The first unit created was never destined to be a design to be copied; actually it was quite the opposite. The origin of the company and the initial idea came into being this way:
During a tournament, a ball being used by me reached ‘saturation’. When I wiped it, it stayed wet & oily. No matter what I did, the cover was slippery. I knew that the ball had gotten so full of oil it couldn’t absorb any more and had reached a point where it had become useless. I had heard about this while hanging out in the Pro Shop with coach, but had never experienced it myself. I had many ‘dirty’ balls, but I had the mentality of a recreational bowler – I liked clean equipment but it worked for the most part until this day arrived.
I took this problematic ball to Larry’s Pro Shop between turns, and asked them for a cleaning. I honestly felt and assumed they had a heat lamp or something similar to what D3’s Pro Shop had. When I came back after the tournament to pick up the ball, it was so clean I was stunned.
I asked how it got so clean, and they told me they use a JayHawk Detox cleaning machine. I immediately asked to have all my other equipment cleaned and was laughed at. They had a line of balls on the ground, maybe 15-20 that were ahead of me. And it was $20 per ball. It was a Sunday and she said she’d have my equipment ready on Thursday. I didn’t want to be without my equipment that long, and I felt I could buy a cleaning unit on my own so I went on my way.
When I got home, I looked to buy a Jayhawk unit. The price I found was 3995.00. I was stunned. I did not want to purchase something so expensive. And feeling I had technical knowledge enough to create my own unit I was determined to make a unit that I could put in my basement for my own use.
As I was looking for cheap methods to make my unit, I found a well-built cooler that was large enough to hold 3 balls with enough room left for a heater. It was about $60. I found a heater that was used to de-ice horse troughs – 1000 watts - that was designed to be run off a pickup truck with a generator. It was $60. I found a water temp control unit that would turn on and off a heater and an AC unit. It was $ 60. (I modified the AC side of this to be always ‘powered on’) and used it for the Ultrasonic Timer switch.
The transducers nearly ended the idea in its tracks. I began looking in the usual places – Amazon, Google etc. What I found were transducers of different styles - some flat, others large, and some water-proof. They also ranged in power and frequency. But most of all what was found was disheartening, the prices varied from $500 to $2000 each. When one is attempting to build something cheaply, this was most certainly the opposite of that. While looking, I called around to companies offering to build ultrasonic tanks. That was a large part of the learning curve. What I learned was there was a similar relationship to the security cameras I’ve been selling for years - that the US didn’t really manufacture anything anymore. We simply resold overseas equipment and products with a substantial markup.
In the past, while working to acquire security cameras for clients, I had gained hard fought knowledge that there were only 4 main manufacturers of the innards of security cameras – and 3 of them were in Asia. All US products were repackaged versions of these devices with huge markups. By exploiting this knowledge, I was able to become somewhat expert in sourcing overseas products myself – first as a way to help clients acquire products, and later as a way to resell for profit myself.
I applied this same knowledge while searching for transducers. And sure enough, the transducers were about 1/10 the cost and readily available overseas. So I ordered transducers from China. I found sets of transducers bundled with the correct power supply for ~$55. I went to Tap Plastic and had a plastic box built that could house the power supplies, and installed fans to keep the heat out of the power supply. (110.00).
I ran into problems when I learned that transducer sound waves would not pass through the insulation of the cooler. I was talking with a company back east about the project initially and befriended a sales guy. I called this sales guy back and he described that I needed a metal wall. So I had to design a custom metal ‘box’ that would fit in the side wall of the cooler - (310.00). The first metal box unit I made was much too thick (I believe it was 18 gauge) and extremely heavy. I didn’t know much about metal density and had to change the material substantially. The 2nd metal box was 290.00, and although it was still too thick (I believe 12 gauge), it did function.
Next I turned to ball management. I couldn’t have the balls moving around loose inside the tank, and I quickly learned that the water was scalding hot – too hot to grab the ball out by hand. I ultimately worked with my friend Alex Montero to create an 8” ring with vertical handles – and mounted springs on these handles so they would not get hot. At the bottom of the tank, I mounted 3 basketball display mounts made from plastic with plastic epoxy.
Nearly all mounting was done with epoxy resin based glues. I learned while building and assembling that there were different epoxy products depending on what 2 materials you were gluing. For waterproofing, marine grade was best (and extremely expensive) but for external assembly, such as the power supply plastic box to the backside of the cooler, plastic-to-plastic epoxy was best. Also, there exists a metal-to-plastic epoxy, but it didn’t hold well under water. Ultimately I learned that marine grade epoxy worked best for metal-to-metal or metal-to-plastic assemblies.
