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The Best Utility Locating Method 

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Utility locating is a crucial process for anyone involved in underground infrastructure projects. This involves finding and marking the location of pipes, cables, and wires. It saves time and money and is essential for safety and preventing damage to underground infrastructure. Several methods can be used for utility locating, but each has its own advantages and disadvantages. In this article, we will provide an overview of the most common utility locating methods and compare their pros and cons to determine the best method.

Common Challenges in Utility Locating

Common challenges faced by Utility Locators in Utility Locating Industry is locating utilities that are buried deep
Locating underground utilities that are buried deep

One of the most common challenges in utility locating is accurately identifying the location of the utilities, particularly when they are buried deep or located in challenging terrains. 

Different types of utilities require different locating methods, and not all methods are equally effective. Moreover, environmental factors such as soil conditions, the presence of other buried infrastructure, and the type of material used for the utility can also affect the accuracy of locating methods.

Overview of Utility Locating Methods

There are various methods for locating utilities, including Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR), Radio Detection, Electromagnetic Induction, Inductive Ring Clamp, Direct Connect, Passive Detection, and Non-destructive Digging

Each method has its own unique benefits and drawbacks, and the choice of method depends on various factors such as the type of utility being located, the depth of the utility, the soil conditions, and the budget constraints.

Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR)

Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) is a utility locating method that uses high-frequency radio waves to detect and locate subsurface objects and anomalies.

GPR sends radar pulses into the ground and measures the time it takes for the signal to bounce back, allowing for the identification of buried objects like pipes, cables, and other utilities.

Ground Penetrating Radar Services by Geoscope in Sydney
Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR)

If you want to learn more about GPR Equipment, here’s an in-depth Ground Penetrating Radar – A GPR Expert’s Guide for you!

Ground Penetrating Radar – A GPR Expert’s Guide

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Electromagnetic Induction

Electromagnetic Induction is a utility locating method that utilises a transmitter and receiver to detect underground objects. 

The transmitter emits a low-frequency electromagnetic field, which induces an electric current in nearby objects. 

The receiver then measures the strength and frequency of the induced current, allowing for the detection and location of subsurface objects.

Electromagnetic EM Induction method of locating underground utilities service provided by Geoscope
Electromagnetic (EM) Induction method of locating underground utilities

Inductive Ring Clamp

Inductive Ring Clamp is a type of electromagnetic induction method that uses a loop of wire (clamp) to detect subsurface objects.

The clamp is placed around a utility or cable, and a low-frequency signal is applied to induce an electric current in the object.

The current is then detected by the clamp, allowing for the location and mapping of subsurface utilities.

Geescope ring clamp induction method of utility locating in Sydney, NSW, Australia
Inductive Ring Clamp method of locating utilities

Direct Connect

Direct Connect is a utility locating method that involves physically connecting to the utility or cable to detect its location.

This method is often used when locating metal pipes and cables and involves attaching a transmitter to the utility and tracing its signal using a receiver.

Direct Connection Method of locating Underground Utilities in Sydney, service provided by Geoscope
Direct Connection Method of locating underground utilities

Passive Detection

Passive Detection involves locating utilities by detecting the signals they naturally emit, such as power and radio signals.

This method requires specialised equipment to detect and locate these signals and can be used to locate utilities even when their signal is not actively being transmitted.

Passive Locating Method of underground utilities in Sydney, service provided by Geoscope
Passive detection method of locating underground utilities

Non-Destructive Digging

Non-destructive Digging is a method used to excavate and expose subsurface utilities without causing damage to the utility itself.

This method involves using pressurised water or air to excavate the soil around the utility until it is exposed, allowing for repairs or maintenance to be performed.

 

Non-destructive Digging method of locating underground services in Sydney service provided by Geoscope
Non-destructive Digging method

If you want to learn more about NDD and how this method works for utility locating, feel free to click the link below

Non-destructive Vacuum Excavation

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Now that you know the most common methods used in locating underground utilities, let us now move forward to the comparison of each method to determine which among them is the best method for locating underground utilities. 

Comparison of Methods

As the importance of accurately identifying and locating underground utilities continues to increase, various methods have been developed to meet the diverse needs and challenges of utility locating. However, with each method comes its own set of strengths and limitations, making it essential to conduct a comprehensive comparison of methods to determine which approach is best suited for a given situation.

Here are the pros and cons of each utility locating method:

Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR)

Pros

  • Can detect a wide range of subsurface utilities and materials, including non-metallic pipes and concrete structures.
  • Can produce detailed imaging of subsurface objects and anomalies.
  • Non-invasive method that doesn’t require excavation.

