They’re not sexy and they’re not glamorous. And if you’ve got a pin with a ramp that’s knackered then that can be a bit of a problem.
That’s because – with a few exceptions – replacements are not that easy to get hold of. The good news is that there’s a new kid on the ramp-making block in the form of Idaho-based Twisted Pins, a company better known for cabinet stencils and attempting to make repro White Water moving waterfall toppers (and there’s some good news on that front).
It’s good timing for Twisted Pins, as Pinball Inc., a company that bought the original moulds for many Bally Williams ramps and used them to make repro ones, is getting out of the business.
Twisted Pins is owned by Travis Brawley, a big pinball fan with a collection of over forty machines. He’s also a damned nice chap. He tried to get in to the ramp-making racket a while back, and found that it’s not as easy as you might think. “We discovered that there is a giant learning curve to ramp making so we took a break from it. But now I have things figured out.”
So what does making repro ramps entail? The first thing you need is a mould, and the obvious thing for Brawley to do would be to buy Pinball Inc.’s ones, you’d imagine. Brawley says Pinball Inc. did offer to sell its moulds to Twisted Pins back at Expo last year, but the price mentioned was on the high side.
That means Brawley had to go back to Planetary Pinball Supplies and make a deal for the original Williams blueprints for the ramps, from which it is possible to make 3D drawings of them. These are then fed in to a computer aided manufacturing machine, which cuts an aluminium block into a perfectly formed mould.
In fact the blocks are quite large, so each one is cut to create a “family mould” which includes all the ramps for a particular title. It’s a lengthy process too: it can take 70 hours or more to make a mould, and each one costs between $2500 and $4000 depending on the length and width.
Twisted Pins also plans to make Data East ramps for titles like WWF and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and these are trickier as the blueprints aren’t readily available. To make moulds for these titles Brawley has to get hold of an undamaged ramp and then pay an expert to draw up blueprints from them. “We will then make at least one mould out of wood and make a single ramp out of it just to test it in a machine to check that it works,” he says.
The next step is to use these moulds in a vacuum-forming machine to turn a flat sheet of polyester terephthalate glycol (PETg, or plastic to you and me) into a set of ramps. That takes three or four minutes per sheet. The sheets are 4′ x 6′ and cost $68 each, but you can get about five or six sets of ramps from each sheet, so there’s about $12 of plastic in each set.
Getting hold of a suitable moulding machine is almost impossible, but Brawley was lucky enough to pick up a special customized one from a manufacturer which had been making prototype car parts for GM and Ford. “What’s special about it is it has a very deep draw so it can go up and down a lot. Most machines can’t do that, but you need that if you want to make ramps that go up and down like the Insanity Falls ramp on White Water.”
The really difficult part of the whole process is actually cutting each individual ramp out of the formed sheets of PETg. For this Twisted Pins has partnered with a company that has a 5-axis computer numerical control (CNC) machine (that’s a fancy machine that cuts stuff really, really accurately to you and me) to do the job.
Then it’s on with the flaps, switch brackets and other ramp furniture (a process done by hand), and the ramps are ready to ship, along with any decals. Simples.
Brawley plans on runs of about 100 sets at a time, and these will be distrusted worldwide.
So what ramps is Twisted Pins going to make? The first will be for Taxi: production will be ramped up (yes, I couldn’t resist) in a week or two. After that Brawley is keeping tight lipped.
But he says he’s keeping an ear to the ground to figure out what the punters are demanding, so if you need a ramp for a particular title, it’s probably worth making a song and dance about it on Pinside and you may get lucky…
Main photo by StéfanFollow pavlovpinball