SENIORS in the Northeast Metro Tech Robotics and Automation Program, as well as Department Head Brian Caven (foreground), proudly stand with their pinball machine, Circuit Meltdown, which they completely rebuilt using nothing but the frame of a 50-year-old machine. (Northeast Metro Tech Photo)


WAKEFIELD — Senior students in the Robotics and Automation Technology program at Northeast Metro Tech used the shell of a 50-year-old pinball machine to design and build a brand new pinball machine as part of their studies this year.

The 11 seniors who took part in the project began with a “Dealer’s Choice” pinball machine that was made in 1973, which had been previously donated to Northeast Metro Tech. The students stripped it down to nothing but its shell, designed the new machine, and then rebuilt the machine using state of the art industrial automation controls, displays and electronics.

Students completely replaced the machine’s game control system and wrote their own software. They also designed and built every electrical control in the machine, as well as new audio and video systems, while also changing the theme of the game, which is now called “Circuit Meltdown.”

“I had the kids use all the shop technology that they’ve learned during their time here,” said Robotics and Automation Technology Department Head Brian Caven, who oversaw the yearlong project. “I used the pinball machine to teach all of the technologies we learn, including electrical, electronics, software, electromechanical and wiring. All of those are pieces that they learn in the shop and they were able to put those lessons together into constructing this pinball machine.”

Robotics and Automation Technology seniors also collaborated with students in other trades at Northeast Metro Tech, relying on Auto Body students to paint the pinball machine’s body; Design and Visual Arts students to help with graphics; STEM Department students to help with laser cutting some of the plastic parts for the new machine; and Metal Fabrication students who welded and created new metal parts for the machine.

Caven also had students approach the pinball machine job as a team project, working together to learn how engineering projects actually work in private industry while also learning team building, communication and even conflict resolution skills.

“We handled this as a group project. I acted as the engineering manager and every student acted as an engineer on the team with specific responsibilities,” Caven explained. “Everything we did was done to teach them how a design project moves from conception to final production.”

Seniors who participated in the project were Claire Wilson of North Reading, John Antonucci of Wakefield; Gabriel Fontes of Malden; Caleb Galdamez of Saugus; Carla Garcia Colon of Chelsea; Escander Habda of Malden; Joseph Pannese of Revere; Jaiden Santos of Chelsea; Kai Sweetland of Malden; Angel Umana Hernandez of Chelsea; and Scott Upton of Reading.

“It has been an amazing experience to watch and learn how a team works,” said Kai Sweetland. “Everybody had something that made it all come together and it was a great time!”

“One of the most important things that I learned while working on this project is patience and communication. While this was a group project, many of us had to work on individual parts and wait for others to finish,” said Carla Garcia Colon. “Patience and communication allowed us to make more progress on the project because whenever someone was doing something that interrupted the work of someone else, we would find something else to make progress on. Without this skill, we would have been much farther behind on the project.”

“This was an extraordinary project that required seniors to use all of the skills that they have learned in their years in the Robotics and Automation Technology program,” said Superintendent David DiBarri. “The final product is stunning and we look forward to finding a place for the refurbished pinball machine here at Northeast Metro Tech.”

Where the machine will end up remains an open question, but it will be displayed in September at an annual pinball show called Pintastic in Marlborough.