Maintenance Tips for Utility Locating Equipment

Electromagnetic locating tools don’t require the level of upkeep that other machines need, but there are several good practices you should think about to help keep your equipment in top shape

Maintenance Tips for Utility Locating Equipment

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With some machines, a consistent regimen of preventive maintenance is critical. Oil needs to be changed out and components need to be greased or you could be in store for an equipment breakdown out in the field. Electromagnetic locating equipment is no different.

While there may not be many wearable components on locating equipment, it doesn’t mean maintenance can be neglected. Here are some tips to help keep your locating tools in good working order:

Be mindful about proper storage

An easy first step to take to keep locating equipment in good shape is paying close attention to how you’re storing it when it’s not in use. The manufacturer likely provided some sort of hard case for storage purposes, so make use of it.

It’s also a good idea to remove the batteries from the unit when it’s not being used. You probably can recall a time when you’ve gone back to something you had stored away and noticed that the batteries had leaked. That is not a fault with the product itself and is something that can be easily prevented.

However, if you use your locating equipment every day, you may not have to worry as much about a battery issue — dead batteries leak acid. Good batteries don’t. If you forget to turn off your equipment, you’ll eventually run the batteries down. If you’re using it every day, you’ll immediately notice this and it may not be an issue. But if you’re using it, say once a week, a dead battery could be sitting in the unit and start leaking acid. Before you know it, the unit’s damaged.

Depending on the manufacturer, there may be software in the equipment that shuts it down when it’s not in use, which can help with this potential battery issue. But some manufacturers select not to do that and the equipment doesn’t shut down unless you do it, so it’s worth keeping all of this in mind.

Don’t be careless in the field

Be aware of situations in which the equipment could be susceptible to accidental damage. It’s obvious advice, but a common cause of locator damage is it simply getting run over. Maybe you lay the equipment down where you’re working or you lean it up against a truck or lay it on the tailgate. Then someone hops in the truck and leaves; next thing you know the locator falls off the truck or gets run over.

For the most part, the receiver will stay near the user, so a little common sense can go a long way toward keeping it safe. For the transmitter, consider placing it in such a way that protects it or making its location clearly visible in some way. For example, if it’s a direct-connect situation where the transmitter is next to the telephone pole or a utility box, be thinking about if it’s positioned in a way that would open it up to possible damage by someone not seeing it. Put it really close to the telephone pole or utility box to protect it, or better yet mark it with an orange traffic cone.

Know your environment limitations

Locators aren’t your everyday electronics. Manufacturers build them to withstand rugged working conditions. Still, it’s important to handle the equipment with care and know where to draw the line. Misuse is more common than equipment failure.

Some locators are better than others, but most manufacturers have built their equipment to withstand the elements — snow, rain, mist. However, water resistance does not mean waterproof. There’s a point where it’s probably raining too hard. If you’re comfortable working in it, you’re probably fine. If it’s a downpour where you don’t even want to be out there, it will probably affect the equipment too.

Upgrade software if necessary

Software is manufacturer-dependent. In some cases, an upgrade may be in order to keep your locator functioning properly. In other cases, you may only have to upgrade if you’re looking for some added features. A locator is not like a computer that needs consistent updates.

While software issues are not common, it doesn’t mean they couldn’t be the root of a problem. If you’re having an issue with your locator, before you send it in for repairs, confirm that you have the manufacturer’s up-to-date software.

Establish a test point to confirm equipment problems

There can be several potential causes if you’re having problems with a locator, none of them pertaining to the equipment’s ability to properly function. For example, there could be interference on the job site.

How can you be 100% sure it’s the equipment that is at fault and not another factor? Be sure to regularly test your equipment on a known pipe or line, so that if a problem arises in the field you can immediately rule out equipment failure. Find a utility at your home base, do a locate on it, get a depth estimate and expose it. Then confirm that the locate was correct and the depth was correct. If that’s all correct, you know your locator is working properly.


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