(Topic ID: 232957)

Node Boards- Update- Stern tech fixes issue via email

By shacklersrevenge

5 months ago

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  • Latest reply 12 days ago by russdx
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#69 5 months ago

Can someone who is an electronics technician or EE like to explain why a node board is unrepairable? Being that I am an electronics tech/hardware/software engineer, I can tell you, everything electronic is repairable, the only question is, is it economical to do so? If the boards are an in house design, and built on contract for $25, then Stern can charge $219 for them to replace them, and not have to pay a tech to sit and repair them when they go bad, retest them, then ship them out. All those shipping costs to ship it back to china to repair it means they either fix it in house (a tech costs too much) or, throw it away and sell you a new one and pocket a nice chunk-o-change, or send you a new one free, their hit is only $25 plus shipping.

#78 5 months ago

My first technician job after the Navy was repairing manufacturing defect fall out from surface mount pcb’s for radar detectors. Now mind you, the biggest drawback to SMD repair is having a nice stereo microscope to look through when doing the repair and a micro tipped, temp controlled, static grounded soldering iron. Without schematics, you look for burnt items, fried traces, and do a one for one component swap until you find the problem. This was how I have had to service some very old equipment in the past that had no schematics and you guessed at chip functionality, soldered in something that fits, turn it on and wait for smoke. When I say “fits”, I mean it fits the function of what that chip MIGHT do in the circuit, not just has the right number of legs.

Edit, caught up to the rest of the thread...

#93 5 months ago
Quoted from mbwalker:

One thing I do is to take detailed pictures of the boards before anything happens. And the bottom of the playfield and backbox from all kind kinds of angles. Those pics are more so for wires/nuts/bolts, etc. But for the boards I really try to zoom in on parts so I can see part numbers, RefDes numbers, maybe traces.
No doubt about it tho, a schematic sure would make life easier.
[quoted image]

With that much info going on in that photo, I would have no problems repairing it. If a component stymies me, then I look at the components it is wired to and guess. But the biggest help is another working node board, which you can take test points off of and compare to your broke board... this usually will point you in a direction... right or wrong, it points you to a possible fault. What we need is info on what is failing. So the people saying they have fixed one should enlighten us to what was wrong and what they did to fix it. Now there is a good NODE board thread to start, instead of a twisted nipple rant thread about the fact THAT they are failing, we start one on the HOW, WHY, and WHAT on how to repair them.

But the point about vibration isolation is a good point. If you want to limit shock in the node boards, mount them on velco. Back at Grimes Aerospace, we used velcro to mount things and reduce shock and other vibrations using it. It gives a good hold but disipates the shock loads and other mechanical vibrational sources like shakers, sound system, solenoids, dropped cabinets, kicked cabinets, bar fights, spouse fights, furniture and fixtures thrown in anger, etc...

#116 5 months ago
Quoted from shacklersrevenge:

When you pay $5000 real dollars (give or take) for a box of wood with a metal ball inside and the schematics to their pos boards aren’t out 3+ years later, let’s see how much you feel like getting your nipples twisted.

Sorry, wasn’t intentionally trying to twist them further, but I do agree, spending $5k for a box full of cracker jack toys and node boards which are unfit for the duty cycle is asking a bit much for something that is purchased as an entertainment device. The problem here is, $5K is a lot of money for a toy, but a pinball machine was never meant to be a toy. It was meant to be a means to make a living. Now $5K for a box of cracker jack toys and node boards that DO work so it continues to make money, that SHOULD be what we are buying and why nipples should be twisted. $219 bucks to fix node board error on a single switch, failed firmware updates, and the like is what we have to work with here without schematics. Seems figuring out how to repair them cheaply or manufacture robust replacements would be our best use of a thread, since I don’t see anyone changing this paradigm at Stern any time soon.

#122 5 months ago

From my experience, we have three issues here that could be the culprit... bad design, bad parts, or bad assembly. The churning rev levels tell the story... the timing loop for the uC and it’s ability to shut down the board before damage occurs is a failed design in my opinion. More than likely, what happens is major board malfunction occurs which burps the uC, it locks up, and if no watchdog timer shutdown occurs (does it have a watchdog?), the auto shutdown of the board via software is blocked. The failure goes beyond thermal limits, and the magic smoke is released. I am thinking the design continues to evolve based on failure modes seen in the field. Like most things, the service techs will likely figure it out before the EE’s do because they are in the trenches trying to keep the machines on site making money.

#124 5 months ago
Quoted from ForceFlow:

So...they tried to engineer a way to not have fuses?

Yeah, because circuit breakers are too exspensive, and I guess ops got tired of paying for and replacing fuses?!?

