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How Underground RFID Marking Is Changing The Utilities Industry

How Underground RFID Marking Is Changing The Utilities Industry

We hate to be blunt, but when it comes to underground utility location, organizations both private and public are stuck in the 20th century.

But it’s not really their fault. When trying to locate underground utilities, most field crews have no choice but to rely on decades-old paper records or inexact 21st century GPS equipment.

To those who aren’t in the know, watching utility men and women wandering around busy roads or walkways looking for reference points to measure from might seem akin to using a typewriter for word processing.

But utility companies and the field workers they employ know all too well how frustrating this outdated process can be.

The Billion Dollar Problem

Even more staggering are the results and implications of traditional underground asset location. Research from a 2008 CGA study revealed underground utilities are accidentally struck by excavation equipment every 60 seconds in America, taking lives and costing private institutions and tax payers billions of dollars each year.

Sadly, more than half of these accidents occur in instances when a utility marking expert has been called to the scene, meaning faulty or inaccurate marking tools are more often than not to blame.

A Hybrid Solution

Perhaps the most frustrating part of traditional underground asset location is the fact that GPS technology can get a utility man or woman within a few feet of their target, but no closer. Shovel width accuracy is what they really need to feel confident they've found their asset.

But with so much on the line, field crews have no choice but to rely on traditional find-and-measure techniques to pinpoint the exact location of the asset, but as I’ve mentioned before, these techniques are all but fool-proof.

The breakthrough solution to modernizing this final step wasn’t the result of improved GPS technology, or even of new technology in general. In fact, it was a technology that had existed for more than 40 years.

The technology I’m referring to is Radio Frequency Identification, or RFID for short. Invented in the early 1970s, RFID tags can be interrogated via an RFID reader.

However, it's necessary you have the exact location first. Here at Berntsen, we've developed a system using a high intensity magnet that is combined with the modern passive RFID tag. The magnet can be pinpointed to within an inch by using a magnetic locator.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

By marking underground assets with passive RFID tags (which do not require a power source to function), field crews can use GPS technology to get close to assets and then use a magnetic locator to find their exact location and then read the digital information from the tag to verify on the screen of the reader.

The Importance of Readability

With millions of miles of underground piping across the United States, it stands to reason that identifying the unique characteristics of a single asset may be something of a challenge.

However, RFID technology provides a solution here, as well. This data can be uploaded to software that can match each tag with data about the utility it is marking. Utility workers can then scan the spot where the tag is buried in the field, and the software delivers data about that utility asset.

Best of all, this whole process takes less than five minutes, as proven in a recent Auburn University study. That’s a far cry from the time (and money) commitment required for traditional underground asset location.

Say goodbye to the days of “dig, look, dig again, look again” and hello to the days of “locate, pinpoint and read” -- as easy as 1-2-3.

The Berntsen Underground RFID Marking Solution

Berntsen International has taken pride in “Marking the Infrastructure of the World” since its inception in 1972 and is proud to lead the way when it comes to underground RFID marking technology.


For more information on the InfraMarker system, Berntsen’s all-in-one RFID marking solution, visit the InfraMarker product page or request a catalog today.



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