As described in Pinball Magazine’s Pinball Expo 2023 report, Stern Pinball hosted the annual Pinball Expo factory tour in their new facility in Elk Grove Village, Illinois. Pinball Expo attendees were driven to the factory in schoolbusses that picked up passengers at the Expo conference center. As can be seen in the photo below, the line of attendees in the hall of the convention center was huge.

The line of people waiting to get on the busses. The line went all the way from the entrance of the conference center to the back, and back.

Once people were dropped off in the parkinglot of Stern Pinball, they joined another line to get in.

The line in the parkinglot of people waiting to get in

As soon as people entered the building in small groups, they received a free collectible Stern Pinball token. President Seth Davis and Gary Stern were welcoming the groups of visitors and allowed them to take pictures with them.

Once visitors went through the next door, there was a strict No Photo and No Video policy uphold.

This image was plastered all over the Stern factory, with plenty of staff looking out to make sure no photos or videos were made

Thankfully, Stern Pinball had their own photographers walking around and made the following set of photos available for the pinball media.

Each tourguide had the following notes to discuss with their group during the tour at the various zones in the factory:

Zone 2 / 3 – Front Office / Building History
* Melrose Park 1990-2015 years active, 40,000 sq ft.
* Lunt Ave 2015-2023 years active, 110,000 sq ft.
* Busse Rd 165,000 sq ft.

Zone 4 – PD / Art / Animation Department
* Three departments continue to work in close proximity

Zone 6 – Enter Factory
* Stern is the largest pinball manufacturer in the world
* 7 Days to move production from Lunt to Busse
* Quality of life improvements: Air conditioning, more bathrooms, more water stations

Zone 7 – Wiring
* 1/4 Mile of wire in each game (PM: this used to be a lot more with previous hardware systems)
* Wiring harness’ are made and threaded by hand

Zone 8 / 9 – Receiving / Inspection
* First line of defense in making pinball

Zone 10 – Stockroom / Parts
* Pinball machines have over 3000 parts

Zone 11 – Cabinets
* Decals are applied with soapy water to allow for precise adjustments

Zone 12 – Sub Assembly
* Intricate / Custom mechs are assembled here and sent outward to Lines 1 / 2

Zone 13 – Playfields / Four Post Press
* Each playfield is inspected by hand
* Four Post Press has been used on every Stern, Sega and Data East playfield since 1986. (PM: only two of these machines exist in the world. This one was bought in an auction from Gottlieb.)

Zone 14 – Line 1
* Point out progression

Zone 15 – Bathroom

Zone 16 – Testing / Final Testing / Packing / Shipping
* Playfields are now fully assembled and brought to rotisserie
* Test everything on game
* Requires our most experienced employees
* Playfield is combined with finished cabinet and tested again
* Game is cleaned and inspected before being packaged and shipped

At the end of the tour, Stern pinball showed their newest title: Elvira’s House of Horrors – Blood Red Kiss Edition. From that point on photos and video were allowed again.

The items available in the Stern Shop at the end of the tour
The lunch room for factory employees with its wall of microwaves

The exit of the building was halfway on the parkinglot, where busses were waiting to take visitors back to Pinball Expo. At 11:00 AM there was still a line of visitors to get in the factory.

In case it doesn’t show from the photos, this new factory of Stern Pinball is HUGE. The entire move took only one week, which is very impressive.

The factory tour video that Stern Pinball made

For more Pinball Expo coverage, check out Pinball Magazine’s Pinball Expo 2023 report.