Project: The Future of Gas Pipeline Marking
In July this year, Polyfabrics Australasia (previously Tapex), was made a distributor of the 3M™ electronic marker range. “We position ourselves under our Dig Safe brand to be the experts in damage prevention and excavation safety in Australasia, but we didn’t have the world’s leading electronic marking products”, says Ed George, Polyfabrics Technical Manager “…until now.”
“3M™ have a new generation radio frequency-based marking and locating system, that makes the location and management of buried infrastructure simple and accurate. Buried pipelines can be identified specific to the utility, type of infrastructure, GPS data, installation date and more, all linking into a utility’s GIS system.”
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology has been employed for over 40 years in a variety of commercial uses – from retail anti-theft systems, through to toll booths and pet identification chips. 3M™ pioneered the deployment of the technology for marking buried infrastructure well over a decade ago. 3M™ RFID markers are now used by gas, power, water and telecommunications utilities across Australia and New Zealand, primarily to accurately pinpoint important buried components such as valves, tees, access points and pipeline direction changes. Some of these RFID markers have now been operating underground for decades, with many years of life to come.
Two intersecting technological breakthroughs have greatly increased the efficacy of the 3M™ electronic marking systems. The first is a new generation of 3M™ Dynatel 7500 series locators that have increased the depth to which 3M™ markers can now be accurately found. Near-surface marker units are now detectable to depths of 600mm and larger markers at depths of up to 2400mm.
These locators have been developed specifically to locate the new 3M™ EMS caution tape and rope, along with cables and pipes. They also have the ability to both read and write information to individual 3M™ iD markers. The 3M™ electronic RFID markers use a passive antenna to reflect an interrogating radio signal back to the hand-held locator, which can pinpoint the marker precisely and convey important information such as the utility owner, description of the marked point, depth, GPS coordinates and placement date
New Path Marking Technology
The new 3M™ Path Marking technology not only marks the route of buried gas pipelines, it is expected to reduce cost, and improve the precision and efficiency of gas pipeline locating. There are two newly developed products. The first is a plastic warning tape with enhanced, regularly spaced RFID tags that can be directly buried with non-conductive pipe, providing the conventional visual alert function as well as path marking. The second is a rope similarly equipped with spaced RFID transponders inside, but with the tensile strength sufficient for it to be pulled in along with the pipe in directional drilling installations. Unlike tracer wire, path marking tape and rope don’t need to break the surface to establish a fixing point for an electromagnetic locator’s clamp. With the new generation locators, both EMS rope and tape can be located to a depth of 1200mm.
The conventional copper tracer wire traditionally used for marking non-ferrous pipelines can deteriorate over time. It is difficult to locate if the wire is broken or not joined effectively, creating the need for pipelines to be marked again, which is a costly process. Long-term functionality is obviously an important aspect of any utilities investment decision. As the 3M™ EMS markers in the tape or rope require no power source and are designed to work indefinitely, there is no issue if either is severed – the markers will communicate with the above ground locator.
Although the techniques for locating the new path marking tape and rope are simple and consistent, the process differs from the conventional tracer wire methods that are familiar to most locators. Locators will learn to understand how to track points using the individual, spaced markers in tape and rope, rather than tracking lines with tracer wire.