Star Trek: The Next Generation, Williams Pinball Machine (1993)

Location: Lone Tree, Colorado.
Symptoms: Kept losing track of balls.

I have worked on more ST:TNG pinball machines than any other model.  Which is kind of cool since it is one of my favorite games to play.

This machine needed cleaning and tuning up.  It also suffered from broken wires on one of the cannons, which is a problem I’ve seen with every ST:TNG I’ve worked on.  The rotation of the cannons causes the wires to flex.  Eventually after a thousand flexes, a wire will break. Somebody should supply replacement wiring harnesses — connectors on one end and bare wires on the other — to make replacement easier.

Usually what I do is identify which wire is broken and run a replacement beside the original harness.  So far, there has always been more than one wire broken.

The biggest problem with diagnosing these broken wires is that when the cannon is sitting in its normal home position, everything is fine.  Usually the wires open when the cannon rotates out to the playfield.  And the problem with the diagnostics is that you can’t test the solenoid, light and opto-sensor while the cannon is moving.

This machine had an interesting symptom where during game play, the ball would load in the the cannon, then it would swing out, but it wouldn’t shoot until it was back in the home position. This would fire the ball back down below the playfield on top of an existing ball.  There is a limit switch that is supposed to keep you from shooting the ball anywhere other than the open playfield. Apparently this limit switch is ignored if the solenoid wires break open when the cannon rotates out.

After I repaired the broken wire to the solenoid, I noticed the cannon was shooting during start-up. This symptom I had learned about on a previous repair.  One of the wires to the opto-sensor was broken.  The machine thinks there is a ball there and tries to get rid of it.

After fixing the cannon, the machine would still lose track of the balls under the playfield.  I discovered the ball diverters under the playfield were sticking.  I cleaned those, as well as the opto-sensors and it seems to have solved all of the problems.

Although the game is working fine, the right outlane switch is bad and will be replaced on a subsequent visit.

Star Trek: The Next Generation (Williams pinball machine, 1993)

Location: Littleton, Colorado.
Symptom: Left cannon/gun shooter wouldn’t find its home position.

This one had me stumped for a while.  If I executed the diagnostic test for the gun shooter, it found the home position normally, without fail.  Yet when powering up/booting the game, it just cycled back and forth.   I checked and adjusted everything associated with the home microswitch.  I finally concluded there had to be a bug in the firmware.

It turns out I was partially correct.  There is an optical sensor located at the front of the gun to sense when the ball is in position and ready to be fired.  If this sensor fails, the revision LX-3 firmware ignores the home switch, will not home the gun, and it gives an incorrect error message. This post helped steer me in the right direction.

I burned (programmed) a new game ROM with more recent LX-7 code.  In the revision history, there is mention of “Enhanced the broken gun launcher opto compensation.” I don’t know if it fixes the problem of the incorrect error message or not, because I went ahead and fixed the opto sensor problem.

To troubleshoot the opto sensor problem, I first checked the voltage across the IR transmitter located on the left side of the cannon. It was about 1.3 volts, and this normal. Next I checked the voltage across the phototransistor located on the right side of the cannon.  It was reading zero volts, with or without blocking the light beam.  A properly working sensors would have approximately 12 volts across it with the light beam blocked, and between 0 and 1 volt with the beam unblocked.

Next, I checked the continuity through the wires down to the first connector under the playfield.  It turned about both wires were bad.  I noticed that the shooter solenoid wires to the gun had previously been replaced as well. It is a common problem that flexing wires thousands of times will break them.  I suspect they are broken where they go through the playfield.

I ran two new wires from the phototransistor down to the connector and left the old wires in place. That fixed all of the problems.

ST:TNG is one of my favorite pinball machines in terms of theme execution.  The audio clips are great and integrate well into game play.