When we consider buried asset location in terms of efficiency, financial considerations almost always dominate the discussion. Increasingly however, the issue of over-marking has left communities looking to utility companies and city governments to reduce the visible impact of subsurface utility markings in public areas.
While much of the utility industry has evolved alongside technology over the decades, utility marking techniques in particular have remained largely the same for some time. To the average pedestrian, the sight of hand-sprayed utility markings in an array of colors on city sidewalks and streets can look no different than graffiti––an unsightly stain on an otherwise clean city block. This is especially true when utility engineers are forced to mark over decorative sections of sidewalk and roadway in order for crews to dig precisely.
In response to growing groups of vocal critics to over-marking, state legislators have begun looking for smarter solutions. As a result, it may be time to consider new techniques for utility marking that not only reduce the visible impact within the community, but also provide a more accurate, and efficient way to do the job.
How utility companies can make low impact marking a priority
Fundamentally flawed ticketing systems are partially to blame for the lack of control and restraint when it comes to marking areas for excavation. While states are gradually moving to enact new ways of communicating and approving utility projects, efforts to improve existing systems can often be circumvented by excavators who are able to navigate the system to their liking.
Internet Ticket Entry (ITE) for instance, allows for utility teams to avoid the white-lining process by simply stating that it’s already been done on an online form. At that point, they can ask for tickets clearing them for more area than what is actually necessary––opening the door to over marking in areas that may not even be relevant to the project.
While some have pointed to education as a means of improving the problem, the practical considerations of educating the clerical assistants making local requests in the finer points of low impact marking are questionable––especially when these workers are simply taking cues from those in the field.
A more practical improvement may be found in better communication among each party involved. Putting a system in place whereby requestors, One Calls, and locators can share highly detailed specifics about an area in question can reduce over marking considerably.
While this step is important, an innovative technological solution may be the key to reducing the need for highly visible markers in the future.
RFID provides a long-term permanent locating and marking solution
In addition to being highly visible in public, paint markers also have other practical limitations, which make an alternative system an even more attractive option. Depending on the kind of paint used, weather can fade or erase markings altogether, forcing crews to spend valuable time re-locating and remarking those areas.
Consistent accuracy and correct utility identification can also be a problem with paint markings, as human error is a constant factor in labeling.
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) systems, like the InfraMarker, provide a permanent solution for faster locating and more accurate marking. Passively powered RFID tags are placed underground stored with a variety of digital information that crews can find and read using a handheld digital reader. This makes it possible to apply even more precise aboveground markings while reducing the visible impact of a project during the planning and preparation process. The robust durability of these tags allow them to function for years at a time even in areas where weather would otherwise degrade or deteriorate other markings.
In conjunction with more complete communication procedures between team members, this kind of system can provide utility engineers with a low impact marking solution that may soon be required by law in the future.
RFID also provides an opportunity for utility companies to invest in a long-term solution that can greatly reduce the time and money spent mitigating errors due to poor markings, incorrect data, and periphery damage to other nearby utilities. With a system like the InfraMarker in place, asset location can be recorded and mapped into highly detailed layouts, which can be referenced when further work is needed.
If you’re looking to solve the problem of over marking and improve the accuracy and efficiency of your buried asset location projects, look to RFID systems, like the InfraMarker, for an innovative solution.