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Down The Rabbit Hole, And Back Again?
Posted on 03/09/2016

Lots of new projects underway!  I already had a handful of new projects I was working on toward the end of last year, but while working on wrapping up a 2nd PCB order that I expected to get sent off early February.. some new ideas came about for some even more interesting projects.  I've been thinking of it as "falling down the rabbit hole" in Alice In Wonderland -- and sometimes falling into something new and unknown isn't a bad thing at all.  It can be exciting, actually.

One of the new ideas is what I'm calling Retrofit LED Displays for Classic Bally/Stern machines to convert an old out-gassed 6-digit or 7-digit display into an LED display.  I wanted to do something with full replacement LED displays for Bally/Stern at some point, as far back as 2011, but due to much higher PCB costs back then I wrote off the project.  There was no way I'd be able to get it right the first time and prototyping would have cost a small fortune.  So I shrunk the design down & created the Bally/Stern Bench LED Display from those efforts.  Still.. over the years, I kept coming back to a full-blown replacement LED display design.  I'd done multiple designs in CAD, but just never pulled the trigger on ordering boards.. there always seemed to be something that could be tweaked & I still wasn't sure just how much I had to worry about being "low power" because I'd never done any actual load testing before and after adding led displays -- and no one else had put that information out there either.

So LED displays for those machines have continued to be an item on my list of possible projects & I keep coming back to the designs because I really want to create my own set, even if just for my own use.  In addition, there was also a separate project for finding an easier way to convert an old out-gassed display board to LED by utilizing the component board.

Fast forward to 2016 and I decided it was time to start working on the LED displays.  In preparation, I did some load-testing to figure out once-and-for-all just what kind of typical load one of these machines had on its 5v regulator.  Then I could see what additional load was being added by led displays and see just how much of a concern it is to design with lowest possible power consumption.  This was a project of its own, setting up various tests with both a switching regulator and linear regulator and attempting to get some decent data, but it helped me to get of things & feel more comfortable about creating led displays since I'd have some way to gauge the additional load they were putting on a machine.

So I already had a CAD design for led displays I had worked on even toward the end of 2015.. nearly ready to go for a prototype, when I look over my project list & see "figure out a nicer way to convert an old Bally/Stern component board to LED" that has been there *for years*.  I have seen a handful of people question if it was possible, then look into it and write it off because no one had come up with an easy way to do the conversion.  So.. I figured, lets revisit it again and maybe once-and-for-all figure out if there's a way to do the conversion.  And better yet, check the additional load a design like that might put on the 5v regulator (now that I had some way to test that).

So.. down the rabbit hole, but with an exciting new project to possibly have a less expensive way to put LED displays in a machine by figuring out a way to streamline conversion of old out-gassed display boards into something new.  And it's been a LONG couple of weeks designing, testing, tweaking.. both the electronics & then the pcb layout itself, but if what I've come up with works out -- an exciting new kit should come out of it!  For me, this particular project is more exciting than many of the other things I've developed because it's something I can put in a machine that completely changes the look of it.  I've been wanting to put Blue LED Displays in my Stern Black Beauty Shuffle Alley for a few years now, and just to be able to get that out of this project would be rewarding.

Lots Of Stuff Back In Stock!
Posted on 01/30/2016

PCB order from a few weeks ago came in, so a lot of things are now back-in-stock and there's even a few new items popping up! The Stern MPU-200 NVRAM Adapter boards are once again available as bare boards or kits -- and there's some new sale pricing there too & quantity discounts as well. So definitely check them out if you have any Stern MPU-200 based games. The WPC Dedicated Switch Tester is once again available as a kit. I've added some bare/board kit pricing on the eprom adapters. There's also some quantity discounts on pinball wire harnesses. There's a new 3rd-party logic chip tester (mostly 74XX series) too. Some other sales and products not mentioned, so definitely take a look around!

Another Molex Order Needed
Posted on 01/23/2016

Geez, I'm beginning to think I should just buy stock in Molex. I'm on the verge of having to make another order for Molex parts, after I already made one toward the end of December for near $500 in various connectors, pins, board-to-board connectors. I've said it before, but it's amazing how quickly a little amount of parts add up. I'm really hoping that sales pick up a bit once I get a few new products out there so I can start getting some of these parts orders paid for. Anyway, I'm looking at another $300 order in parts because I need board-to-board connectors for the BallyStern Solenoid Output Tester and a few other designs. I could cut it down to about $200 probably, but enough of this stuff goes OOS everywhere for a while -- like they only produce it certain times of the year or when there's enough distributors back-ordering that they can justify a run of 100,000 units of a part. So although I'll probably sit on 100x or 200x of various connectors for a bit I don't want to chance having a Molex part hold up selling something. So I'm trying to split the difference and order "enough" so I'm not running out in a few months, but still keep it somewhat "sane" to not have it take years to pay off. I already have a few big boxes with Molex parts -- much of which I could probably have for 5-10 years because of the niche products I'm using them in. I actually hate thinking about how many thousands of dollars are probably wrapped up in those parts. Ideally I can sell enough of each product to offset material and design costs, and then it doesn't matter so much.. but that doesn't always happen very quick =P Well, here's hoping on this next round of parts!

First 2016 PCB Order In!
Posted on 01/19/2016

Been working some over the last week or so to get the first PCB order together. It should have gone relatively fast as some of the boards are just re-orders, but I had a few tweaks to just about everything & then wanted to get one of the newer designs mentioned on the Pinitech Lab thrown into the mix. So although it's not incredibly popular (per the waitlist), the Bally/Stern Solenoid Output Tester made the order. I've also ordered more MPU-200 Adapters and WPC Dedicated Switch Tester Boards since I ran out of bare boards for kits, so they have been unavailable except as assembled boards (which I'm low on anyway). Included some more of the Bally/Stern bench display boards as well. So look for some of those things to go back-in-stock as kits/bare boards sometime early February!

