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What should water authorities, councils and
contractors look for when purchasing a pipe
and cable locator?
With so many different types of
locators on the market today, what
should a prospective purchaser
look for when determining what type of pipe
locator to buy?
Two key questions you should ask before
1. What will the unit mainly be used for?
2. What type of experience and training
do your crews have, or need, to operate
Let’s start with question one.
What a locator is used for can vary so
much between water authorities, councils
and contractors. For example, a regional
council or water authority may only need
to locate their own water services, and
get contractors in when they require other
services to be located. Other authorities
may have to locate all services in the area
before they can excavate.
So, for companies that locate one primary
service in regional areas where there is
less chance of multiple services, a single-
frequency locator may be adequate for
the majority of their work. A simple single-
frequency locator is easy to use, and requires
a minimum of training. The manufacturer also
has the ability to tune the antennas to a single
frequency, improving performance of the unit
over multi-frequency units. The downside is
that single-frequency locators may not always
have the ideal frequency for the job at hand.
These units do not normally have passive
power and radio frequency (RF) modes, which
reduces their locating abilities.
For operators who are required to locate more
than one type of service, I would suggest
jumping up a level or two in features. The most
common units that we see are the Rycom
CAPs, Cat & Gennys and C-Scopes. These
units normally have between one and three
frequencies, passive modes and are generally
peak-only locators. Some of these locators,
like the Rycom CAP, are coming out with
some handy features, including line-direction
indicators, left and right guidance, and even
features like current measurement. Be aware
that a good understanding of these modes is
essential for more accurate locates.
Although these units have several transmit
frequencies, some of the frequencies are not
versatile in our soil or cable types. I would
suggest a unit with a medium frequency like
33 kilohertz, and a higher frequency above
65 kilohertz. This will give the operator more
flexibility in the types of services that they
may encounter. Transmitter power is also
important, and these units normally vary from
one to three watts.
From this level, we start jumping into further
features, including more frequencies, peak
and null modes, current measurement, and
other multi-modes. Some units even have
transmitter-to-receiver communications and
bluetooth functions, but generally these are
classed as specialist functions, and a majority
of operators would never use these functions
in the field. Some good examples of these units
are the RD7000/8000, Rycom 8869/79 and
UT9000. Transmitter power varies from three
to 12 watts for these type of machines.
So, let’s now move on to question two.
A user’s experience level is also an important
point when selecting a locator. Purchasing a
unit with six or more frequencies, and multiple
functions and modes is dangerous unless the
operator has a good grasp on the theory and
practical side of electromagnetic field (EMF)
locating, and is a regular user of the machine
and its functions. I have come across many
companies that have purchased an expensive
locator, but their staff members have never
been shown the correct way of using the unit
to its full potential, nor do they understand the
Training is a key factor in the purchase of
any type of cable locator. Even the most
simple single-frequency locator requires an
understanding of how it operates, and what
it can and cannot locate. Always look for
companies that provide adequate training – a
simple this-is-how-it-works talk for 15 minutes,
or ‘Here is a video – look at that,’ is not adequate.
Going through both the theory and practical use
of a locator is the key to getting the most from
the instrument you have purchased.
If you have any questions with regards to
purchasing the right locator, feel free to
contact me via email at
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