(Topic ID: 237367)

CPR playfield preorders are meaningless

By tomdrum

1 year ago

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  • Latest reply 7 months ago by SewerUrchin
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Post #53 Explanation of CPR PF blank vs Stern PF blank hardness Posted by CPR (1 year ago)

Post #66 Explanation of reasons for CPR preorder estimation process Posted by KevinCPR (1 year ago)

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#53 1 year ago


I have to jump in here as well, on four issues. The first was the Xenon PFs that we ran out of last year. The Xenon's I cut were in no way shape or form ever going to satisfy the entire interest but at the time I had the wood and inserts for a very limited number of PFs. I decided that rather than idle the CNC and layoff the guys it made more since to actually make the PFs I had materials for at the time. The rest of the material had been ordered but the lead times on our materials can be HUGE! It just made since to keep everyone employed and the machines working while new supplies were on route.

The second point I have to comment on is our wood. I absolutely believe that our wood is by FAR the best in the world. We have had many suppliers over the years and in bad times have been forced to use the same wood as the other PF manufacturer uses all the time and let me tell you that doing so is our last resort. Playfield wood over the decades has often been whatever was available to the manufacturers. Many PFs especially in the 70s and 80s PFs used three layers of thick cheap filler wood with two thin layers of maple on the faces, something you could buy at your local building supply only with thicker face veneers. For decades most of the better playfield wood came from North American Plywood near Chicago. It used sweet gum as its filler cores and .040" face veneers. But in 2008 in the downturn they liquidated their custom plywood mill and everyone was scrambling to find wood, even Stern. We then shifted to Marion Plywood from Wisconsin who made two very good orders for us before they shifted their glues to a more green product that warped like crazy. We even tried a Russian Baltic Birch that had custom maple veneers glued to it. It was expensive and unsuitable for several reasons. Finally, the current supplier for Stern contacted us and offered to make our wood. This was several years ago now and we couldn't have been happier as they work directly with us to produce the very best CUSTOM wood you can buy ANYWHERE! Their standard wood for Stern is a good one side panel with 3 layers of white ash and a 0.048" face veneers. After many consultations with their tech guys we came up with what I know is the best playfield wood in the world. We use the same basic setup as Stern, 3 layers of white ash cores then we use 4 layers of maritime hard maple BUT we increased the thickness of the two face veneers by 64% to get a nominal face thickness of 0.075". These huge and thick ONE piece veneers are crazy expensive and we always get this top grade veneer on BOTH sides of your PF. This alone added $12 to the cost of each panel vs just using a second grade veneer on the bottom like Stern does. There's nothing wrong with the way Stern does it, as they just refuse any board they want and since they are so close to the mill, the mill just picks it up with the next load and credits them. We however are a $4000 freight bill away so that won't work. We pay a lot extra to get the very best wood they can produce right off the start. You get a much nicer product and a much denser and tougher PF. This wood is 25% heavier for the same size panel as our old wood and nearly a third heavier as Baltic Birch which some other playfield manufacturers use. I would love to use cheaper wood like some others do, after all why would I pay $12.50/sqft landed when I can get birch at less than $2.00sqft? We use the best densest hardest custom wood we can get because we think its worth it and we always try to make the very best product we can.

There are other point is that we intentionally make three levels of quality. Wow, really? We always try to make perfect playfields, every single time but in the past we ALWAYS did full spot color silkscreens which meant that each and every color layer is individually vectored with trapping layers built and silk screened one color at a time, one on top of the other. 14 colors means 14 trips through the screen press. 14! Even the slightest misalignment in any single layer of the normal 12-14 color process means the final product isn't a gold anymore. Its wood, a living surface so if the ink doesn't lay down into every nook and cranny of every square mm of the grain then its not a gold. If a single piece of dust get in the screen and makes its way into the print which is very hard to prevent then its really not a gold anymore. To screen press a playfield we could never do more than about 1 color a day just due to the logistics of cleaning the ink you just used out of the screen trying to save what you can, then removing the screen and washing it with cleaner and paper towels, then once the ink is out, rinsing and then using a stripper to remove the image from the screen, then rinsing, then bleaching the screen to remove all traces of the previous image, rinsing, then drying the screen. Then you have to coat the screen with a photosensitive liquid and let that dry. Then you lay on your full size and expensive direct contact positive and expose the whole thing to a powerful UV light, then immediately wash the screen once more to expose the image which means a third drying of the screen! Then mount it and align it precisely to the previous image on the screen press, which always involves a few trial and error hits on test prints. Add in a cleaned and sharpened squeegee and print your single color...... now repeat this process for each and every color on the playfield. Any misalignment at all, even as small as 1/64"in ANY layer and you may not have a gold, any mark from handing and small dropout of ink, and deep grain that the ink didn't get to and you may not have a gold anymore. Screen printing is many many times harder to do than printing it digitally. Producing artwork for screen printing is horrendously more difficult than prepping something for a digital print. We are very lucky that we have years worth of vectored artwork that can fairly easily be converted for digital use to be used on our big flatbed but you can't go the other way. If you printed 100 PFs and have 10 that are not perfect you had no choice but to sell them, hence silvers and bronze. It could take you as long as 2 weeks to reprint those 10 PFs. Now if you are doing these on a digital printer you have eliminated ANY chance of a misalignment because its a single flat image not 12-14 images laid on top of one another, the printer is spraying, so surface imperfections are easily covered and there is no screen to get contaminated. So for screen printing, since the artwork is many times more complex in comparison and the printing method is many times more complex its no wonder that we didn't always get 100% gold. Of course if you have something go sideways on a digital print it takes but minutes to sand the ink off and clean it up and run it through the printer once again, $8 in inks costs versus basically spending two weeks trying to rescreen a few seconds. But now that we have the same tech as others we can also fairly easily reprint an error so there will be much fewer silver and bronzes in our future.

