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Can RFID Be Used to Locate Buried Pipes?
Are any companies employing the technology for this purpose?
In a word: Yes.
3M has been offering a pipe-tacking solution for years. In 2009, the company introduced the next generation of its RFID-enabled system for locating underground pipes and cables. The firm reports that its Dynatel 2500 series features more active and passive frequencies, higher power and a new trace-view mode. Thanks to the upgrades, 3M indicates, the 2500 series locators can now identify pipes and cables buried more deeply in the ground than with previous models. The mapping display on the locator's built-in LCD screen draws the positions of the cables and the pipes in the ground, making it easy to identify their locations (see 3M Upgrades Dynatel Locators).
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has buried more than 1,000 RFID-enabled marker balls around a new runway at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. The marker balls, supplied by 3M's Communication Markets Division, allow the FAA, as well as airport employees and contractors, to utilize handheld RFID interrogators to locate utility cables and pipes buried 5 feet underground, as well as determine the type of infrastructure they represent, and who owns that infrastructure (see Can RFID Tags Be Read When Buried Underground?).
Last year, one of the finalists for the RFID Journal Award for Most Innovative Use of RFID was the Village of Thiensville, Wis., for an underground utility asset-location and -identification system allowing it to locate buried pipes and cables (see Finalists Unveiled for Sixth Annual RFID Journal Awards and RFID Helps Prevent Sewer Disasters). And multinational energy company GDF Suez has successfully tested an RFID system that lets staff members detect the locations of plastic pipes buried underground, via the use of a handheld reader. The equipment-localization solution is being provided by RYB, a utility piping and networks firm, and was developed by RYB together with applied research institute CEA-Leti, which contributed its laboratories for preliminary testing and also assisted with technology development (see GDF Suez Tries RFID Underground).
For years, 3M's solution was the only one on the market, but a new company, EchoRFID, recently began offering a solution as well. The Colorado firm, founded by veterans of the oil and gas and RFID industries, has developed an RFID and GPS solution, dubbed the EchoShield PipeTalker, that manages pipes and other equipment for oil and gas pipeline owners and operators. The solution was tested at a Colorado installation to determine whether tagged pipes could be located, and data related to those pipes accessed, using a combination of RFID and GPS data. With the solution, the company offers its own cloud-based server to host software that tracks location and historical records for each tagged item. The solution also comes with EchoRFID's patented reading devices that incorporate a GPS unit and an ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) reader to provide location data, as well as Omni-ID Dura 3000 and Dura 1500 on-metal passive EPC Gen 2 RFID tags. In addition, the system includes software to manage the capture and interpretation of RFID data (see EchoRFID Offers Views Into Buried Oil and Gas or Utility Pipes).
—Mark Roberti, Founder and Editor, RFID Journal
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