How Bowling Pinsetters Work

As the Pins Fall...

The pinsetter sits quietly at the end of the bowling lane, waiting for the bowler to roll a ball toward the pins. A Brunswick GSX pinsetter, which is the one we will look at in this article, is one of the newest pinsetters in the bowling industry. The Brunswick pinsetter consists of four main parts:

  • Sweep
  • Pin elevator
  • Pin distributor
  • Pin table

Altogether, there are over 4,000 individual parts that go into resetting the pins after you roll!

An automatic pinsetter works with a total of 20 pins, twice the number needed for the 10-pin arrangement. The pinsetter goes to work in cycles, set procedures that are executed after a ball has been rolled. To be able to react appropriately, the pinsetter needs to know exactly what has occurred below it on the lane, whether it be a strike or a gutter ball. Modern pinsetters interface with a small CCD scanner camera that is mounted farther down the lane. The camera quickly senses exactly which pins have been knocked down, and then relays this information to the pinsetter. In older pinsetters, this function was performed by the pinsetter itself. It would lower itself onto the lane and use "fingers" to determine which pins weren't standing. Most newer pinsetters still have the "fingers" as a backup to the CCD camera -- they may use them during situations when the camera cannot function properly.

Bowling is one of the world's most popular sports. Bowling is one of the world's most popular sports.
Bowling is one of the world's most popular sports.
Photo courtesy Brunswick Bowling

­­ The next step depends on exactly what has occurred on the lane. Let's examine the cycle that most often occurs when amateur bowlers are on the lane, typically called the "first ball - standing pins" cycle. This cycle runs when a bowler, on the first roll, knocks down between one and nine pins. The pinsetter needs to accomplish three distinct tasks:

  1. Pick up the standing pins remaining on the lane
  2. Sweep away the "deadwood" (pins knocked down but still on the lane)
  3. Set the remaining pins back on the lane to give the bowler another chance to knock them down

The process is set in motion after the bowler rolls a ball down the lane.

  1. A roll is detected by a sensor located just a few feet in front of the pins. The sensor is set on a delay of a second or two to allow the ball to hit the pins and end up in the ball pit before the pinsetter starts to do its thing. The ball pit is the area directly behind the rack of pins; it handles the initial impact of both the bowling ball and the flying pins.
  2. The sweep lowers itself into a "guard" position in front of the pins. The sweep is a rectangular sheet of metal that extends downward in front of the pins to protect the pinsetter from any balls that might be thrown at it during its cycle. It also keeps any would-be cheaters from rolling extra balls down the lane. Now that the lane is secure, the pinsetter can pick up the remaining standing pins.
  3. The pin table, which consists of ten holes, each big enough to fit a pin, is lowered on top of the pins.
  4. Once the pinsetter (with or without aid of the CCD camera) has determined that there are between one and nine pins left, this information is sent to the automatic scoring software and the spotting tongs are closed around the pins via a solenoid.
  5. The pin table rises again with the remaining pins held in the spotting tongs.

Now that the remaining pins are out of the way, it's time to get rid of the pins left on the lane!