By Amy Chmura, Staff Writer
What if there was technology that allow
ed for finding underground pipes, cables and conduits previously unlocatable by electromagnetic locators, even plastic lines with no tracer wires? Is this technology that sounds like something from the future? Well, the future is here.
The Ultra-Trac Acoustic Pipe Locator (APL) is now being demonstrated in field trials across the country. Among the first to see the new locator were those in attendance at a recent safety day at Atmos Energy Corporation in Texas. The unit is manufactured by Sensit Technologies based in Valparaiso, Indiana, and is being distributed by EGW in the quad-state area including Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma.
Gas Technology Institute (GTI) began developing this technology in the late 1990s, according to J. Scott Kleppe, President of Sensit Technologies. The research was supported by many utilities with the technology being licensed to Sensit during the middle of 2011.
“There has been a desire to locate plastic pipe without tracer wire and any type of material or system including gas distribution lines, sewer laterals or water sprinklers,” Scott said. “The impact (of this new technology) is tremendous nationally and globally.”
Phil Wiegers, President of EGW, said the APL will solve a huge problem in the underground utility location industry.
“I know that some customers spend millions each year on unlocatables,” Phil said. “This is the most exciting technology I have seen in 25 years.”
The APL is functional, providing one button operation with easy to interpret data and the ability to detect multiple lines or locate within regulatory requirements. It operates in soil, grass, concrete, or asphalt ground covering.
“The technology is beneficial for the end user as the operator no longer has to find a place to attach to the utilities. There is no need to use more expensive and less accessible technology as this technology (APL) can do it without radio frequency,” Scott said. “There is an improved ability to send acoustic signal to the ground and listen for reflections of that energy.”
This technology has been in development for more than 15 years. Sensit spent more than two years working with end users to field test the technology, performing locates and validating its success before bringing it to market. The units are now in inventory with EGW and demonstrations are taking place.
“I have been in the business of selling locators for years,” Phil said. “Customers have told me that if I could bring them a locator that would find plastic pipe without tracer wire, they want it.”
During the demonstrations at Atmos Energy Corporation, Phil said the APL was by far the most talked about thing there.
“One person described it as the silver bullet he has been looking for for years,” Phil explained.
Scott agreed that attendees at the recent event in Texas were amazed. “Their jaws were on the ground,” he said while describing the reaction of those testing the APL technology. “Acoustic has been around for a long time but the question has always been how to deal with outside noise. Software has come a long way and this technology is able to deal with just that.”
“Everyone who tested it liked that it was simple to use,” Phil said. He himself went to the manufacturing facility for a few days, but after walking out on the job site, he was able to run the machine in less than a minute and demonstrate it for a customer.
Phil and EGW sales representatives are currently making demonstrations to companies and attending tradeshows during the first and second quarters of next year. They will be at the Texas 811 Damage Prevention Summit scheduled for February 19-21, 2013, in Fort Worth.
Pete Pedersen, Compliance Manager for Atmos Energy Corporation, participated in a recent field test with two of his contract locating companies. Their tests were done individually with both contract locators in a week-long study.
“The unit performed well,” Pete said. “The technology is really helpful as a method to find a place to start digging.”
Pete agreed that the technology was easy to use. He said you could take someone with limited line locating experience and train them within an hour to use this technology.
While Atmos Energy Corporation had been working with GTI during the development stage of the acoustic pipe locator technology, Pete said the technology’s reach extends beyond the gas industry.
“You can use it for gas, water and telecommunication cables in conduits,” Phil said. “It looks for voids in ground and you follow the process to locate the line.”
While Pete said he has not seen all the studies, he believes that from a time perspective, the acoustic pipe locating technology will save excavators a huge amount of time. But time is not the only benefit.
“This technology is what the industry has needed,” Phil said. “It will save time and money while preventing damages. Ultimately, it will improve public safety.”
Utilizing a technology that will allow for finding underground utilities once unlocatable with traditional locators will not only solve the a huge problem within the industry, it will keep Texas, the country and the world safe.