Making the right number of PFs for everyone is more art than anything else. Playfields are crazy expensive to make and the production costs are all up front. In some cases royalties and licensing alone can cost as high as 25% of the full retail value of the PF, do some quick math and figure out the size of the check you'd have to write to cover that on 100 pfs!! Inserts can cost $25-$100 per PF due to minimum requirements of the molders. You can figure out our wood costs from above. Add in the costs of 2 CNCs, 2 laser cutters, a silk screen operation, a huge UV flatbed etc.... now figure that 50% of the guys who signed up don't buy!! In the case of Corvette PFs we had 75% of people who signed up didn't purchase as they promised! Have two or three of these happen in a row and anyone would become gun shy real quick or we risk losing our homes! I tried deposits when I first started this and it was a nightmare, lately we have on rare occasions used them again with much more success so maybe that's a possibility but truthfully making smaller numbers is the safest thing to do. Using the digital system instead of silk screening makes much more sense and having the ability to digitally reprint our screen printed seconds may get rid of them almost entirely.

Making PFs is complex, silk screening playfields is stoopid complex and expensive in the very small numbers we make but we do it because we love it.


#76 1 year ago

Please keep in mind that CPR was started with two guys working in our basements and to a great deal not much has changed, we are not Mirco with an entire German robotic army behind us. We do not have robots gluing in inserts, or spraying clear in a blitzkrieg. We have only just begun to digitally produce playfields because we were always committed to doing it the way the purists and collectors demanded. We have always tried to make them like they were originally made. We matched colors using Pantone color patches, using art experts to back date colors when the original films weren't available to confirm a certain color. We often spend over $100 to have a single ink custom mixed to a Pantone color layer.....that's per color!! I can remember having hours and hours of heated debate over a certain hue of a color. Debates on whether a tiny section with a certain hue was an actual color or an interference between a thinly screened color with an underlying color that was showing through to form a mixed hue in one tiny area. We have always tried to make PFs as original as possible and screen printed each color to make them authentic as any original only with better materials and standards. Somewhere along the way the demand to have an original style silk screened playfield gave way to "to every playfield is perfect, one standard" and the demands of the collectors that absolutely demanded a silk screen PF with historically correct colors became less important than we ever could have imaged. So we have started to come around and have moved from making them as original as possible to starting to make them using modern methods. But to my mind, they just are not the same. When silk screening, no two playfields are exactly alike and to me that was always a cool part of the nostalgia of the art of playfields. Times are changing though and although I still prefer the original techniques and the spectacular results that could be attainable we are trying to change with the times, maybe we need an army of German robots, who knows?


#99 1 year ago


In your case with Xenon, I thought I fully explained this already but.... the run I made was only about 1/3 of the run and its only what I had materials for at the time. It was never going to be the entire run, I did the partial run to keep the guys employed using materials I already had on hand. I was planning on cutting the 30 PFs and then just keeping them under wraps until we received the rest of the materials and cut and glued the rest of the run. We would then print them all at once..... but, Kevin decided that he had a bit of a space in the production and went ahead and printed the ones we had ready to print, with the idea of printing the rest once we had them ready. So I understand you're upset you didn't get one of the initial part of the run but you were probably not in the first 30 guys who ordered. The rest of the materials came in and the PFs were cut and glued months ago. We are printing them this PF this coming week, silk screen by the way! Its is fully likely that you will get yours from this section of the run. The rest of the XENON run should be shipping in about 3-4 weeks.

That being said, we are a tiny operation, we finance each product on the sales of the last and on my home equity line of credit. Having anything more than a few PFs left over from the last run can get really expensive very very fast. When something like Corvette PF comes along and 75% of the guys who promised they'd buy just didn't I was left explaining to my wife WTF happened. Lets see how understanding yours would be on that!