Wait.. its those fuses!!! I bet RoHS leadfree fuses are expensive, so they had to get rid of them...

3 weeks later
#402 4 months ago

The obsolescence issue has been addressed legally for car manufacturers. They were forced to carry parts for a car for 5 years after it is discontinued, by law. Not the lifetime of the automobile... This was due to replacing parts due to accidents more than anything. If I needed a new fender for my Chevy, GM was required to carry the replacement for 5 years after the model was issued. Since not everyone owns a pinball machine, not much is going to happen to legally force Stern to provide parts unless it is covered by some consumer electronics umbrella law, but then manufacturers will simply hide behind distributors and say they are not selling to a public consumer base but to small business based operators and distributors of coin op equiptment so they should not be governed by those laws. Lets just hope Spike and node boards are reverse engineered soon, or Stern gives us the promised schematics. Anyone want to start a go fund me to reverse engineer them?

#412 4 months ago
Quoted from branlon8:

a distributed system with a data bus

This is a very smart idea when done right. I don’t think there is ANYTHING wrong with node board architecture, just node board durability and circuit isolation. When a playfield short takes out a node board and every other board it is connected to, that is not a great design. If the bus truly isolates node boards, AND any coupling that might be required between two node boards to syncronize an operation is opto isolated, AND boards are adequately fused and watchdogged, the design carries more pluses than minuses for both repair, and ease and cost of manufacturing.

#416 4 months ago
Quoted from 27dnast:

When can you start working at Stern???

Well, when Stern asks me to, and when they offer me more compensation than my current employer, and if they let me work exclusively from home. None of which I see happening anytime soon.

#430 4 months ago

No matter what, in business, everyone has an angle. This angle may be ligitimate, it may be questionable, it may be down right underhanded, but eveyone in business has an angle. Stern’s angle is sell as many pinball machines at the highest margin that the market will bear. To do this you must stay in business and parts, boards, availability, tech support, and good faith all have a cost of doing business associated with them. Any place you can reduce these costs, be it by making a profit on spare parts, or cost of manufacture by gouging us with LE pricing, or designing your machines to fail in 5 years and keep the proprietary IP to fix them private, These are all decisions a company is faced with and you can guarantee they have lawyers looking at these things and working out all the details. If you believe otherwise, you have never been in business. I have never blamed Stern for what they have to do to stay in business, but I can be unhappy about some of the decisions they are making in those directions, or their lack of movement on statements they have already publicly made.

#462 4 months ago

My FGy SAM boardset is going strong at over 10 years and thousands of plays... matter of fact, I have never blown a fuse, I have factory Stern fuses still in my machine. I have looked at a node board up close and personal. They are way under engineered, they need to beef up trace width at least. These things are fragile and prone to inter-layer trace breaks due to vibrations. They should be mounted away from repetitive shock sources like solenoids, and be vibration and shock isolated. Techs are reporting replacement boards with trace repairs, and jumper wire bypasses on brand new boards. The last time I saw issues like this was when they were putting out some of the densest packed networking cards I used to repair at the factory. These were 6 layer boards that had both SMD and through hole components. The inner layer trace shorts and opens plagued us because they spec-ed the traces too thin and the boards were so expensive, we sent boards out that we had to rewire with jumper wire just to get working. We tested out network cards by plugging them into the backplane, if you twisted the board in the slot and it kept working, you sent it out as long as it passed electronic screening. If it stopped working, you pulled it out and sent it back for rework. This went on until they redesigned the boards. Someone will start a rework service that takes any Stern IP chips off your bad boards and solder them into beefier replacement boards if the bootloader code is and remains proprietary. Thats what has happened historically in the computer industry.

#503 4 months ago

I am pretty sure, unless you want to replace your $$$$ node board, you will NOT WANT TO TRY THIS AT HOME! SO DON’T! But a fool can try if they want... You have been warned this icould be destructive!

If were to take a node board. Grab it like you hold your smartphone to take a landscape picture, and twist the board corners in opposite directions, and reverse. Reinstall in a game. If the node board works after that, I would be surprised.

That is the extreme test, but it doesnt take that kind of physical manipulation to break a trace, or pop a poorly reflowed SMD joint. A simple “wock” “wock” repetitive shock by a nearby coil can do the same thing. I have seen the quality of their SMD reflow work, and it is questionable. I have worked extensively (12 years) in the aerospace and electronics industry. Take that for what ever you think it is worth. Aircraft windsheild wiper units created repetitive shocks similar to pinball solenoid coils. We had issues with their controller boards (SMD) due to similar reasons. We had to improve our reflow process, double screen our solder paste pass, and changed the board traces to a bigger pitch. I may not know what I am talking about though...

