The Package Deal: Investing in Technology to Drive Advanced SUE Solutions

November 1, 2022

One of the most significant challenges in the Subsurface Utility Engineering (SUE) industry is the ability to find and trace non-metallic utilities, most notably plastic piping (PVC) that has been installed to replace old cast iron water supply systems throughout the country, or used as conduits for communication systems. Although more durable and manageable, PVC piping can be more difficult to detect. Solutions to this common issue have traditionally involved utilizing tracer wires in the system construction, sending transmitters (or sondes) through utility conduits, or excavating using hydro or vacuum excavation techniques.

Advanced technologies, however, are now offering more efficient and effective solutions to address the utility mapping challenges that SUE providers and clients often face. SUE services contribute tremendous value to clients and projects alike. If performed correctly and with the right equipment, these methods have the potential to improve design decisions, ensure public safety, protect infrastructure, eliminate construction delays, and avoid escalations in project costs.

SAM is committed to keeping cutting-edge software and equipment at the forefront of our services. In the last few years, we’ve invested in two state-of-the-art systems to enhance our utility mapping capabilities. The All Materials Locator (AML Pro) and the Impulse Radar Multi-Channel Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) system (the Raptor) are now widely used across the company to provide improved SUE solutions and results on various projects.

The AML Pro

The AML Pro is a handheld instrument that works similarly to GPR, but at ten times the frequency. Think of it as a stud finder for the ground. This subsurface instrument utilizes modulated, ultra-high radio frequencies to find differences in subsurface densities and works at depths exceeding ten feet, even in groundwater where traditional GPR is ineffective.

By utilizing this reliable method, SAM crews can locate plastic pipes and nearly any other subsurface object with an edge. Artificial objects with a straight edge create a change in density or permeability from surrounding soils, which causes refracted radio waves detected by the AML. Unlike GPR, the AML Pro is not restricted by water tables, salt intrusion, and clay soil.

Impulse Radar Raptor

The Raptor system utilizes an 18-channel array of 450 MHz GPR units, a customized positioning system, and proprietary software capabilities to easily find plastic piping at highway speeds. SAM also has the ability to take this technology off-road, further enhancing its capabilities. The system collects data using a six-foot wide towed array or a smaller three-foot wide eight-channel push cart A GPS-based positioning system integrated with the GPR array provides highly accurate locating capabilities.

The Raptor allows our crews to pinpoint various materials underground without disturbing the subsurface. Not only is detection more accurate and practical, but the system also yields high-resolution 3-dimensional data in a short amount of time.

Comparing the Two

While these resources are often used in conjunction with one another on SUE projects, they both offer unique advantages of their own. The Raptor is specifically used to comprehensively examine a project’s utility infrastructure. It also produces images that transform complex data into readable and accurate information for our clients. The AML Pro is effective when dealing with a smaller vicinity, typically when crews need to locate a single, difficult-to-detect pipe.

An Ongoing Investment

There will always be a need for utility mapping to identify where everything is before a project begins. We believe that having more resources in the toolbox helps operations and employees perform tasks more effectively and ultimately creates better results for our clients. SAM’s SUE technology experts are constantly evaluating new equipment and processes to identify, test, and implement technology that will be a step forward for our industry, clients, and the employees who utilize the equipment daily.

Read about the Raptor in action at the Denver International airport or visit our website to learn about more advanced technology at SAM.