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Utility Company Uses RFID to Identify Underground Pipes, Wires

Bravo Environmental has buried approximately 100 InfraMarker tags to help it identity the locations of infrastructure, as well as the work performed at those areas.
By Claire Swedberg

The benefit of InfraMarker, Garcia explains, is that it utilizes two technologies: RFID and magnetic. If someone does not have an RFID reader, he or she can access location data by using a magnetic locator, though such a device would not provide an identifier. Therefore, he says, if multiple markers are in close proximity to one another, RFID would be a better way to locate a specific piece of infrastructure.

Berntsen manufactures several different markers, with either an Omni-ID Dura 3000 RFID tag or an RFID transponder made by Confidex, according to Lee Nelson, the company's business-development director. "The benefits of InfraMarker," he states, "are twofold: increased locating performance, thanks to the combination of InfraMarker's patented magnet-RFID tag and visual evidence, and the real-time transfer of data, which speeds data collection and reduces errors in data collection."

The InfraMarker solution includes TSL's 1128 Bluetooth UHF RFID reader with a cradle for a smartphone loaded with the InfraMarker app.
A user can read the tag via a Technology Solutions (UK) Ltd. (TSL) 1128 Bluetooth UHF RFID reader with a cradle for a smartphone loaded with the InfraMarker app. The app can utilize the phone's GPS location data to record a marker's longitude and latitude. A phone's GPS unit, however, is not as precise as a GPS device designed specifically for industrial purposes. As such, the app can also use the phone's Bluetooth radio to access an industrial GPS device—such as a Trimble R-1 global navigation satellite system (GNSS) receiver—to determine a more precise location.

When Bravo's workers dig a hole to search for utilities, they identify what they locate and then insert an InfraMarker tag about 12 inches below the surface. Staff members in the field can use the handheld with a smartphone to write data to the marker tag. The InfraMarker app on the iOS or Android phone then captures the tag's ID and other information written to the tag, and forwards that data to the AmigoCloud software. Workers use the app to enter a description of the area, along with the type of utility found at the site (a gas pipe, for instance), the owner, any pictures or video footage of the asset and area, and notes regarding conditions. The device forwards the tag ID and related data to the AmigoCloud software, which likes that information together.

Employees can easily input the data into the system by using the app's dropdown menu, Garcia explains. For instance, upon identifying something underground, workers select a prompt to specify the type of utility and add related descriptions as necessary. "InfraMarker provides a very simple pull-down menu to minimize error and maximize efficiency," says Mike Klonsinski, Berntsen's executive VP.

Once the phone forwards the data to the AmigoCloud software, Bravo Environmental's management can use InfraMarker software running on a computer to view that data immediately. Thus, Garcia says, even as the markers are being laid underground, he can view the work being performed in real time, via the software.

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