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Seeing Beneath to Move Forward

Leica Geosystems utility detection tools helps anyone breaking ground to manage the intricate planning and technical complexities industry professionals face in their business. Leica Geosystems utility detection portfolio, allows users to automatically detect utilities, prevent their damage and protect personnel, infrastructure and assets.

BK: Leica Geosystems utility detection tools helps anyone breaking ground to manage the intricate planning and technical complexities industry professionals face in their business. Leica Geosystems utility detection portfolio allows users to automatically detect utilities, prevent their damage, and protect personal infrastructure and assets.

Welcome to HxGN Radio. My name is Brian. Thanks for joining us today. We have Dan Bigman, the founder of Bigman Geophysical and LearnGPR.com, and Agata Fischer from Leica Geosystems with us to discuss how utility locators automatically identify underground assets deeper, faster, and more accurately. Thanks for joining us, appreciate it.

DB: Pleasure being here.

BK: I’m going to get your name, I mean, I appreciate you pronouncing it. It’s great. But I love good challenges with names. Thank you. Thanks for being here. I understand it’s your first time on a show. So, it’s easy. Think of it that way. We’re going to start with you. Just to make it that much easier for you. Can you give us a little bit of an overview of Leica Geosystems utility detection tools portfolio? Talk about the hardware, software, solutions, all that.

AF: Sure. So, how we generally cluster detection solutions is by looking at the application side of it. So, we look at the avoidance segment, and we look at the mapping segment. However, I would like to change that in the podcast, because I find it very black and white when you have to say, oh this tool you use for avoidance and that tool for mapping. So, I would come more from a little bit from the technology, but I will talk also about applications, of course.

So, how I see it is basically, we cluster our detection solutions in three categories. It’s cable locators. It’s what I would call it entry-level GPR, and then more advanced GPR solutions, GPR sensors for ground penetrating radar.

So, looking at the cable locators, which is the simplest solution that exists in the market. It’s really about being in this avoidance segment. Definitely. So, it’s looking at what the customer is trying to achieve. He wants to dig a hole, excavate, and he wants to make sure that he doesn’t hit any utilities, and that the operator is safe. So, really protecting people and protecting the assets.

And there, it’s really about the simplicity, so we have a range of cable locators in our portfolio, where basically any contractor doing excavating tasks will use the locator, would mark then the utilities, and just make sure that he has a safe position to excavate. For them, because they are not technology experts, I mean they just are really oriented to do the task of excavating and digging. Simplicity of the solution and a quick location is really the key.

Looking also at some countries, for example the UK, we have some regulations where even in that space of contractors … the data logging from the cable locators … it’s important to make sure that they were used properly. Also, in case of any utility strikes, the insurance company can look into that archive or that data. So, here we have a solution with our locators where our software, which helps contractors to track, also helps them realise the need maybe for more training of the staff. So, this was the first.

Then looking at the more entry-level GPR … so, we are talking about a little bit more advanced utility mapping solutions. So, we clustered utility mapping, but actually they are being used also for really avoidance and locating. Here we are looking at customers like contractors, but also utility surveyors or surveyors who want to get into that utility surveying segment. And really the key is to detect everything and to also map the utilities.

So, the positioning side of utilities. So, really using their GENESYS 10S using total stations to not only find everything, but to find also where they are and being able to relocate or to even generate a digital utility map is important. And there we have it again. So, we have our entry-level GPR hardware, which is the DS2000 or Opera Duo, and then we have software. Because GPR comes with a bit more interpretation needs. We have post- processing software for the GPR data. Then we have software that allows contractors or utility surveyors to manage the entire utility mapping project. This is called DX Manager and mapping. So, this was the second entry-level GPR, and now I’m coming to the last one. I’m almost finished with that.

So, it’s more advanced GPR solutions, and here it’s really for the experts on the GPR technology who are really, I would say, specialised in utility mapping. They would do 100 percent that kind of job. So, this could be also governmental institutions, but it could be of course utility surveys specialised in this, and they want to have a full 3D model of what’s underground and what’s also above the ground. So, we are looking at a solution of Stream EM from IDS together with the Pegasus to get this complete 3D model. And here really, it is data overlay and merging, which is the key where we also have software solutions.

BK: Very nice.

AF: Yes

BK: I like that. Thanks for explaining all of that. Alright well, how can users choose the utility detection tool to best suit their needs?

AF: So, I would really refer to what I was explaining in the previous question. So, looking at what is the need … is it more to avoid utility strikes or to map the utilities? Also looking at the area, is it a smaller area or occasional utility mapping? This would be then the entry-level GPR like the DS2000 or Opera Duo.