#517 4 months ago

Biggest reason they are not releasing them, I think, is because of IP theft by China. How many node boards will we be buying from Stern if a company in China offers exact reengineered replacements for $30 shipping included. And if it goes bad in 30 days, just email them and they send a replacement for free. This kind of thing is happening in other electronics based hobbies, so Stern is probably smart not putting the schematics out right now... they wait till the demand trickles off, which means the crappy node boards are all weeded out by attrition, then release the schematics.

Don’t like it, but it may actually be whats at play here, not the planned obsolescence argument.

#522 4 months ago
Quoted from TreyBo69:

They probably make the boards in China. It's surprising their plans haven't been leaked or stolen yet. Probably no one over there realizing the profits to be had (yet).

Yep, thats how it happens, You give your schematics to one company in China to build it for you, and you sort of give it to the rest of them by proxy.

#523 4 months ago
Quoted from Zablon:

I figured it had more to do with not letting their (new) competitors easily have their proprietary designs being the most likely scenario. Not that it would stop them for long.

Only if they were not in the USA or not covered by international patents and trademarks... any company would be a fool to try that without fear of retribution. If their design is proprietary but not pattented or trademarked, then yes, but these things are in the wild and not that complex to reverse engineer. But handing out the designs on a silver platter to China is something else entirely.

#529 4 months ago
Quoted from vid1900:

China does not need schematics, in a single day they can clone any board and send you the schematics and BOM.

Has anyone tried that and at what cost?

#534 4 months ago
Quoted from vid1900:

We have done it with servo controller boards ~$200

If I can get a schematic and BOM for that, I could be in for one node board reversed engineered. Wonder what the legal ramifications are to releasing it to the wild if you were to do that? I am not sure how Stern would feel if someone started posting a generic schematic and BOM for thier boards... probably get a CAD letter from their lawyers right off the bat...

#537 4 months ago
Quoted from TheLaw:

Well if you could keep your mouth shut for a second they'd never know

Shutting up. lol Honestly made me shoot my drink out my nose.... lol

#550 4 months ago
Quoted from Jvspin:

Failed node boards may be a big deal to us but do you think there is enough volume to even be the shadow of a blip on China's radar?

It depends on what company has what resources sitting idle. If someone can do a one time buy of a couple hundred boards, it might be worth it. Worth some pocket change and beer money if nothing else, and if your board is better than OEM, who knows what could happen.

#583 4 months ago

We could call them what everyone wants to call them... PBA’s Potential Boat Anchors

#587 4 months ago

Sacrificial Addressable Driver boards...or just SAD boards for short (no pun intended on “short”)

#644 4 months ago

I guess I need to buy a NIB Stern so I have some anxiety in the game, but so far my SAM boards in my FGy are going gangbusters. When I buy my next Stern NIB, notice I said “when” and not “if”, I will buy one each of the different SAD boards installed in it, test them, ensure they work 100%. Remove them, put them in a anti static bag and put them in the coin box. When one ever fails, pull it, replace it, repair the bad board. Rinse, repeat. Am I scared I can never repair a Stern? Not much at all, really, since I know how to repair high density SMD boards (as in I have done it as a job) but I am not your average HUO owner either. I can see how people who don’t know “Bad Boys Raced Our Young Girls Behind Victory Garden Walls, Get Started Now” could be intimidated by the thought of repairing their own machines.

#652 4 months ago
Quoted from BC_Gambit:

Go $tern on that one;

I would buy them one at a time about a month apart to keep my monthly pinball expenditures in check and yeah, Go Stern, if my extra purchase helps keep them in business that much longer... yea! I thought buying NIB pinball machines was a good way of keeping new titles coming, no matter who makes them, or how much they gouge me for the parts or the original machine. We can complain all day, and if I was an op, I might complain to somebody besides all of us riff raff on Pinside, but I bought a Stern Pin when they were the only shop in town because I wanted a new pinball machine, I wanted to help Stern stay in business and hopefully sell me another machine in the future. The halcyon days of Bally Williams are over, and people just can’t seem to let go of that. As a personal HUO purchaser of pins, Stern’s reliability is of a minimum concern since HUO machines don't normally get hammered like machines in the wild. I heard Roger Sharpe say something one time that Bally/Williams biggest competitor was older Bally/Williams machines. This may be coming true with Stern and Spike now as well.

1 week later
#714 4 months ago

If Stern did this, it is a rooky mistake, so, I don't think anyone would update a framework destined for all their existing machines and not test it in all their machines, that kind of “money savings” to cut testing time and costs is like aiming directly at your big toe and pulling the trigger...

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