With 2013 coming to a close, we look to the new year to find new and innovative ways to improve subsurface utility locating.


With new technologies adding extra layers of convenience, accuracy, and safety to the task of finding and mapping buried assets, 2014 may be a time of change for many utility companies and contractors finding themselves tightening their belts and looking for cost effective alternative solutions moving forward.


We’ve compiled five of the top trends utility companies will be interested in most when they look to improve their processes in the future.


1. Aging infrastructures give utility companies a reason to change


The impending threat posed by underground assets operating well beyond their intended lifespans poses serious security problems for utility companies. For some communities, this threat has become reality. Incidents such as exploding water mains have already led to water restrictions for almost 2 million people stemming from a single incident.


With these sorts of problems plaguing local communities nationwide, many municipalities are realizing this is a problem that can no longer be ignored.


The nationwide need for innovative solutions to an aging infrastructure problem provides an opportunity not only to standardize a growing shift toward computer-controlled asset tracking and identification, but also to generate 21st century mapping solutions using powerful digital databases.


2. The growing need for tools equipped for disaster recovery


The lack of proper preparedness demonstrated during recent natural disasters like Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy have prompted many municipalities to look for better solutions for emergency situations.


With traditional mapping systems often relying on landmarks to locate the precise locations of buried assets, utility teams find themselves unable to complete tasks in the absence of such landmarks.  


New systems using GPS integration erase the need for relative mapping by putting exact location data directly in the hands of crews in the field. As it stands today, many relationships between contracted utility companies and city or state municipalities rely on a high degree of communication between city plans and contracted services. This can quickly lead to inconsistencies in data and other problems associated with miscommunication.


Today’s digital tools make it possible for disaster damages to be managed much more quickly and effectively. We predict this trend towards finding new technological solutions will only rise in the coming years.


3. Finding a safer solution in new tools


Without accurate mapping records available to crews carrying out construction or excavation projects around assets not properly marked, the possibility of accidents can be immense.


Without knowing, a crew can find themselves boring into unknown pipes carrying potentially dangerous substances under pressure. Cross boring is not a new problem to utility companies, but new solutions can help minimize these mapping inaccuracies in the future.


New technologies geared around better marking techniques can make these accidents a thing of the past. RFID tags, for example, can be placed even onto older buried assets to ensure they’re accounted for the next time work is required in their area.


4. Demand rises for a system geared for ROI


With many city and state finding themselves under greater financial constraints, contractors are looking for cost effective solutions to underground utility management.


Although newer systems may carry price tags that appear at first to be out of range for your given budget, newer systems are geared specifically to return your initial investment in the form of savings over time.


Faster project times, less manpower, and fewer delays and accidents will ultimately bring budgets out of the red and into the green for those willing to switch to new systems.


5. Disruptive new products make for new options


One such technology poised to catch the attention of utility companies seeking a new solution is Radio Frequency Identification (RFID). Although by no means a new technology, its implementation into the underground utility industry has recently begun to attract attention.


Using a system of passively powered tags robust enough to withstand time and weather, alongside handheld tracking locators, this new system not only informs crews of buried assets, but also provides detailed information on the nature of the asset in question.


When aggregated, location information can be compiled into existing mapping software to give utility companies a more complete way to track assets as they sit underneath the surface.


To learn more about the InfraMarker, Berntsen’s all-in-one underground RFID marking system, visit the InfraMarker product page or request a catalog.


Creative Commons image via City of Thunder Bay Archives.