In May 2004, ground-penetrating radar (GPR) was taken to new heights literally.A specially designed GPR unit was successfully used to measure the thickness ofthe snowcaps on the Mount Everest peak on the Himalayas in order to determinethe true elevation of the mountain.
Thats 8,850 m to the top. Two months later, a return trip was made for evenmore data using the GPR unit. Though the photos snapped of the snowcapped peaksand beautiful views to mark the expedition are breathtaking, those images arenot what those involved in this incredible project will remember the most; it isthe ingenuity, technology, teamwork and success of the endeavor that are mostimportant to them.
Ingegneria dei Sistemi SpA (IDS) specially designedthe GPR unit for the historic project and was so delighted with its results thatit is developing the unit further to improve the units sensitivity andpenetration depth for more projects similar in scope.
For IDS, challengeslike the trek to the top of the Mount Everest peak are just the type ofscenarios that get their employees excited, energized and proud about the GPRtechnology they develop, manufacture and market: Reaching new heights with itstechnology and seeing just how far it can go and the good it can do.
Headquartered in Pisa, Italy, IDS has distributors of its GPR systemsthroughout the world from South America to Australia to the Far East andthroughout Europe. Plans to infiltrate new markets, such as the United States,are in sight.
IDS officials attribute the companys success to itsworkforce, which is a mix of young, skilled and innovative workers with a wellestablished and experienced management team, both striving to meet the need ofnew technological solutions, supported by engineering designs.
Although apowerhouse in the field of GPR now, IDS is a relative newcomer to the world oftrenchless technology with just more than 15 years of experience. Withsuccessful products established in its arsenal and new, innovative technologiesbeing researched and tooled in its R&D department, IDS plans to remain aforce in the GPR market for many, many years.
IDS was founded in 1980 by Dr.Franco Bardelli after an extensive professional career in all sectors of radarand aerospace engineering. Since its founding, IDS has been devoted to the studyand specialized development of radar systems and associated hardware andsoftware applications for aerospace, aero navigation and defense and civilapplications.
The core of IDS research and development is its high-techlaboratory, a continuously active program for the study of electromagneticphenomena and the creation and improvement of technological solutions andproducts for its different business lines, says Paolo Papeschi, georadarmarketing manager at IDS.
Bardelli settled his new company in northernItaly in the city of Pisa an historic town in Tuscany, near the mouth of theArno River. Once a city of political and cultural importance, Pisa is now famousfor one of its architectural masterpieces, the Leaning Tower. Today, Pisa isalso an important university town with a population of approximately 100,000 andis a major tourist attraction. However, IDS enjoys its headquarters because ofthe university connections and the research collaborations that have resultedfrom this proximity.
The reason why IDS started in Pisa is related to thefact that the most advanced centers for radar studies are historically locatedin the triangle formed by the towns of Pisa, Siena and Florence, and thatimportant universities are present in the area, Papeschi says. In the companyoffice, both investigation and production take advantage of a skilled scientificand technical workforce in developing and integrating applications in thedifferent fields of the geo-scientific world.
Two other Italy-baseddivision offices are located in Rome and Varese and a third is in Southampton inthe United Kingdom.
With all the success IDS has enjoyed, adding GPRtechnology for trenchless technology purposes only broadens its worth.
In1992, IDS committed itself to studying high-resolution, ultra-wide band (UWB)radar, also known as georadar, and its application to civil engineering. Thefinal result was the development of specialized systems and software tools to beused for different applications, replacing the more traditional general purposeradar systems. Its entry into trenchless technology and underground utilitydetection is an interesting story.
IDS started its involvement in GPR bymeans of a cooperative effort with Telecom Italia with the specific objective ofdeveloping an innovative GPR system dedicated to underground utilities mapping,Papeschi says. Telecom Italia was dissatisfied with the detection performanceand productivity of commercial GPR systems available at the time and thereforeasked IDS to rethink the GPR concept, both in instrumental performance andacquisition strategy terms, in order to overcome itslimitations.
According to Papeschi, this undertaking led IDS to theconcept of a GPR antenna array with multi-frequency capabilities that offeredunmatched performance in terms of pipe detection, high-resolution maps andproductivity. Because of this collaboration with Telecom Italia, IDS nowproduces the most advanced multi-channel, multi-frequency GPR systems on themarket, with fully integrated software tools that cover a wide variety ofnon-disruptive testing (NDT) applications, Papeschi says.
GPR and Trenchless
How does GPR benefittrenchless technology? Papeschi offers this example: when a pipe locator isntenough to characterize the underground while excavating or during a plannedpipeline route characterization, GPR provides the capability of detectingnon-metal pipes and provides the extra resolution needed especially in highlyurbanized areas to differentiate the position of different pipes and theirgeometric position.
Exactly like a doctor needs methods like the echosonogram, echo Doppler, etc., to improve his preliminary diagnosis, thetrenchless professional needs a tool like GPR to increase the informationavailable underground, Papeschi says. There are two important reasons to utilizeGPR. One is to reduce risks, such as accidents and pipe/cable ruptures, and theother is to attain the optimal pipe route/excavation design and costestimation.