We have tried being nice and asking people to only place an order if they 100% intend to follow through, we have tried threatening to ban people from preorders if they don't follow though on their promises, we have tried deposits. We have pleaded and conjolled.... nothing has really worked. Often we are left holding dozens of PFs that don't sell... and in a worse case scenario their costs are can exceed $500 each...... how do you think your family would handle you saying don't worry we can carry this debt because a bunch of guys backed out of their promises...??? Would your wife be understanding?

Anyway, this HUGE issue came to a head last spring at which time it meant closing CPR or finding another way to do things ..... and it could have gone either way. There was some very dour looking faces around the table when I explained this to the guys. We decided to change up the way we do things and by going more to an on demand system and spending the price of a new house on a 17 1/2' printer but it was either that or shut down. Kevin keeps touting an on demand just for you but that's not really the idea we are driving at, but we are trying to use the new tech to make drastically smaller runs, say 3-5 or even 10 instead of 100+. We can handle getting stuck with a couple of PFs but we can't afford to get stuck with 80+ PFs like we did on Corvette or Joker Poker. Over the next many months we are taking stock of the 300,000-400,000 plus inserts we have and trying to figure out which PFs we can make with these. We'll make small qtys of each title we have art and inserts for and they'll be available on a first come basis. The cool thing is we'll be able to make a few more when the first ones get low. In a perfect world we could make one for each guy as they order but, that does take time. I'd still rather make a small batch and open it on the website with actual stock numbers and every single person would know the quality of what they were getting BEFORE they ordered.

Its not perfect but it may be a sustainable model where the idea of making 100+ Pfs or glasses and getting stuck with a large percentage of the run was just not sustainable anymore, even in the short run.


#109 1 year ago

The truth of the matter for me at least and to some extend for Kevin as well, is that we just don't read Pinside very much, or nearly at all for me. I only came here at all yesterday when Stu forwarded this topic otherwise I would never have seen it. Being the weekend I'm here on my time and not working so that's why I am able to type so much.

Our communication has ALWAYs been a weak spot for us. Kevin, alone used to be the only person with access to the email server and he was always the guy who did ALL the screening, all the grading, packing and shipping, picking colors, you name it. Chief cook and bottle washer, he did it all and many times just got overwhelmed. After all, he always said, I can screen print or I can answer every email, I can't always do both. So what used to happen was that he'd answer emails well until we started into a print run which is all consuming for up to two weeks. Afterwards he'd sit down to 2500+ emails...... Admittedly it did get better the last couple of years as we hired a few friends to help out. Since this past summer when we got the printer we now have two guys instead of just Kevin answering emails. But we get hundreds of emails a day and even though I get mad at the guys all the time as I do believe we should answer each and every email we get so many emails that simply ask when is this PF coming? Russ or Thomas in many cases have no idea how to answer that as I alone decide what PF to cut and when. My choices are limited to what I have inserts and wood and art for at that certain time.

For Xenon, we were in a position where the new order of inserts was late and I asked Tanner what we could make with the inserts we had. He spent hours out in the shop counting inserts and comparing them to things we already had made and he came up with Xenon as one of the titles we had all the material for, so we went ahead with that one.

We have been counting and sorting inserts now for weeks between CNC cuts and in our spare time so it's going to take a lot of time. Classic Bally and Stern aren't too bad with only really a dozen molds but when you add in the 8 or so colors and the combinations are large. Nevermind adding in starburst , dimples, offset etc bottom and them the many many extra colors of the more modern titles. BTW, there are over 500 color/mold combinations!! It's huge. Worse still is every maker of inserts makes them differently enough that many are not interchangeable.

Pookycade, I really am sorry you didn't get a PF from the first partial run of Xenon but like I said you have another crack at them in a few weeks. We are trying to communicate better and we tried small deposits on two of the recent playfields and that turned out well, at least so far. If we were to continue fully silkscreening then I think we would have to use deposits extensively but I feel that with small batching and using the new website (also a work in progress) that can actually manage stock I think we'll improve to everyone's benefit. If we make a small batch of 5-10 PFs, I can be alerted when we are down to the last 1 or 2 and can attempt to make more in time.

I know its hard to understand but like I said earlier we aren't a big company in any sense of the word. I still have a full time job that at times finances this company as a my hobby. We started out as just two guys in our basements, we are no longer in basements but two of our three locations are still personal garages on our properties! Not having a central facility has always been a shortcoming as there is no real boss but my woodshop produces hundreds of pounds of fine wood dust every week and the big flatbed has to be in an almost a sterile clean room, those things just do not mix!

Pinball for Ever


#112 1 year ago

TomGWI, I take a look at it. Thanks for the heads up.


1 month later
#253 1 year ago

Take a look at Stu's custom Flash vs Arrow to see what the printer is capable of. BTW, we swapped out our clear bottles and now use 8 colors so the printer is even more capable than when we printed the Flash Vs Arrow PF, glass and plastics.



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