Articles & Case Studies

BAA to use 3M RFID Electronic Marker System to map all underground utilities

Posted: Thursday 3rd December 2009

BAA Limited has chosen diversified technology company 3M as its supplier of electronic marking systems to identify each of their 12 underground utilities at separation intervals of six metres.

The 3M ID Extended Range Ball Markers each contain a radio frequency identification (RFID) chip that will reveal information about the utility to workers above ground before they begin to dig. Each of these unique RFID markers will be geo-referenced and integrated with BAA Limited’s Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping system.

Airport operator BAA Limited (BAA) owns and operates seven airports in the UK including Heathrow in London, which is Europe’s busiest*.

BAA is conducting an extensive programme of improvement works at Heathrow airport, investing tens of millions of pounds a month into a project to build new terminals and refurbish existing ones over several years.

Heathrow Airport has many miles of underground utilities. Its additional proprietary utilities such as fuel, aircraft ground lighting and even a water supply reserved exclusively for use by the fire and rescue services, means the airport’s underground infrastructure is even more diverse than that under the public highways.

Safety and minimising disruption are essential in the everyday running of airports and BAA wanted to ensure that they continued to have accurate, robust and future-proof records of the utilities by choosing a technology that could record, identify and verify every on site utility with pin-point accuracy.

Says Services Protection Manager, Andrew Rhoades from Heathrow’s Capital Projects Design & Engineering team says: “Until now we would mostly find existing utilities by using traditional cable tracing techniques, but these rely on the utility being conductive. For example we had one utility where the company in question has been digging trial holes for more than a year trying to find their pipe. In some cases we would employ specialist surveying companies.

“We have good knowledge about our utilities on site, but the sheer number of services and the level of congestion underground means we need to know exactly where our assets are. Also, we are normally limited to the boundaries of site and by aircraft traffic which means that sometimes even some of the traditional cable tracing techniques just aren’t available to us.”

The new electronic marker system from 3M will identify all utilities regardless of their material, without the need for specialist contractors. The accurate mapping at Heathrow will identify the locality of a given utility and the 3MID 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. This is achieved through the unique RFID number of each marker and the information about the utility which is stored on each marker at the time it is buried. 3M‘s implementation partner, EGS Technologies, has demonstrated to BAA how to link the 3M marker locator to their GPS devices. This means that the electronic markers can be automatically georeferenced on the GIS mapping system.

The 3M ID Extended Range Ball Markers require no on-board power source and can lie dormant for decades, waiting to announce their presence. Each marker is encased in a high strength polyethylene shell which is impervious to minerals, chemicals and temperature extremes.

In addition to the numerous utilities onsite, BAA also has tens of thousands of manhole chambers at Heathrow alone, each housing various services. Says Andrew Rhoades: “Although our records are generally quite good, due to the need for safety and the complexities and weight of a manhole, it can take hours to lift a cover in order to find out what the chamber contains.”

The company therefore hopes to make significant savings in time and money by using the 3M ID Extended Range Ball Markers to record and map contents of manhole chambers. This will allow workers to verify what services are contained within them without even needing to open the covers at all.

From this year, BAA will be mandating that any work on site either by themselves; by third party utility companies or by contractors will have to ensure that utilities are marked electronically every six metres, at every tee piece and at every turn, helping to rapidly build long term robust records.

For further information on how 3M ID Extended Range Ball Markers and other products can help you, contact Phil Rowlands, Business Development Manager, 3M United Kingdom at

Read the magazine online

August 2021

About the magazine »
Magazine archive »


Information for advertisers »

Pulsar New Banner
buttonwood marketing Huber Water Aid British Water Cranfield University Harvey Communications Pulsar Button June 13 wateractive