Precision Pinball Products CNC Flipper System - A Review
For all the advancements in our hobby the last few years – node-based systems, internet connectivity, and lavish LCD screens and assets – the core feature which connects us to the silverball has remained essentially unchanged in decades. Flipper systems are essentially the same as those engineered in the 80s. These systems have proven robust, but still represent a compromise from manufacturers that are inclined to minimize cost as a key element of production. Good enough, right? Afterall, is there anything in flipper systems you might improve upon? Might there be a different balance of cost/performance/adjustability that could appeal to pinball enthusiasts? The lack of innovation in our hobby for improving flippers is a bit surprising. Into this void, a new option has finally appeared. Founded by a seasoned Aerospace engineer and pinhead - John Simone - Precision Pinball Products provides a system of CNC machined parts to replace the plastic molded flippers and bushings that have been standard on our machines for decades.
What improvements does PPPs new flipper system provide? There are several. Most importantly, this system is considerably more precise. As the name suggests, the PPP system provides parts with much tighter tolerances than traditional systems. This pays off in repeatability. I purchased a complete PPP system for my Godzilla Premium – a set of 3 flipper bats, shafts, and matching machined aluminum bushings. The headline from this effort is the noticeable improvement in repeatability. On installation, its immediately apparent how much tighter the tolerances are with the PPP system. Try this: grab a stock flipper at the base and see how much wiggle you can achieve. It’s immediately noticeable. Try this again with the PPP flippers and bushings. There’s no noticeable movement, none.
I had no idea how much shot-to-shot variation was present in stock flipper systems. I was shocked at how much my timing improved with the PPP flippers and bushings. I’m far from a great pinball player. I’m not going to win a pinball tourney anytime soon. I have to spend many hours on a table to tune my timing and dial in my shots. After I installed the PPP system, nearly immediately I was repeating shots in multiples I had never achieved on the stock system.
I hadn’t thought about it, but you get a bit of in-the-moment-timing when trying to loop shots. The loose tolerances in stock flippers works against this. The millisecond level of timing needed to repeat tight shots isn’t helped by sloppy flippers. Sure, the great players are good enough that this isn’t a huge issue. Not me. I have a bit of variance in timing myself. Apparently, the PPP system removes enough variation in the timing due to physical hardware, that the timing variance was now dominated by my own abilities.
And wow, what a difference! I could loop the ramps on Godzilla almost endlessly now. The flipper feel is different, too. More “direct” if that makes any sense? And better. I found it very satisfying. The PPP system flipper bats are slightly heavier (by about 40%) and considerably stiffer than the plastic units and this meant less deflection of the system when catching balls, killing ball speed, traps, and other flipper skills. It also meant more available inertia for things like speed kills. In sum, this flipper system was a pretty significant improvement in feel, precision, and operability compared to the stock Stern setup. On precision and feel alone, this upgrade was completely worth the investment.
There’s other advantages to this system as well. PPP offers interchangeable parts which provides customizations advantages (with slightly longer and shorter bats available). I chose the standard lengths, but I can see circumstances where custom lengths might be appealing (such as setting up games for kids, etc.) Another advantage is the ability to precisely adjust flipper position from above the table. The PPP design is quite clever. The flipper shaft has a conical section which is surface-treated to ensure stable and precise contact with the matching pocket in the flipper bat. A single hexhead screw secures the shaft and flipper bat together. PPP provides a tool to separate these components when needed. This really is an improvement over the pinch-bolt designs used for decades. The nature of a pinch bolt means a slight movement of the shaft in relation to the plunger rod on tightening. With the PPP system, you install the shaft one final time, and you’re done. All final adjustments can be done above the table, in very precise increments if desired. And of course, the aesthetics of this system are quite different. I found the CNC machined parts very attractive.
Now, an upgrade to such an essential system as flippers raises some other concerns. Namely, installation, longevity, and long-term maintenance. Installation was straightforward. PPP provides a wonderful set of printed full-color instructions. I appreciate printed instructions, frankly. I can make notes, and keep them right at the machine without having to consult my phone or laptop. Easy to read with generous photographs, installation was simple. I’d repeat something PPP emphasizes in the instructions: tightening the pinch bolt is a bit delicate. This needs to be tight, and on Stern mechs, the EOS pawl will move as you tighten the bolt. If the EOS pawl rotates too-much, it will touch the bushing bolts and interfere with the full-range of plunger movement. You want to hold the EOS/spring pawl as illustrated in the instructions, don’t overlook that step!
A couple of observations about the install: I used a very light coat of grease on the flipper shafts as recommended. This is now a precision metal-on-metal system, and as such, a lubricant will help longevity. Don’t overdo it here. Generally, grease + pinball is a big no-no, at least outside of certain sealed gear-trains. A light amount on the shaft is all that’s needed due to the very close tolerances which serves to keep the lubricant contained. This system was so efficient on install, that I got a slight increase in flipper-release rebound. This was easily mitigated by using a stronger flipper return spring. I play tested my Godzilla for a few hours to see if flipper fade would be an issue with this system (heavier flipper bats + stronger return springs). I never saw fade, once. I very slightly increased the flipper coil settings (from 230 to 240) to compensate for the springs/increased mass. The coils remained only slightly warm to the touch after a few hours of intense play. It’s way-too-soon to speak to long-term reliability, but I can’t think of any reason this system would be any less reliable than stock bats and bushings. It’s possible that improving the mechanics of the system would result in less wear and tear as the shafts and bushings are no longer interacting in ways that might impart wear.
In sum, this system is a great new offering for the pinball community. With the meteoric rise of pinball as a home-based hobby, we’ve seen 5-figure prices and thousands of dollars spent on mods by many. Given the improvements that the PPP system offers, the price of the precision flippers is shockingly low given the materials and manufacturing methods used . For about the price of a 3D printed mod for your machine, you can upgrade your flippers to an ultraprecise setup. This is truly a new and welcome innovation in our hobby. I’ve since ordered kits for the rest of the games in my collection. Highly recommended.
ethics disclosure: I'm an independent hobbiest with no affliation with Precision Pinball Products. This review is entirely my own with no consideration or compensation from anyone. I bought this kit at full retail price from the PPP Pinside shop.