We reached out to several utility locator manufacturers to get some key tip on what to look for when purchasing equipment and then how to keep it operating at its peak.
Chris Thompson, Senior Product Manager – Utility Locating and Data Solutions
Purchasing Pointers: Locating is all about confidence so the best advice is to purchase a locator that you feel comfortable with. Does your locator have the frequencies you normally need or like to use? Is the user-interface operator friendly and easy to understand? Does it have the features you want such as GPS and a way to measure potential interference? The more comfortable you are with the equipment the better able you are going to be to perform accurate locates.
The Right Fit: Both forms of locating have their place and advantages depending on what utility you are locating and the conditions on the ground. Ground penetrating radar (GPR) is a great solution for locating plastic pipes or utilities where you cannot get a proper signal, however it is very soil dependent and works best in sandy areas. Electromagnetic (EM) works well in a variety of soil types.
Get to Work: Make sure you survey the jobsite before you start the locate. Look for obvious clues such as trench lines or junction boxes. Using the AIM feature, you can also find the frequency that will work best in the area you are locating at this time.
Vermeer MV Solutions
Tim Ross, Application Engineer for Vermeer MV Solutions
Purchasing Pointers: Contractors should approach buying a utility locator the same way they do any piece of equipment — buy quality. They should invest in a locator that is accurate even when working in a crowded area with a lot of interference. It should also be able to hold up under harsh jobsite conditions, including dirt, rain and heavy usage. And, it should be purchase from a dealer that can provide responsive service support if there is an issue with the unit.
Path to Progress: Locating technology has been around a long time, but there has been a growth in the number of contractors equipping their crews with utility locators. This increase in usage is driven by the volumes of utilities in the ground and utility locators becoming more operator friendly. Today’s locators are easier to learn how to use and have intuitive controls.
Taking Care: Locators designed for contractor use should be able to hold up well under normal operations even in less than ideal weather. With that said, contractors should consider the warranty and service support on a unit before they buy. Also, if the locator will be transported in a pick-up truck bed or trailer, choosing a padded hard case is a good idea.
The Right Fit: EM is more popular and faster than GPR. However, GPR is getting faster quickly. GPR is also more expensive, with prices anywhere from $12,000 to $35,000, but there are some simplified units for a lesser price. EM locators cost between $5,000 to $7,000. GPR can locate anything that has a contrast with what it is embedded in. EM only locates things that hold a current, like metal, fiber optics, etc., to trace the current. GPR has lower maneuverability than EM since it’s a cart system, but these units are getting better on maneuverability.
Get to Work: Know your equipment and understand the environment you are in, such as soil conditions, the type of line you are trying to locate, etc. When doing the locate, does the reading look logical to you? Trace the line to the end to confirm locate. Understand the depth readings and how they apply to different lines within the area/region. Practice locating on a known target to learn the functionality and operation of the equipment you are using. If something doesn’t work, change a variable, like frequency or move the box — don’t get locked into the same habits and stop thinking.
Taking Care: A locator is a sensitive piece of equipment with lots of sophisticated technology. Don’t bang it around, make sure to keep it clean and remove batteries if you’re not using it for an extended period of time. If it’s not rated as waterproof, protect it for moisture and store it a secure, dry place.