I thought I'd write some info about the manufacturing process of AWP machines. Obviously, this differed by manufacturer but you might find it interesting to know how machines were made, how some companies different in production methods and some of the cock ups that were made.
Carcass cabinets used to be made in-house at most companies until the late 1990s/early 2000s. Barcrest, Maygay and Bell Fruit all had "cab shops" where CNC routers would cut cabinet parts from sheets of MDF or chipboard, which were then bolted together to make the bare carcass. Later, companies such as Cabinet Developments ("cabdev") or Postern Cabinet Co started to take over as running a cab shop was a cost that could be done without.
Cabinets and all the tooling that goes into making them is VERY expensive (in the hundreds of thousands), and so changes to cabinets designs were not frequent. Modifications to payout systems to combat fraud were fairly common, and some necessitate a change in cabinet design to amend coin routing, to stop rodding etc.
A fun fact is that BFM used to use their CNC routers overnight to make kitchen cabinets for MFI back in the 90s. Might as well earn some money from your machinery when it's not needed.
Wiring & Vac Forms
All the big companies made the majority of wiring harnesses in-house until the late 90s. Barcrest and Bell Fruit used to hand-wire lampboards (the plastic vacuum formed panels behind the glass) using a machine that would illuminate a sequence of lamps, and the operators would follow with a wire and insertion tool, and then crimp the wire, put it in the plug and do the next lamp row/column.
For complex games with lots of multicoloured lamps this was a pain, and a laborious process, so it eventually got outsourced too.
It wasn't uncommon to have mistakes where pins on a plug were misplaced, and so the wrong lamps lit, and you would have to go through and figure out which ones were wrong and change them over.
With the exception of Barcrest (until MPU5 days) all companies outsourced MPU manufacture. I think Maygay might have done some in house but PCB pick & place machines are very expensive. Far easier to get someone else to do it.
A fun fact is that Heber, based near Stroud (Glos) who made MPUs used in many of the smaller & foreign manufacturer's machines, also designed custom hardware for some of the bigger manufacturers. They did a video board for Barcrest. They also make shower and washing machine controllers. Good bunch of guys, always like seeing them.
Reels & Buttons
Reels and buttons were almost exclusively supplied by Gamesman and Starpoint. They would arrive in large boxes, and someone would have the fun job of fitting reel strips and inserting button decals.
Barcrest (I think) used to make their own reel assemblies in the MPU4 days, before moving to off the shelf reels.
I started when screen printing was dying off. The artists would send a file (over an ISDN line, or often a CD sent via post!) to the print company who would produce a test batch of 5 glasses, normally. It wasn't uncommon to see them being "off register" - that is, with one of the 4 colours (CMYK) being slightly off and the art looking smudged as a result.
One of the funniest things I saw was the Hi Lo reel aperture being filled with a solid red - should be clear/transparent - which resulted in all glasses being scrapped. Bang goes a few hundred quid.
BFM used to print their own glasses in-house, but they stopped in the mid 90s as digital printing took off. No more 4 colour seps, just a large format inkjet printer, which printed to a film which was then stuck to the glass. A black backing was added to stop light bleeding out.
Glasses arrives on pallets and were built up into the finished doors, complete with gas struts and lampboard, ready to be hung on the cabinet.
Barcrest and Maygay had their "flow line" - akin to a car factory, where a carcass cabinet was put on the line at one end, and operatives would fit parts as it rolled down the line, leaving a finished machine at the end. This was efficient, they could manage 2k/3k machines a month with ease.
Bell Fruit used to make everything on "stills" - literally a box on which the machine sat, and then one person would build up an entire machine. Not as efficient but often better quality.
During busy periods it was not uncommon to have the factory working 24/7 on three shifts, and sods law you would have a hit machine in the UK at the same time as you had a hit machine in say Holland or Germany, resulting in a high demand for machines. UK normally got priority.
Conversely lean periods meant people sat around doing nothing, so a lot of factory staff were temps, which meant that quality could be hit and miss until they were trained up properly.
At Mazooma, we took delivery of machines to our offices in Newark, where we would inspect each machine and correct faults. I will never forget my first big seller, Sinbad 2000 for Germany, where we had an initial small production run of 300 machines, arranged in two long rows the length of the warehouse, all with their front door open - like a guard of honour. As an 18/19 year old that was pretty cool to see.
We would install the software, and then power up each machine in turn (or 8 at a time if you were good!) and just check it fired up. Reel faults and cable snags were common. We checked they spun to the correct position and we would set the real-time clock. You would then run a few coins through it, ensuring the hopper and coin mech worked, and checked the mechanical meters were OK, before doing a RAM reset, switching it off and bagging it up for trucking to site.
Machines were loaded on a wagon and off to wherever.
Though I was a developer I always liked getting my hands dirty in whatever needed doing - every day was a school day and it set you apart from those who wouldn't get their hands dirty.
I think I've covered everything but as always, feel free to ask any questions!