I was buying tools as needed, screws, mountings for all the parts, wiring, cable mounting parts, etc. all as needed. The overall cost of the unit came out just less than 1500.00 including the tools, extra parts and wasted components that proved unnecessary.
This unit made use of four 50 watt transducers in ~12 gallons of water – to create a bath large enough to clean 3 balls simultaneously. This ultrasonic wattage was just an estimate. By taking into account factors like the power supplies to drive them, and my inexperience with the technology, the design factors were a) the space needed and b) the power supply space needed - nothing more. It really was that much of a guess. Ultimately, it became clear to me that the ultrasonic power wasn’t as effective as it could have been. More power, better placement, and less water volume would all increase the effectiveness of the unit.
The basic premise of the POC controls was the use of a modified temperature controller, wired to a 3 gang wall box. The temperature control also ran a lead into the tank to a temperature sensor for feedback.
When the detected temperature was lower than the setting, the power was supplied to the heater. Once the temperature setting was met, the power turned off.
The modification to the temperature controller was to take the power control destined for an A/C unit and configure it to be wired for “always on”. This power was then routed through the on/off switch, then to the timer switch.
The POC or "Cooler"
When the timer was in the 0 or off position, no power was supplied to the ultrasonic power supplies. The heater functioned separately, but the ultrasonic function were controlled by the On/Off switch AND the timer switch. The timer could be turned to anywhere from 0 to 60 minutes. When the timer was rotated to any on position, say 10 minutes, then power was sent to the ultrasonic supplies.
The heater functioned fine, WHEN the unit was already hot. It could easily maintain the temperature necessary, but from a cold start – it literally could take hours to warm the tank contents from 70 degrees to 135 degrees which I estimated was the original target temperature I wanted. I did NOT review ball manufacturer information; I simply worked backward from notes and information from websites about how hot water was from the tap of a home sink.
As testing of the POC began, it was problematic getting the unit to target temperature. Initially I left the cover open, and it was during winter and in the basement so the outside temperature was about 50 degrees. The tank took nearly 6 hours to get to the target. When I closed the lid, this sped the process (obviously) to 2 hours. By using hot tap water on initial filling of the tank, I could start off around 115 degrees, and the tank would make optimum in 30 minutes or so. These experiences using a 1000w heater were also deemed functional but unsatisfactory.
Finally, it was also made evident that the unit had other weaknesses; for example, leakage from the steam when the lid was opened (which threatened to drip into the power supplies), or a drain hose that kinked. Future testing also identified weaknesses in the design - glued plastic parts that broke loose and staining that occurred on the plastic inside the tank. Rusting was also something that clearly needed to be addressed – mainly the mounting strap and screws used for the heater. Rust also began to appear on the steel used for the ball ‘picker’ assemblies.
Once the unit was in operation, I discussed it with John “Coach” Fantini. He convinced me that I should bring the unit into D3’s Pro Shop and let a larger audience use the unit. I discussed it with D3 (Donnie Allen the 3rd) and he agreed. We made provisions that as balls were paid for, I would receive ½ of the monies received for the first 500 balls.
After 5 weeks being in the pro shop under these conditions, a lot was learned. Coach spent a lot of time doing unique tests – what if scenario’s. He would leave a ball in the hot water for 12 hours or run the unit at 145 degrees – even 155 degrees. Together we tried extra soap, and less soap. He ran some balls repeatedly or for extended cleanings. While I’ve discussed these tests with Coach, I don’t have his notes, so only my notes are reflected here on what was discovered. Throughout this document you will hear details learned from these substantial initial experiments.
During this period, Coach received an impromptu visit from a VIP from a large equipment manufacturer. This person asked about making a large purchase of the unit if we would make a unit that was more substantial. He also made clear he felt a 3 ball unit was too much, that a 2 ball unit would be more ideal. This is where the first idea of a production version came from.
All of the problems identified and described above needed solving to make a tank capable of a lifetime greater than 6 months – what I estimated the POC unit would live. Clearly in the 5 weeks it was in the pro shop it took a pounding. Based on the heavy usage the unit was getting in a production environment, many of the less substantial parts (ball stands, water temp sensor mounts) all began to fail or show signs of failure. To go forward would mean a full re-design of the tank with more substantial materials. But the idea was born!