Factory Tour

A visit to a place where things are made.
The Pinball Expo '88 tour arrives at Williams Electronics, Inc. A technician solders parts on a Williams Taxi playfield. Williams Taxi pinball machines undergo test and burn-in before shipment.

A highlight of Pinball Expo '88 was the tour of the Williams Electronics pinball machine factory. We watched metal parts fabrication, playfield construction, component wiring, cabinet assembly, final testing, and crating for shipment. The two dozen photos that accompany this story show how raw materials were transformed into Williams Taxi pinball machines.

Crating Taxi games for shipment at Williams Pinball Factory Playing Williams Taxi at Pinball Expo '88

In the shipping section, we watched the final step in the birth of a Taxi pinball machine. Packers folded the backboxes down onto the lower cabinet and tipped each game into a waiting cardboard carton. Legs, coin boxes, manuals, and other loose items were packed in the cartons before they were sealed.

We rode back to back to Rosemont in charter buses for afternoon sessions and dinner. When the exhibition hall opened at 7 PM, we found a half dozen Taxi pinball machines ready for us to play.

Testing Taxi games at the Williams Pinball Factory Troubleshooting Taxi games at the Williams Pinball Factory

In the testing section, we saw dozens of completed, legless Taxi pinball machines powered on and ready to play. Testing technicians ran through self test sequences and briefly played each machine. The games were left on to stress any faulty electronic components into early failure.

Defective games were repaired in place or pulled aside to the troubleshooting area. Here technicians had more sophisticated testing tools to diagnose and correct problems. As we saw in the playfield wiring section, some playfields were returned for rework.

Crates of Taxi backboxes at the Williams pinball factory Installing Taxi cabinet parts at the Williams pinball factory Applying Taxi labels to game toppers at the Williams pinball factory Completed Taxi game toppers at the Williams pinball factory

Williams purchased plywood game cabinets constructed and painted by Churchhill Cabinets. We saw custom, reusable wooden crates filled with scores of backboxes ready for final assembly.

In the cabinet assembly section, we watched installers add rails, doors, ball shooters, and other cabinet parts to empty cabinets.

Soldering wire harnesses onto Taxi playfields at the Williams Pinball Factory Soldering wire harnesses onto Taxi playfields at the Williams Pinball Factory Rejected Taxi playfields await repair at the Williams Pinball Factory

We followed Taxi playfields as they advanced on conveyor belts and rollers along the playfield wiring assembly line. Technicians stood on both sides, ready to position stripped wire ends on lamp, switch, relay, or solenoid terminals, and solder the wires into place. Adjustable overhead vents sucked the dangerous solder fumes away from the area.

Installing T-nuts on a Taxi playfield at the Williams Pinball Factory Taxi playfield assembly at the Williams Pinball Factory

At the Williams factory playfield assembly line, we saw how the myriad metal and plastic parts came together for a specific game: Taxi.

Starting on the back side, assemblers positioned and installed T-nuts. The assemblers used pneumatic tools hanging from ceiling trusses to quickly hammer the T-nuts' locking prongs into the playfield wood surrounding predrilled holes. The T-nuts provided secure, threaded mounting points for large playfield parts added later.

Wire cut to length and stripped at the Williams Pinball Factory Preparing cables harnesses at the Williams Pinball Factory

In the cable harness section, we watched technicians prepare wire for cable harnesses. Wire of many guages and colors arrived at the Williams factory on large spools. Technicians fed the spooled wire into machines that cut the wire to length and stripped the ends. These prepared wires were bundled and binned.

Assembling legs at Williams Pinball Factory Jigs for parts at Williams Pinball Factory Parts production tracking board for Taxi at Williams Pinball Factory

We watched operators combine parts from the metalworking section into assemblies ready to install on games. At one station an operator combined metal legs with adjustable feet to make leg assemblies. A power drill clamped to his workbench quickly spun the feet's bolts onto the legs.

The factory wall revealed some tricks of the trade. Two dozen jigs hung on a plywood sheet, ready to help operators postion components for assembly. Further along, a whiteboard displayed each day's production goals for various components used in Taxi, game 553.

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