The escalating issue of cable theft globally could be stopped in its tracks thanks to a breakthrough in cutting-edge technology that allows the forensic marking of individual reels – a move increasingly being demanded of manufacturers by major cable users.
With worldwide prices of metals such as copper and lead at an all-time high due to demand from the Far East, thieves have been targeting communications infrastructure and causing massive disruption as well as creating significant costs for utilities networks in repair and replacement.
The problem is lack of traceability, as law enforcement officers, who frequently know who is either stealing or buying the stolen cable, are powerless to do anything because it’s not possible to prove it is stolen. Traceability back to a particular location is the key. Simply marking the outer insulation with the owners details has been found to ineffective as thieves frequently strip or burn it away to achieve a high price from the scrap metal dealer.
But now, with an amazing technological breakthrough, award-winning risk management and crime prevention innovator, SmartWater Technology Ltd, has solved the complex issue of marking cable reels with its forensically coded liquid during the manufacturing process and recording the data in a way that will give law enforcement agencies the ability to tie thieves to their crimes – or, preferably, deter them from committing those crimes.
SmartWater’s patented state-of-the-art technology has already been successfully deployed in the telecoms environment, with the UK’s BT Openreach recently securing its first conviction of cable thieves, and British Transport Police also securing its first conviction of a thief who stole Network Rail cable. But in each case, the solution had to be applied manually and the demand from major cable users for the application of SmartWater at the manufacturing stage has grown steadily.
SmartWater Chief Executive, Phil Cleary, explained: “Law enforcement officers worldwide frequently know where stolen cable is being sold but, until now, haven’t had the technological means to identify it as stolen and tie the criminals to their crime. Our technological breakthrough can change all that, allowing any cable manufacturer to build the application of SmartWater into their manufacturing process and then be able to demonstrate without doubt which customer was sold each reel. We can do this across products with multiple cores, in any part of the cable.
“The benefits of this go further because, for the first time, the manufacturers will be able to pinpoint the place and time of production of each reel, giving them the kind of power over quality control they have never had before and the ability to reject warranty claims based on counterfeits of their products.
“In terms of the criminal, be it a thief or a scrap metal dealer who knowingly buys stolen cable, traceability leads to accountability. The sooner they realise that stealing cable is no longer the low risk enterprise they once considered it to be, the sooner our many networks, from communications to transport, will be safer and significantly less prone to the huge disruptions we are seeing today.”
The challenge has been to develop a forensic ‘fingerprint’ that will withstand the temperature of the extrusion process and the harsh environmental conditions that some cable is exposed to. Mr Cleary said:
“We tried using DNA but it just wasn’t tough enough, as it was killed off by the heat or daylight.”
SmartWater is able to stand up to the high temperatures required in the cable manufacturing process without degradation. In the past the road block in deploying the forensic liquid has been in the ability to capture and store the unique signatures that will be required for each reel to make the deterrent and crime-busting capabilities of the solution a reality.
Mr Cleary added: “This elegant solution to a major worldwide problem is what the major cable clients have been crying out for and I’m pleased to say that we are in talks with leading cable manufacturers about how they can build SmartWater into their processes. The actual application of SmartWater is a simple engineering procedure and we work to enhance in-house Quality Control systems to accommodate the traceability.
“There is real evidence that the problem of theft of cable is so great for some utility companies that they would be willing to pay a premium for forensically traceable cable that provides them with an enhanced protection.”
SmartWater has already earned an impressive reputation for its deterrent effects and ability to provide unequivocal legal evidence when thieves are caught. Household name utilities such as BT Openreach, Network Rail and many others from around the world are already using the forensically-coded liquid.