If amusement machines are the heart of operating, and cash the lifeblood, then an operator's tools are the medical equipment that helps to keep the patient fit, healthy and earning more money. This column will look at five basic toolsets for the route, office, shop, vehicle and home.
Years ago a route technician was forced to drive around with an entire vanload of tools and spares. Many of today's techs don't even carry toolboxes. Instead, they wear a fanny pack or shoulder case with small, versatile tools.
Why the difference? One reason is that today we have such good tools available. Secondly, the games and their components are designed better and are less prone to failure. Industry standardization has also played a huge role.
TOP 10 TOOLS ON THE ROUTE:
No. 1: Leatherman multi-tool. Technicians on the road will find the No. 1 tool they have is what is commonly referred to as a "Leatherman." It's the Swiss Army knife of repair equipment. See leatherman.com for a wide selection. The Leatherman, or similar multipurpose tools, can be clipped onto a belt and has several sizes of screwdrivers, pliers, wire cutter/stripper, scissors … you name it.
No. 2: Battery-operated soldering iron with light. Techs can fix broken and frayed wires with a long-life, battery-operated soldering iron. This valuable tool is the length of a pen, but a bit thicker. In the old days, we had to find an outlet, plug in the soldering iron and then wait a couple of minutes for it to heat up. When finished, we had to dip the tip into cold water to cool it down quickly before wrapping up the electrical cord and putting the soldering iron back into our plastic fishing tackle toolbox.
No. 3: A small bottle of Loctite. This is used to keep small nuts and bolts from loosening or coming apart due to the vibration or pounding that amusement games take. Use your Leatherman to tighten all loose nuts and bolts, apply a dab of Loctite and you're good to go. Visit loctite.com to learn more.
No. 4: Toothpicks and matchsticks. (Let's also include Krazy Glue.) To make sure that wood screws don't loosen again, use the body of a wooden toothpick or matchstick; take off the match head and throw it away - don't put it back into your fanny pack. Place the remaining wooden stick in the screw hole, and then insert and tighten the screw. This usually does the trick.
No. 5: Magnet attached to a small wooden stick. This comes in handy when a metal screw, nut or part accidently drops to the bottom of a game or small space where fingers can't fit to retrieve them. This problem will occur about 1,000 times during a tech's career.
No. 6: Electrical tape. Use it to cover - or keep away from metal - bare or frayed wires, or wire connections, so they don't cause electrical shorts.
No. 7: Duct tape. Available in different colors, it's used to hold components together internally, hide scratches on the outside of game cabinets, or cover ripped seats and cushions. A technician may also use duct tape to cover his or her mouth, because they usually get into trouble by talking to location customers in any detail.
No. 8: Vise grips. The locking pliers is one of the most important tools when you need to bend metal or a vice to hold a part that is being fabricated onsite. In fact, I used to carry two vise grips: one large and one small. I often used both at the same time to bend a piece of metal over my knee. Maybe that is why I have a sore right knee? Nah, that's from kneeling down to collect coins and read meters.
No. 9: Volt-Ohm meter. Also called a VOM or meter, every fanny pack should contain one. It's easily held and measures electrical voltage: everything from outlet power to game power supply output to voltage in and out of any machine component. A meter also measures resistance and continuity to help discover a broken wire or one that is not making a good connection.
No. 10: Cellphone with camera. A cellphone with camera allows you to take a photo of the broken part, show where it is positioned within a machine and send the photo information to the manufacturer's or distributor's service department. If you send it to your service department, it'll help prevent it from sending a wrong part. Before cellphones, the wrong part was sent more than half the time. A cellphone - or smartphones like Blackberries or iPhones - are suitable replacements for a flashlight, so I did not list a flashlight in the top 10. (Note: if you carry a cellphone, the boss knows where you are because they all have GPS now.)
We also give our route techs keyholders that connect to their belts. They pull out from the keyring, but it stays connected to the belt so they can't lose keys. A general rule we follow gives only two seconds before keys or tools "disappear" in a location open for business.
These top 10 tools can be used to fix 95% of the problems operators encounter every day. Of course, don't forget to bring in several paper towel sheets every time you enter a location and a bottle of Windex so you can clean machine glasses while you're on site. A can of black spray paint will also help make the game's front black sections look much better. A section of cardbord placed under the game will keep you from applying paint to the location's floor or carpet.
Cleaning game cabinets and glasses makes a big impression on the location's owner and management, as well as players.
(By the way, for those locations in which we give keys to the coindoor to staff, we also instruct them on how to fix token and ticket jams, along with how to load tickets. The only tool they need is a 99¢ metal nail file. Women actually do better at these simple repairs; they already have a nail file and know how to use it.)
A new tool that some techs may wish to carry is a wireless signal tester. USA Technologies is now offering one that assesses for optimum wireless signal strength for installing the company's ePort wireless cashless payment devices. Designed mainly for vending machines, the kit may have some application to amusement machines if operators "go cashless" with this option. The kit features a received signal strength indicator that meters the available wireless signal. VT recently reported that a vending operator from Atlanta said this test kit takes the guesswork out of deploying cashless systems to machines in the field.