Is it more than road mapping? Is there 3D modeling of the underground and above the ground? Where this would then be more complex solutions and systems. So, we focus on the customer getting the right product for his needs and for the application. I just wanted to mention that we at Leica or Hexagon Detection Solutions, we look at the training or the services, so we know how to enable the customers to choose the right solution for their application needs.

So, we offer training services where the customer learns about different methods … how to do utility mapping, and in some markets, we actually offer utility mapping services. … where customers can join the utility mapping task or project and see if that is something they can do themselves. Maybe assist or be there throughout the project and learn how to do it himself. So, this is also our key focus, I would say, to really make sure that we offer the right solution for the customer.

BK: That’s great. That’s great. All right. Dan let’s talk to you for a few minutes about some stuff here. So, you’re the founder of a consulting company using ground-penetrating radar GPR technologies. What are the most common challenges construction professionals are dealing with when locating utilities? How does Leica Solutions help anyone breaking ground to overcome all of this?

DB: Great question. The biggest thing is that a small mistake can end up creating a massive problem.

BK: Sure.

DB: And so, you know the limitations when you’re trying to deal with construction sites an excavation, is – in the US at least – you may have something called a one call system. And so basically, you’re supposed to call ahead and have them locate the utilities. But there are a couple limitations to that. And number one it’s driven by the asset owners, and they may not go on private property, and they tend to use EM locators, the pipe utility locators, exclusively.  And so those are great and they’re efficient, but they’re limited.

And so, having partial locations done for you is the first problem. The second issue is a lot of times you’ll get handed some plans onsite that say, well you know, here’s where your pipes and utilities are, and then you go to excavate around those. But they happen to be wrong, and you hit your pipe or utility anyway.

BK: Yeah.

DB: Right. So, those are the issues.

What we see is more and more folks in construction want to take responsibility for themselves to locate their own pipes and utilities, because they know on the back end they’re still responsible. And so, putting it in someone else’s hands, whether it’s whoever handed you the papers with the plans on them or whoever came from the one call system, may just not have done a complete job.

Those are the limitations of it. And, I think the way that Leica helps construction professionals overcome these problems is by having the kind of a suite of technologies that are available. So, nothing is 100 percent. Right?

Having utility locators, like she said, which are very simple and used for avoidance. Having entry-level GPR and having more complex GPR products … GPR being like ground-penetrating radar. The EM locators require some sort of conductance in the utility. Right? So, if it can’t hold a current, the EM locator can’t see it. So, what does that mean? It means a bunch of your utilities can’t be located by it.

However, on the other side, GPR can locate things that don’t hold the current, because they work on waves instead of conductivity. So, you can pair these different tools together and get a more complete picture of what’s going on below the surface. I would say the final thing that’s great about Leica’s product line is because they were a GPS manufacturer before they were a GPR manufacturer.  It helps people who really want to develop new plans that are accurate … integrate Leica GPS unit into their new locate products, and just seamlessly kind of generate georeferenced maps of where all the utilities and pipes are underground at their particular site.

BK: OK, love it. Thank you. Now, you’ve been conducting geophysical surveys for over ten years. How does Leica’s utility locators differ from other locators that you use personally.?

DB: So, Leica has a couple of features, there are some things that nobody can get around. Right? Things like physics. Everyone’s got to work with the same physics. So, there’s a lot of different manufacturers of pipe-locating and GPR equipment out there. But a couple things, a few of them actually create both, and so Leica has been able to develop, like I said before, a suite of products that they know work well together. That’s number one.

Number two is, like I said with the GPS, you get a lot of other folks … GPS is becoming more important, because it streamlines workflow. Right? I mean, if you can save time on the back end for these construction folks, or utility folks, or even more what we’re seeing now are civil engineering companies, time is the money. And if you can streamline that process, then life is good. So, that’s a nice thing that it integrates well with their GPS systems.

Specifically, to their GPR, I think Leica stands out in two ways. First of all, the DS2000 Opera Duo system, which is a dual-frequency system, allows you to kind of see things in detail that are shallow, but also allow you to see things that are deep. That is a big benefit for helping kind of collapse time in a way instead of going through it twice.

We’re having to figure out which antenna is right for you. You know the DS2000 was built for utility locating. It kind of is within that range of where services are generally buried. It helps streamline the workflow. The other thing that they excel at is in multichannel systems … acquiring a company called IDS, which I think was really a leader in multichannel arrays. Which means that this is that kind of higher-end that Agata was talking about before.

You have a 32-GPR antenna kind of squished into one box. What you get is real time, three dimensional views of the ground. So, rather than having to go back to the lab or go back to the office and start processing the data, and analysing the data, and looking at all sorts of different directions, their multichannel systems collect so much data at one time that literally onscreen, you can see three dimensional views of the subsurface from all different angles.

I think those are the ways that they excel. You know in their dual frequency systems, kind of helping basic utility locators and then in their multichannel systems, which really help create real-time three dimensional views.

