Manage your excavation risk

Detection of cables & pipes underground.

We can provide detection services throughout Africa

The detection and identification of underground services have become a critical function prior to any invasive or civil engineering groundwork. As our infrastructure networks grow, so does the density of cables, pipes and other services. Reality is that a large proportion of underground service are not appropriately surveyed and recorded. In many instances, this information was recorded, but has not been retained or is not available.

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Underground Detection Services

A variety of detection methods and equipment can be applied to locate, identify and map underground features.

Services include:

  • Detection of pipes 
  • Detection of cables
  • Clearance of monitoring well and borehole locations prior to drilling
  • Clearing trenching positions for various construction applications.
  • Service Detection and Surveying for design purposes.
  • Marking identifies services out with spray paint on the surface or with painted stakes
  • Brief detection report with photos of identified services
  • Survey drawing in CAD formats
  • Other services

We can provide detection services throughout Southern Africa for projects ranging from small construction or building sites through to large linear developments such as roads, power or pipelines.

How do we do this

  • Cable Avoidance Tools (CAT)
  • Signal Generators
  • Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR)

How we detect underground

The first part of the investigation consists of the identification and marking of the electrical cables on the site. This step is performed using a Cable Avoidance Tool (CAT) instrument. The survey area is crossed in a grid pattern and live cables are identified by referring to the instrument’s display screen and a generated tone. The CAT instrument picks up detected services at a 90° angle, giving an indication in which direction the detected services are aligned.

The final phase of the investigation consists of the subsurface screening with ground penetrating radar (GPR). This investigation will identify subsurface infrastructure that could not be detected by the CAT tool, which may include fibre cement, PVC or concrete structures

The detected services are marked using luminescent spray paint on hard standing or and stakes for softer or vegetated areas .Different colour paints are used to differentiate between the live cables and other non-conductive services.

Underground detection
Equipment Limitations

Geophysical techniques all have limitations that need to be considered when using them

  • Ground penetrating radar does has limited penetration through very dense compacted material, saturated soil or soils covered in reinforced concrete
  • Where the dielectric value of the surrounding soil and the service you are looking for are close to each other, a very weak or no reflection will be visible
  • The GPR unit has to be in contact with the soil surface and irregular surfaces cannot be scanned
  • Outside interference from high voltage underground or overhead lines
  • Detected underground services cannot always be service-specifically identified unless they are visible at a termination point, manhole or according to existing information.
  • In areas where underground services are densely concentrated in sub-metreareas, services will be indicated as a band of services. Equipment used in the proposed survey can’t distinguish between individual services in such areas if ground conditions do not allow it.
  • Services buried on top of each other can often not be distinguished using electrical or radar detection methodologies
  • Depth of detected services can be supplied by the avoidance tool if a good signal connection can be made or by GPR within a 10% accuracy.
  • Dense clay formations, high water tables, rubble used as backfill, excessive steel reinforcement in concrete or even load shedding can influence the accuracy of the equipment used and the outcome of the survey.
  • Whilst employing appropriate equipment, processes and best endeavors at all times, no guarantee can be made that any particular element of buried infrastructure will be properly detected or parameterized by the proposed survey due to the large number of variables encountered on different sites. For critical applications it is always recommended that a survey be followed by careful hand excavation and air knife probing

In Conclusion

  • Underground service detection can serve as a tool to avoid the risks of damaging services during refurbishment activities
  • A tool to re-map and re-create as built plans based on the real location of services
  • It can be used as a risk management tool and to provide information for other activities
  • Important to note that geophysics still is an inferred approach and that 100% accuracy and risk control can still only be achieved with trial excavation
  • Hand excavation or air lancing is always recommended prior to work in the vicinity of identified services

Underground Detection Equipment

RD8000 – CAT – Radio detection Cable locator

The cable detector is a hand held instrument that can detect a broad range of frequencies, indicating underground electrical cables and telecommunication cables. Using the instrument the survey area is crossed in a grid pattern and any live cable mapped using the instrument display and tone generated as an indication. The instrument picks up detected services at a 90° angle, giving an indication in which direction the detected services are aligned.

Non-load bearing metallic services or cable can be picked up making use a signal generator. Direct use of the signal transmitter entails the clamping of the services that need to be surveyed onto the signal transmitter. The signal generator then induces a signal directly into the conducting service, making it possible to track the route of the underground service.

When using the signal transmitter indirectly, the operator broadcasts a signal into the ground. This induces frequencies on services with the capability of conducting the signal. Using the cable detection instrument, these services can be located if they resonate or carry the broadcast signal. It is however important that a starting point for the service can be located.

The RD8000 system provides cable and pipeline locators with a fast, effective means of locating and mapping buried utilities.

The RD8000 makes use of the RF signals generated in live electrical cables or phone cables.

A signal generator is clamped to an identified conductive service and the induced signal can be tracked along the length of the service

A signal can also be induced using an indirect broadcast from the signal generator

Information that can be collected

  • Location of the service
  • Depth to the top of the service within 10%
  • Other information gained through investigation of manholes, or access points
  • Services located closely together or conduits cannot always be distinguished, but are marked as bands of services

GSSI – GPR – Ground Penetrating Radar

Ground penetrating radar (GPR) is a geophysical method that uses radar pulses to image the subsurface. This non-destructive method uses electromagnetic radiation in the microwave band (UHF/VHF frequencies) of the radio spectrum and detects the reflected signals from subsurface structures. GPR can be used in a variety of media, including rock, soil, ice, fresh water, pavements and structures. It can detect objects,  changes in material, voids and cracks.

The GPR unit used is a SIR-3000 model with a rugged cart manufactured by GSSI. The cart is pushed along the investigation area in a grid or target pattern. It is critical that the antenna is in direct contact with the ground surface and as such the GPR can only be used on reasonably level areas. Paving or concrete can be penetrated unless it is has been highly compacted or contains a significant amount of reinforcing steel.

Information that can be collected

  • Location of the service
  • Depth to the top of the service within 10%
  • The size of the service can be gauged to some extent based on the parabola indicated
  • Other information gained through investigation of manholes, or access points
  • Services located closely together or conduits cannot always be distinguished, but are marked as bands of services

Areas of Operation

We operate throughout Southern, East and Central Africa and are able to mobilise our detection teams to any site or destination.

We have undertaken projects or have experience in:

  • South Africa
  • Mozambique
  • Swaziland
  • Botswana
  • Namibia
  • Zambia
  • Tanzania
  • Uganda
  • Lesotho
  • Madagascar
  • Nigeria
  • Senegal

Contact us


214 Martha Road,
South Africa

Tel: +27 11 791 3490


Unit 10 Fifth Street Park
Fifth Road
Montague Gardens

Tel: +27 21 200 5852

A division of 

Johannesburg Branch Branch

Cape Town Branch


GeoDetect, a division of GeoRem(Pty) Ltd cannot accept any liability responsibility relating to damage to services or infrastructure, and specifically does not provide, nor imply such guarantees.

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