Equipment standardization has helped enable roaming techs to do their jobs today with so few tools and parts. Over the last 25 years, this industry's manufacturers have done a phenomenal job of agreeing on and following technical standards for everything from jukeboxes to videogames, pinball machines and other equipment types. Unfortunately, in the past few years, we have seen this trend come to a standstill. In fact, the Amusement and Music Operators Association has disbanded its longstanding Industry Standardization Committee because most manufacturers have lost interest.
TOOLS IN THE OFFICE
What are most important tools for the owner of a small route operation? He or she is multitasking: on the phone receiving service calls, dispatching, ordering parts, counting money, preparing bank deposits, bookkeeping, paying bills, doing payroll, receiving shipments, making shipments and maybe even repairing machines in the shop during any free moments.
No. 1: Wireless headset. This is among the most important office aids. It allows you to make and take calls while moving around, performing multiple tasks.
No. 2: Wireless notebook computer. A wireless model that is always online allows you to stay in touch with your techs who carry smartphones in the field. It creates efficiencies like the ordering of parts as soon as you learn they're needed.
No. 3: Service logbook. This is crucial for tracking all calls. Some operators use computer software, which is fine until the computer crashes. Others use the old-fashioned tools: ink and paper in a loose-leaf book. But papers get loose and lost, so the hardbound book is recommended. These books have served me well - as solid evidence in cases in which a location used poor service as an excuse to break an agreement. The record in the logbook shows every service request call ever made and the quick action taken by the company. A checkmark clearly shows when the service call was made and either completed or action taken.
No. 4: Fax machines. This 25-year-old technology is still useful when dealing with certain companies that - for whatever reason - don't have computers or can't scan a quote, invoice, sales order or schematic to email them. Even today, we receive most of our route collectors' onsite information by fax as they involve several pages.
No. 5: Security and surveillance system. This is a crucial item for an operation's headquarters and warehouse. Some operators have solved inside robberies because they got an employee or customer on tape leaving the building with items that don't belong to them.
No. 6: Phone. Despite the increasing value of cellphones, landline systems with multiple lines remain indispensable. A live human being to answer that phone is also crucial. Even though most businesspeople these days spend less time on the phone and more time communicating by email and text, people who call in to your business still want to hear a human voice, not a recording.
IN THE CAR
Operators, technicians, collectors, managers and salespeople log a lot of windshield time. The operator needs a cellphone headset in the car for hands-free driving. This not only saves time, but also reduces the stress of traffic when you're absorbed in a productive conversation, regardless of gridlock.
A coffee cup holder is a good idea, too. It's a small touch but if you're sipping coffee or tea - and don't have to worry about spills - it makes driving more enjoyable.
A GPS navigator is a great stress reducer and timesaver. Many cellphones have built-in GPS software, and reports are that soon even wristwatches will come equipped with global positioning systems.
Portable chargers that plug into the car's cigarette lighter jack are important. Some can simultaneously charge a phone, a Bluetooth earpiece, BlackBerry and portable computer.
IN THE SHOP
Operators who do bench-testing should be set up to repair whatever equipment they provide. We have bench-testing setups for bill changers, cranes and other games.
A strong padlock for the parts department is a good idea. It prevents technicians who moonlight from using parts inventory. A good shop inventory list is valuable for the same reason: It cuts down on things that just "disappear."
Coin counters and sorters that can handle multiple coins, tokens and bills are valuable. There are various sizes, including portable ones for road techs. The most important rule of thumb: The more metal the machine has, the longer it will last. Plastic parts might cost less, but they also break more often (usually due to human intervention) and have shorter working lives.
An air compressor and vacuum are both needed to clean the inside of a game cabinet and remove dust from internal parts, especially during the reconditioning process.
A spray paint supply in assorted colors is a standard for any operator's shop. Painting games requires the operator to follow OSHA regulations. Enough said.
At home, my most important tools are my laptop, BlackBerry, Bluetooth earpiece and each of their charging components, along with a printer with scanner and alarm clock. (I use my BlackBerry for an alarm clock). Space savers include some place to put all those files and trade magazines. I use the floor in my office, because unless my work is right in front of me, it falls off the radar screen.
What is the most important tool of all? A sponge. It represents an open and inquiring mind into which information can flow and be absorbed. You can't readily buy mental aptitude, but you can obtain knowledge from trade magazines, industry seminars and workshops. A sponge on your desk is a good reminder that we should all be soaking up as much knowledge we can, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
FRANK SENINSKY is president of Alpha-Omega Amusements (East Brunswick, NJ), parent company of Amusement Entertainment Management, a consulting agency; Alpha-BET Entertainment, a nationwide revenue sharing equipment provider; and Alpha-Omega Sales, a distributor of new and reconditioned games.