orders. So the bigger the dollar value the better for us,” Browning-Mezel said in the video below. “We’re always hoping to grow. That starts with us maximizing the opportunity in pinball.”

Right now, their 3D printed mods are a huge hit and things are moving very quickly. In late 2015, Mezel Mods won the first prize in the Albuquerque Creative Startups Accelerator, winning $50,000 and being able to work with thirty mentors over a five-day period. “We had the opportunity to learn from exceptional mentors in the areas of business planning, visioning, marketing how to pitch the company to investors,” Browning-Mezel said. In early 2016, they also set up a partnership with 3D design expert Dennis Summers, who will be developing new 3D printed pinball accessories.

But most importantly, they are now also working together with pinball manufacturer Stern, producing mods for their existing range of games and new designs for upcoming titles. “Some great new accessories are in the pipe for the next game!” Browning-Mezel revealed. A few months ago, they produced a prison tower modification for one machine, which has been sold more than 200 times already. A lot more is forthcoming, including parts for Stern’s new Kiss pinball machine. Such partnerships, Mezel believes, can provide them with a solid foundation for expanding their range of 3D printed pinball mods. It just proves that 3D printing can add a whole new dimension to any hobby, even those that are largely out of production.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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