A visit to ASM, Las Vegas

dennis63

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Note: The following is based on a visit to the office and factory of American Standard Molding in Las Vegas, Nevada on Friday, Sept. 20, 2013. No photos of the facility's interior or exterior are shown.

As a longtime ASM customer, I always regretted missing the chance to visit their factory in Portland, Maine. Last May, I was invited to stop in to their Las Vegas facility during a planned vacation in the area, scheduled for this week.

My wife and I were staying on the Strip, and the GPS guided us north to the address, in an industrial park with an amazing view of the peaks of the Las Vegas Range. We turned in to the industrial complex parking lot shortly after 9 a.m., and went to the building. (There is no sign, and for security reasons, very few people know what is being produced inside.)

We were admitted, and met with owner "Red" Ott in the front office. A once-retired engineer with graying hair, beard and mustache, I thought he looked a bit like Ernest Hemingway. Red was dressed to work in the shop, and greeted us like old friends, though we had never met.

He introduced us to his foreman, Tavon, who had spent time working at Portland with ASM's legendary former owner, Jim Blanchard. Then Red took us back to the shop area, where Tavon was preparing to make a batch of casino chip clay. The unique smell of the clay filled the air. Red said they normally make sheets of clay at the start of the day around 7 a.m., but held off today's batch for my arrival.

We walked around the large shop, where several people were working at different stations. We met a woman who was at work punching chocolate edge spots that would go into the 5-cent Key West butterscotch chips with 312 chocolate spots. (They actually press and punch full slugs in each color, then cut out the edge spot areas from the base chip, and punch out the little square edge spots from full-size brown slugs and insert them by hand before the inlays are added and the entire chip pressed again.)

Next, we met a woman who, I am told, was responsible for making "about 99 percent" of the Key West Resort & Casino chips in my 10,000-chip order. She was finishing slugs for another ASM client's chips -- ASM "Level 5" chips with a complex combination of edge spots that maded a unique chip. We saw the slugs, with the spaces for the edge spots cut out and inserted by hand, laid out neatly on sheets of paper, like unbaked cookie dough.

We saw a work station where slugs are cleaned and the edges of finished chips are polished down. This is one of several "finishing" steps in the process.

We were called over to the clay making area, in a secluded area around a corner from the rest of the shop. Heat from the machines made this area very warm, and the foreman was making a large batch of new clay, which, in this state, looks like taffy. He worked the clay, then pulled if from the hopper and onto another machine that presses is into uniform thickness. In this state, it's too hot to touch. Red grabbed a piece for us, but could only hold it for a few seconds before returning it to the cooling table.

When these sheets cool and harden, they go to the punch and become "slugs," or blank discs of precise size and weight that will get pressed into our casino chips. Red told us that when the slugs are punched out of the sheets, the leftover material, which looks something like a piece of cardboard after you've cut the circles out of it, is about 50 percent of the volume of a new sheet. This material is sent back to the mixing area and run through the rollers, where it is melted and crushed back into a workable state and be re-used.

Red showed us ASM's collection of molds. There are many, many more than any of us here have ever seen. Red said he plans to bring these molds into production after ASM catches up on their current backlog of orders. We went to a press and saw the H mold -- two identical thick steel plates with the letter "H" around the rim along with the design. I can say now it has 25 "cups," five rows of five. We saw many other molds, too, including one on loan from a Las Vegas casino.

Finally, we went over to the inspection station and saw bins filled with imperfect chips pulled after they were finished. There were a variety of chips from different orders -- some Key Wests, but other chips, too. For one reason or another, these chips failed inspection and were pulled before shipping. Red said his foreman does all the final inspection himself.

We talked about business in general, and ASM and the chip-making business. I was pleased to hear that ASM is now making chips for some casinos in Las Vegas and the Bahamas. I was pleased to hear about efforts to get ASM chips into other Vegas casinos. We talked about pricing, the cost of the materials, and what GPI actually charges it customers. As we left, Red noted that tours of the facility were rare. I told him I hoped we would do many more thousands of Key West chips together.

The entire experience was unique and amazing, and I wish everyone here could have joined me today. For us, it was off to lunch at The Peppermill, the last diner on the Strip where, I'm told, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin would, long ago, occasionally stop in for a drink. It was pure 1950s Vegas, but that's another story.
 

Tommy

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Thanks for posting about your visit to ASM. Sounds like you got to witness the chip making process which is extremely rare for an outsider to see. Did you drop a plug for PCF? LOL ;)
 

dennis63

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Actually, I did! Red and I discussed that you were creating a new, positive, great site that he should consider taking part in. I plan to follow up with an e-mail to him with a link to the site, to make it easy. Maybe they'll become a direct vendor here.
 

Tommy

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Actually, I did! Red and I discussed that you were creating a new, positive, great site that he should consider taking part in. I plan to follow up with an e-mail to him with a link to the site, to make it easy. Maybe they'll become a direct vendor here.

That would be awesome.

Thanks!
 
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