Subsurface Utility Engineering


Some of the biggest liabilities threatening construction projects today lie buried meters beneath our feet. Underground utilities and other subsurface assets cause huge headaches for project managers when poor records keeps crews blind to older assets that may have been added or abandoned over time without proper documentation.


To avoid potential cost overruns and project delays, many are turning to new locating tools and practices that make these problems a thing of the past.


Keeping up with shifting trends and regulations


Today, most utility owners rely on regional call-before-you-dig organizations to locate, identify and mark buried assets prior to construction in a particular area. While these services do their best given the tools and data available to them, poor records and limited locating abilities on-site can result in incomplete marking––leaving the contractors and owners responsible when things go wrong.


Unexpected project expenses aren’t the only things driving interest in finding better ways to locate and mark buried utilities. Recent expansions in domestic gas and oil drilling, for instance, are leading to an increase in buried pipelines––a significant danger to those digging without proper locating tools.


In addition to this, new databases like the Publically Available Specification (PAS) 128––are boosting global interest among utility engineers to practice more effective location techniques before breaking ground.


California sees big return in new approach to utility locating


With trends like these putting pressure on utilities to make meaningful improvements to the way they operate, many are making significant investments in new tools and systems.


One such example is the San José-Santa Clara Regional Wastewater Facility (RWF) in the South San Francisco Bay––the largest advanced wastewater treatment facility in the western U.S.


Prior to adopting a better asset location system, the facility depended on long-time staff members to remember where assets were buried around the facility. As many of these senior staff members retired, that important knowledge was quickly lost without any system to recover it.


In need of a better system, RWF implemented a subsurface utility engineering (SUE) management program to avoid problems and cut costs in the long and short term. The program consisted of six elements that when used together, would go on to dramatically improve project efficiency on-site. The six items included:


·      A central GIS system

·      Multiple utility designating technologies

·      Ground penetrating radar (GPR)

·      Electromagnetic (EM) locators

·      Magnetic locators

·      Laser rangefinders


Why so many tools? The system is based on the understanding that you simply can’t depend on any single piece of equipment or database to locate buried utilities.


GPR and EM locators, for instance, are necessary to verify and crosscheck the data gathered by GPS––an important, but less precise locating system.


New asset information could be easily input into a GPS database directly from the field and uploaded to a site-wide GIS database for future reference. Over time, the team was able to locate and map precise locations of a myriad of pipes and utilities that were otherwise impossible to map with such accuracy.


Engineers and technicians could now upload data about specific assets to a central GIS system from their smartphones on-site so when digging is needed, everyone knows exactly what to expect, saving both time and money during the planning process.


New systems provide a high return on investment


Just how much is this new system saving the agency? A new electrical duct bank installation project, for example, involved laying 25,000 feet of new banking was completed for a total cost of $10 million.


Roughly $150,000 in expenses was saved by using the new SUE “toolbox” to verify buried assets before construction. With fewer than five days of project delays resulting from poorly documented utilities, the project was finished on budget in the timeframe allotted.


According to Tom Hayes, RWF’s Geosystems Manager, “With the use of GPR and other tools in our toolbox, we can accurately identify buried utilities that would conflict with our projects and complete any necessary redesign before construction is started, helping us to complete projects on time and on budget.”


Making the system even simpler and more efficient


While RWF improved their processes dramatically with a six-item toolbox, it’s possible to get the same level of efficiency with an even shorter list of items.


The InfraMarker RFID Infrastructure Marking System combines just four marking, locating and mapping processes to provide the fastest and most reliable RFID locating system in operation today.


Using GPS, visual identification, magnetic locating and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology, the InfraMarker provides a speed and inventory advantage over other systems that require the locator to use a variety of equipment depending on utility type.


With InfraMarker, field technicians can easily mark or locate many different types of utilities by installing a single type of marker or tag, which can then be identified by technicians at the surface using a handheld locator.


By logging the location, date, and key asset information on-site, the InfraMarker can populate the company GIS and provide physical verification in the field without having to pick up a single shovel.


Want to lead more about what the InfraMarker system can do to save you time and money? Click here to visit the official InfraMarker website.


Interested in a more efficient, cost-effective solution to asset management? Check out our Getting Started page to learn more about The InfraMarker System, or click here to talk to us about finding the service package right for you.

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