Yikes. New USPS Shipping Rates Take Effect
Posted on 01/19/2016

The new USPS rates have taken effect as of Sunday, 1/17/2016. Rates have gone up across the board and I've updated shipping rates for the shopping cart accordingly. I probably have some things to tweak for weights of some things going forward, but the bottom line is once again USPS rates are up -- near 20% in many cases. Unfortunately it looks like international rates went up even more than domestic rates -- they have been doing that over the last few years and there gets to be some pretty ridiculous shipping rates even for lighter items. I'll be taking a closer look at this soon to see what I can do to minimize the impact of these types of things -- maybe offer some shipping discounts on very large orders and just eat some of the shipping costs. What a pain!

New PCB Order Soon & A Few Other Updates
Posted on 01/09/2016

I've decided I'm going to split up a PCB order I had planned on making in January into two separate orders. The first order will be [mostly] items that I'm running low on. Ordering enough quantity of some of those boards about justifies a separate order in itself. I'll be trying to *squeeze in* the Bally/Stern Solenoid Output Tester in there as well (one of the newer designs on the Pinitech Lab page). And maybe another smaller board I haven't discussed yet. So at this point I'm shooting to get that in by the end of next week. Then I'll take some time wrapping up some designs for the 2nd PCB order that will likely occur closer to the end of January or sometime in February, which should hopefully include a few additional new designs I had been working on over in the Pinitech Lab.

The Universal Tester project -- that one is going to be a play-it-by-ear type of thing. I'll be trying to squeeze in some time to work on it in January/February but I also have quite a lot of project machines to work on that **need to go** to gain space back. So my plan there is to use a bunch of the equipment I've built over these last few years to start making headway through project machines over the winter months. Intertwined in that will be continued work on some new projects and most likely inspiration for some more one-off testers that can help making diagnosing of machines easier. It sounds good on paper at least, so that's going to be my direction for early 2016.

Time To Get Serious
Posted on 01/06/2016

It's time to get serious. Okay maybe not **too** serious, we're trying to have some fun here at PINITECH too and keep the overall mood light! Our case studies have shown that our workers are at their best when they're having fun ;-)

Anyway..

December was a bit of a whirlwind. Seems those happen pretty often. I've been working on my house A LOT still over the last year -- putting on a new deck. Luckily warm temperatures held out through early December.

As far as business goes, I've been fighting most of 2015 with inventory. It's non-existent for the most part. I have parts to build most things, but the "getting ahead" I did in early 2015 with building up inventory -- 5x or so of the lower volume sellers or a dozen or more of the couple of things that break out of single digit sales through the year -- all of that is pretty much gone. So instead of having an easy-go while working on house projects, I had to fit assembling/building things on-demand in there. Most things still shipped within a normal 2-3 day time frame. I'm pretty good with prioritizing what needs to be prioritized & I also put up notices on product detail pages for anything I expected a longer-than-usual delay in getting out. But the moral of the story is, the majority of what was shipped from about May/June 2015 thru January 2016 was built on-demand. Ran some holiday specials in December and had a good handful of orders go out up until I took the shopping cart down. Really didn't get a chance to get back into any of the new projects I had been working on since I was still building a lot of things on-demand.

So.. about being serious :) Yeah it's about time I get back into finishing up some of the new designs I had been working on. I had a few orders to wrap up from the beginning of the New Year & today I'll be shipping the last order that sold. Then my plate is clear [until the next order comes in anyway].

So it's time to organize workbenches, clean up workspaces and balance time between getting inventory levels built up so I'm not building everything on-demand (you waste so much time to doing that) and can get back into design. The first few weeks in January I'll be using to build up inventory and clean up some. Then I'll be getting more heavy into design and wrapping up a few of the projects that are close to being finished. There's also a few boards I'm very low on - MPU-200 Adapter Boards, WPC Dedicated Switch Testers and Bally/Stern Bench LED Displays. I don't make massive board orders for this stuff, usually just a few dozen boards at a time for designs. But I'm going to evaluate sales and see if I might as well just order 50x of certain designs so I'm not having to order them again in 6-12 months. This stuff sells relatively slow but you can still sometimes be caught off-guard as you deplete inventory.

I'm also changing the website a bit more and creating categories for the "BLOG" so I can separate what I want to appear on the main page versus just as part of the blog. Then I can update more frequently and not have the posts that don't need to go to the main page (ie. project updates, random thoughts, etc) going there. There's always something to improve with the website.

That's it for now. I might come back and update this post a bit more over the next few days, but at this point -- it's time to get this last order shipped off & start organizing / getting ready to go into "design mode" for a bit. I figure building inventory out is going to help immensely instead of having to break away from what I'm doing to build something on-demand. The catch is, I can't sacrifice 2-3 weeks doing only that and not get a PCB order in. So there's just going to be some splitting of time between some of the major priorities so a little of everything can happen.

GIVEAWAY CONTEST (Customer Appreciation)
Posted on 12/12/2015

Want to win some free PINITECH gear? Now through January 8th you can enter into the PINITECH GIVEAWAY CONTEST over at https://pinside.com/pinball/forum/topic/pinitechcom-december-sales-on-diagnostic-tools It's easy to enter, just post to that thread with a picture of the diagnostic equipment you previously bought *OR* just say what you bought and how it's helped you with diagnosing/troubleshooting pinball machines. Contest is open from now through January 8th. One entry per customer.

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