BK: OK. What are key elements that users should look for and consider when using utility detection systems?

DB: I think there’s a couple of things there. I do get asked this question a lot by our customers, so we do actually do a lot of training for GPR users around the world. That’s where LearnGPR.com came about. We get this question from a lot of our users. A lot of our students and trainees, because they want to know. They come, and they don’t have the equipment, yet. So, they say the same thing. Twenty companies out there produce GPR and locate equipment. How do we choose?

A couple of the things that I tell them to look for is, number-one, ease of use. If you’re just getting into utility locating … I mean I’ve seen people almost have heart palpitations starting to look at a GPR interface … they are like, “Are you sure I am going to have to use this?” Having something that has really nice ease of use is a critical thing for new users. For sure. I would say that that’s number one.

Number two is you would want a quality system. Yes. We are bound by the physics of the universe. But if you have people who adhere to the physics, you know some companies unfortunately try to finagle them and come out with a lesser quality product. If you have folks that adhere to the physics, and you’re going to maximise the potential that the physics offer us. It does that. They have made it very clear what they’ve done inside their boxes to create and generate EM waves for a GPR, for example. So, it’s a high-quality system.

Finally, and this is kind of what throws people a lot of times: I say service. You’re new to GPR or utility locating, and you’re out in the field. I’m from Georgia, and you know in the summers in Georgia, you’re out, and you’re in middle of the street, and you’re having an issue that you can’t figure out with your system. The heat is beating down on you, and you’re frustrated. What do you want? You want somebody on the other end of line. They may not be able to solve your problem immediately, but you want to know that when you pick up the phone and dial the number, somebody is going to be there. What I have found is that Leica has been able to accomplish that.

For new users, they know that they have a partner in their new ventures with GPR and locating.  Service I think is a big one, because if you have a quality product, great … but if you have a quality product and now you try to call somebody on the phone to see how to you use a feature or something’s not working right and they’re not there to help you. It’s very frustrating. But if you can get somebody on the other end of the line it’s very helpful, and gives you peace of mind, and helps you create successful projects. That’s what, ultimately, we’re looking for.

BK: Good service seems to be hard to find today. Seriously, you hear about that. You hear about the bad service almost anywhere you go nowadays. So, it’s fantastic there’s that option that people can call in and get exactly what they need.

DB: Absolutely. It’s wild. I mean you get a little bit of good service, and you over-tip or you get what you expected. 100 percent, I think service is a big part of it.

BK: That’s great. Dan, thank you very much appreciate the information on that. Agata, one more question for you here then. What new advancements are you working on, and tell us a little about the future of the utility detection tools?

AF: Sure. So, I’m glad that he mentioned service and ease of use, because these are my two main points that I want to talk about. As I was mentioning before, we are focusing heavily on providing great services. One of them is the training of the users. The second one is also offering utility mapping services or utility locating services. So, these would be the two key areas for us in the future going forward.

In parallel, we are of course looking, because if  the solutions were simple to use you might not need that much training and assistance. We are in parallel looking at how we can make our products simpler, faster, and minimise the need for interpretations and a lot of skill. We really want to make it more approachable for any kind of users like contractors, who exactly as you as you mentioned, see the screen and the radar hyperbola, and they completely panic. Then they say I need an expert here. So, we are definitely looking in that direction.

The third part of it is making the work digitised. We are looking at the utility maps and really making them digital, because today we know they have plans. They have them on paper. Sometimes they just mark on the street and then as soon as the first layer of the of the asphalt is gone all the markings are gone. So, it’s really not a sustainable solution. Then another crew comes in. They have to redo the whole work. We are looking at how we can digitise the maps and basically offer and provide this reliable accurate information together with the position of the utilities to more users.

BK: That’s great. Very exciting. Thank you both. Really appreciate your time. Thanks for the information.

DB: A pleasure.

BK: Yeah. Thanks for being a part of this today. For more information on this, by the way, go to it Leica-Geosystems.com. You can check out all that good stuff, and then also if you want to learn a little bit more. Please share your website again?

DB: LearnGPR.com. We have all sorts of free videos on there to help people get acquainted with GPR and very convenient courses both online and onsite that we help people with.

BK: Excellent. We love helpful things like that.

DB: Absolutely. The better people can do, I think the better we all are. The truth is that when all the Leica detection equipment comes down to it, a big piece is like, are our communities safe and our sites safe. That’s really what it comes down to. Because, you’re not trying to hit something. You’re trying to avoid it or map it for the future. If we can keep our communities safe, then I think we’re all doing the right thing.

BK: Definitely. Definitely. Well thank you so much for listening to today’s episode on HxGN RADIO. Listen to more episodes, more information, visit HxGNSPOTLIGHT.com. Thanks for tuning in.

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