British airport operator BAA Limited (BAA) has announced plans to implement an RFID-enabled electronic marking system by 3M to identify and map each of its 12 underground utilities at Heathrow Airport in London.
The system will use 3M ID Extended Range Ball Markers, each one containing an RFID chip that will supply information about the utility to workers above ground before they begin to dig. Each of these markers will be geo-referenced and integrated with BAA Limited’s Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping system.
Heathrow Airport has many miles of underground utilities, including fuel, aircraft ground lighting and even a water supply reserved for use by the fire and rescue services. To manage this underground infrastructure, BAA chose 3M to implement an RFID system that will record, identify and verify every on-site utility.
Previously, BAA used traditional cable tracing techniques, but these were largely inaccurate and in some cases completely unavailable. According to a press release by 3M, one utility company at Heathrow has been digging trial holes for more than a year trying to find their pipe. In some cases, Heathrow would employ specialist surveying companies.
The new electronic marker system from 3M will identify all utilities without the need for trial and error. The electronic mapping at Heathrow will identify the locality of a given utility and the 3M ID Extended Range Ball Markers (which are buried together with the utility) then validate the exact location and provide on-the-spot verification of the mapping records.
The 3M ball markers, which will be placed underground at six meter intervals, require no on-board power source and can lie dormant for decades. Each marker is encased in a polyethylene shell which is resistant to minerals, chemicals and extreme temperature.
In the future, BAA hopes to use the 3M ball markers to identify and map the tens of thousands of manhole chambers at Heathrow, each housing various services, allowing workers to verify what services are contained within them without needing to open the covers at all.