by Jeff Winke
Every contractor knows there is something exquisitely wonderful in discovering a straightforward, simple solution to a task at hand. The rush of knowing that time and effort has been saved can be almost intoxicating.
As the 19th century French novelist, George Sand, said, “Simplicity is the most difficult thing to secure in this world; it is the last limit of experience and the last effort of genius.”
Consider then that there is a simple device that allows a construction contractor to check slope while moving horizontally, vertically, sideway or any direction.
JohnnyBall® is a 3D level and slope measuring system that is designed to do just that. The device is designed to offer a distinct advantage over non-3D slope meters, which require more than one meter to cover all slope variations and grades.
“When your machine is level, your work is more accurate and efficient,” said John Miller, owner of JCM Excavating in Allendale, MI. Miller is a 30-plus-years experienced heavy-equipment operator and inventor of the JohnnyBall system. “There is a true sense of what the machine is doing. This direct relationship between operator and machine is what I created the JohnnyBall to provide at a glance.”
The JohnnyBall is mounted inside the operator’s compartment and is designed to allow operators to quickly check whether their machine is level. The mechanical device requires no electronics, batteries or satellites. It uses a compass-like design where the inner ball has industry-standard level and slope indications printed on it and the outer ball carries a stationary dot to indicate the true attitude of the machine, providing a 3D level and slope perspective at a glance.
“I can’t believe how accurate JohnnyBall is and that I don’t need to continually jump out of the cab to pound stakes,” said independent machine operator Chuck Cornell who is based in Lowell, MI. “I recently used it on a Cat D6N-LGP crawler dozer on the build of retention ponds in a new subdivision and it saved me time and was spot-on accurate!”
Even for those using GPS machine control; Miller believes the JohnnyBall can provide a compelling, low-cost complement — especially when working near tree lines or buildings that can interfere with satellite signal reception. He also said, “if you think about it, heavy-equipment production is not always GPS connected, so there likely are times when having slope and level confirmation can come in handy.”
Miller believes the JohnnyBall can help both the experienced operator perform better and the new machine operator get over the initial “new-kid learning hump” to gain comfortable proficiency.
According to the manufacturer, a benefit of JohnnyBall is its portability. It features a base cup, which is mounted in the machine cab. Thus, operators can take JohnnyBall from one job site to the next, or from machine to machine. It is designed to work in dozers, graders, excavators, skid steer loaders and other heavy equipment — any brand, model or size machine.
“Because JohnnyBall can handle extreme conditions, and doesn’t rely on GPS or electricity, it’s never down,” said Miller. “To ensure the highest quality, we went through three phases of prototyping and rigorous lab testing for durability and testing temperature extremes. In 2014, extensive field-testing was conducted at multiple job sites with machine operators from Team Elmer’s of Traverse City, MI, a successful 60-year-old excavating firm. We want to use and sell only the best product possible.
“The results were clear: JohnnyBall saved time, reduced the need for manpower, and increased efficiency. On multiple job sites, including highway ditch and slope work, Team Elmer’s operators reported saving up to 2-5 hours a day, eliminated grade rod staff on the projects, and needed to set fewer stakes.”
JohnnyBall is manufactured and assembled in the U.S. and is available through U.S. and international distributors. Made and assembled in the U.S., the system comes in a protective transport case with two base cups. Additional cups are available for purchase.
Jeff Winke is a business and construction writer based in Milwaukee, Wis. He can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org.