Cons

  • Can be affected by soil and environmental conditions, which can reduce accuracy.
  • Requires specialised equipment and trained operators, which can be costly.
  • Can be time-consuming, especially for large-scale projects.

If you want to learn more about further limitations of using GPR in utility locating, here is an in-depth article about it for you!

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Electromagnetic Induction

Pros

  • Can detect both metallic and non-metallic utilities.
  • Fast and efficient method that can cover a large area quickly.
  • Non-invasive method that doesn’t require excavation.

 

Cons

  • Can be affected by nearby metallic objects and environmental factors, which can reduce accuracy.
  • May require multiple passes to accurately locate utilities.
  • Can be difficult to use in congested areas with many underground utilities.

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Inductive Ring Clamp

Pros

  • Can accurately locate metallic utilities and cables.
  • Non-invasive method that doesn’t require excavation.
  • Can be used in congested areas with many underground utilities.

 

Cons

  • Limited to locating metallic utilities and cables.
  • Can be affected by nearby metallic objects and environmental factors, which can reduce accuracy.
  • Requires direct access to the utility or cable to use.

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Direct Connect

Pros

  • Can accurately locate metallic utilities and cables.
  • Can be used in areas with limited access or where other methods are not effective.
  • Fast and efficient method that can cover a large area quickly.

 

Cons

  • Invasive method that requires excavation to access the utility or cable.
  • Can cause damage to the utility or cable if not performed carefully.
  • May require multiple passes to accurately locate utilities.

 

If you are curious to know what happens when you accidentally cause damage to underground services, you can check out this article below.

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Passive Detection

Pros

  • Non-invasive method that doesn’t require excavation.
  • Can detect utilities even when their signal is not actively being transmitted.
  • Can be used to locate a wide range of utilities.

 

Cons

  • Requires specialised equipment and trained operators, which can be costly.
  • May not be effective in congested areas with many underground utilities.
  • Limited to detecting utilities that emit a signal.
Non-destructive Digging

Pros

  • Non-invasive method that doesn’t cause damage to the utility itself.
  • Can be used to expose and repair utilities without causing further damage.
  • Can be used in areas where other methods are not effective.

Cons

  • Requires specialised equipment and trained operators, which can be costly.
  • Can be time-consuming and labour-intensive.
  • Can be affected by soil and environmental conditions, which can reduce efficiency.

Potholing Underground Utilities

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Overall, each utility locating method has its own set of pros and cons. Therefore, it is important to carefully consider the project requirements, soil conditions, and the type of utilities being located before selecting the appropriate method. By doing so, one can ensure that the utility locating process is carried out safely, efficiently, and accurately.

But what’s the best utility locating method among all these common methods?

The Best Method for Utility Locating

Based on the comparison, the best method for utility locating is a direct connection. 

The direct connect method involves physically connecting a transmitter directly to the utility being located. 

Direct Connect Method of locating underground utilities in Sydney, service provided by Geoscope
Direct Connect Method of locating underground utilities

This method allows for more control and manipulation of the signal, which results in greater accuracy and confidence in detecting the target line. 

The direct connection also offers flexibility in locating difficult-to-detect utilities by allowing changes to the earth’s placement, transmitter placement, and far-end grounding. This method is relatively quick to use in the field, and troubleshooting and signal tracing can be done efficiently once the utility has been located.

Tips and Tricks

To improve the accuracy and efficiency of utility locating, it is important to use the best method in combination with other methods. 

Electromagnetic EM and GPR being used together to locate underground utilities in Sydney, service provided by Geoscope
Best method being combined with other utility locating methods

For example, a direct connection can be used in combination with electromagnetic induction to provide a more comprehensive picture of the location and characteristics of the utility. 

It is also significant to take into account the environmental factors that can affect the accuracy of utility locating methods, such as soil conditions and the presence of other buried infrastructure.

Utility locating is an essential process that requires careful consideration of the various methods available. 

It is significant to note that no single method is foolproof, and it is typically necessary to use a combination of methods to accurately locate underground utilities. 

Contractors and construction workers should use the best method in combination with other methods and take into account environmental factors to ensure accurate and efficient utility locating.

Additionally, it is always critical to follow proper safety protocols when working near buried utilities and to contact a professional utility locating service if there is any uncertainty about the location of underground utilities.

Do you like this article? Let us know what you think, if you have any questions or concerns, feel free to leave a comment below or contact us at info@geoscopelocating.com.au.

We also have a brand new YouTube Channel where we post informational content about utility engineering in general, if you would like to check it out, here is the link to it.

Geoscope TV 

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Patricia Cupiado

Co-Author of this Article

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