It is well known how extra project costs, often estimated inthe order of 30 to 50 percent, are caused by the lack of undergroundinformation, obstacles and problems found during excavation. In this regard, GPRis an effective decision and planning tool, he adds.
IDS is currentlyactive all over the world, but it is best positioned in Italy, Spain, Germany,other European countries and the Far East, particularly in China and India.Papeschi describes China and India as markets with huge potential. Introductionto the United States, possibly in 2005, is also within reach, Papeschi says.
IDS produces two lines of GPRtechnology designed for the two phases of trenchless work. The first is the RIS,an advanced series designed for detailed site characterization and mapping. Thesecond line is called the Detector, a product envisioned as an onsite aid andstep ahead in real-time pipe location and site inspection technology.
TheRIS family of products reflects the IDS operation philosophy that merges the useof multi-channel (MC), multi-frequency (MF) systems and specialized CADintegrated software products. This concept was developed following the requestof grown and sophisticated markets that require more than a single-channel GPRunit. It has been proven, both theoretically and practically, that combiningscans over the same ground from a number of antennas increases the probabilityof detecting buried utilities because the targets produce an echo at the sameposition in most of the radargrams produced by each antenna, Papeschi says.
IDS has three RIS products: RIS MF (an MC-MF unit), RIS-S (an MCproduct) and the RIS Discover (a multi-purpose MC-MF unit), which it iscurrently developing.
The Detector is described as an easy, economical toolthat provides a quick view underground of the excavation area. With thepossibility of using two antennas, a depth range up to 3 m in typical urbansoils may be explored.
In environments where too many pipes are present,and some of them being plastic, in urban areas where strong electromagneticnoise is present and when detailed information about position and depth of pipesis needed, such as with directional drilling, the trenchless operator needsadditional information that cannot be given by standard pipe locators, Papeschisays. In this case, a product like the Detector may be useful.
So what challenges are instore for GPR in the future? Papeschi sees the primary challenge for GPRcompanies like IDS as staying ahead of what the market is looking for and makingthe high-tech technology faster, better and smarter.
The main challengesfor high-tech companies like IDS are retaining the know-how, the innovations andtechnical competitiveness in an aggressive and growing global economy. Adaptingthe R&D strategy and associated product design to a demanding world is themain challenge for the future, Papeschi says. The challenge for IDS in thisglobal market environment is to take advantage of an extremely young andmotivated engineering workforce, coupled with a modern international network ofconsultants and cooperation with universities that add a continuously updatedview of market requirements and needs.
Papeschi says that IDS iscommitted to continuously upgrading its lead products for utilities detectionand mapping and that means investing in its research and development department;this will also keep its GPR technology ahead of the competition.
The IDSlaboratory, which jointly serves the different divisions, is the core of R&Ddepartment and takes advantage of its [unparalleled] experience and know how,Papeschi says, noting that IDS has forged several strong research partnershipswith Italian and European universities in an effort to push the technologicalenvelope when developing GPR products.
IDS has already established manyresearch relationships with universities pouring new and fresh ideas into ourtechnology and products, he says. IDS has also been involved in several researchprograms, funded by the European Commission, on GPR and relatedtopics.
Innovations and technological breakthroughs are a part of everysegment of an industry; its all about staying ahead of your competition andproviding the best product for the customers. Todays product is tomorrows newsas companies look to make their products faster, more efficient and better thanothers on the market. In the field of high-tech GPR, its all in the software.Among the areas of innovations that IDS sees on the horizon for the GPR marketconcern both the hardware and the software of the products. With regards to thehardware, IDS sees the following advancements:
Development of additionalmulti-channel, multi-frequency and multi-configuration antennas for increasedapplication versatility and resolution.
More efficient positioning systems toallow a more efficient and detailed survey for large-scale utilitiesmapping.
Enhancement of GPR technology for improving the penetration depth inunfavorable soil conditions.
The software development will beprogressively embedded in the multi-channel acquisition strategy, Papeschi says.The main areas of improvement, in the eyes of IDS officials, include thefollowing:
Integration of the multi-channel/multi-frequency acquisitiontechnology with the interpretive software.
Increased development of theinterpretation techniques to facilitate the interpretation of radar maps bynon-experts.
Papeschi likes what he is seeing for the future of thetrenchless market, and in particular the need for GPR technology. The trenchlessmarket is definitely the future of utility layout and support, he says.Increasing social awareness and sensitivity added to the stricter norms,especially in the urban, industrial, architectural and environmentally sensitiveareas, leads to the need of application methods that do not affect traffic,surface roads and structural settings.
Trenchless and NDT investigationtechnologies, including GPR, are tied together in a common synergy to providestate-of-the-art services to the modern world.
And Papeschi is excited aboutthe future for GPR: GPR is an effective, non-disruptive investigative tool, hesays. The fields of its use, once the limits of the method are understood, areleft to the imagination of the user and may cover a wide spectrum ofapplications.
Sharon M. Bueno is managing editor ofTrenchless Technology International.