Copper Cable Theft Conference

August 2011 Conferences & Events

Business Against Crime estimates that copper cable theft is costing South Africa over R5 billion a year, with the damage done amounting to far more than the value of the stolen material. Driven by high prices, copper theft brings down telecommunications, transport and electricity services, impacts on living standards and drives up the costs of goods and transport.

The recent Copper Cable Theft Conference highlighted the serious effects of copper cable theft and covered the latest strategies to combat this scourge, the challenges faced in the protection of copper cables and the policies in place to control theft.

Policing of microdot technology

Microdotting is a major theft deterrent. It facilitates recovery of goods, reduces insurance premiums, assists police with convictions and reduces the temptation to buy stolen goods. Andy Crawley, chairman of the Edenvale Community Police Forum, described how vehicle manufacturers are already microdotting vehicles. Up to 15 000 microdots combined with a UV taggant are sprayed onto the vehicle in 88 positions. The dots are encoded with the vehicle’s VIN number which is registered in the central Unicode database.The taggant can be picked up by an inexpensive UV torch or microscope held by the police. Legislation to be implemented by January 2012 will require all new vehicles to be microdotted. These same advantages can be applied to the microdotting of cables.

Andy Crawley (left) from Edenvale CPF, with Kevin Peterson from Holomatrix
Andy Crawley (left) from Edenvale CPF, with Kevin Peterson from Holomatrix


Nivashnee Ramparsad, customer services engineer for Aberdare Cables, presented a solution to the theft of buried cables. This is a product called CableGuard. Invented in South Africa and patented worldwide, it is almost ready for commercialisation. Quick and easy to apply, it comprises a strong, corrosion resistant clamping system which clamps securely round the outer cable serving at 5 to 10 metre intervals. Its large projected area provides a resistance to pull against the trench and prevents long lengths of cable being pulled out of the ground by powerful vehicles. In a number of tests to simulate cable theft, lengths of cable fitted with CableGuard were subjected to continuous full throttle pulling and deliberate jerking. A Land Rover, an 8 ton double–differential mechanical horse and a Caterpillar 427 front end loader all failed to remove the cable.

Detection and verification by video

Patrick Pillay, sales & marketing manager of Paltco Technologies, highlighted the challenges of protecting cables in remote unmanned locations and covert installations. Problems include getting cabling to devices and cameras, transmission of video footage to the control rooms and identification of suspects. One solution is a product called Videofied which is made by RSI Video Technologies. This is a wireless, self-powered system which provides video verification of alarms and signals a crime in progress. Affordable and portable, it stops copper theft by immediately alerting professional monitoring staff of an attempted theft by providing video footage of the incident.

The motion activated alarm system takes a 10 second video clip which is transmitted over a GSM network to the control panel up to 2 km away. A monitoring workstation shows which cameras have triggered and makes it possible to verify if a crime is in progress and dispatch a response team if necessary. Videofied has been effectively used in cell towers, electrical substations, commercial buildings, well heads and refineries.

“Visual verification results in apprehensions, not reruns after the crime,” concluded Pillay.

Authenticable copper cable theft solution

Kevin Peterson, CEO of security solutions company Holomatrix, told how Holomatrix was approached by Business Against Crime to develop a solution to counter rampant copper cable theft. The technology had to be easily applied, withstand harsh environments and combat strategies employed by crime syndicates such as burning, stripping, chemical attack and grinding. It also had to maintain the integrity of the conductor, provide irrefutable proof of identity and offer a high level of forensic scrutiny.

Holomatrix came up with Authenticable, a linear PET tape system with three unique identification mechanisms: a printed serial number or barcode, a nickel holographic microdot bearing a unique code and an invisible DNA taggant. The sequential printed serial numbers are run every 2,5 cm. The microdots are embedded in the PET carrier and the DNA trace is imprinted along the carrier. The tape is applied into the core of the conductors while they are being manufactured and fits with existing production methodologies. The microdots and DNA taggant can survive exposure to fire. The result is unique, accurate identification down to 2,5 cm and cradle to grave traceability of every piece of cable.

Cable identification with embedded tape

Kieron Leeburn, chief engineer of CBI-electric: African Cables, covered the methods available for identifying assets: embossing, embedded printed tapes, etched wires, microdot marking and DNA trace marking. CBI, after considering factors such as cost, ease of removal, availability and risk of processing errors, came to the conclusion that the best solution for copper cable is embedded tape.

This took the form of a continuous length of PET tape containing a printed sequence of unique ID numbers which is embedded into the conductor. The barcode facilitates scanning and reduces the risk of typographical errors. The owner of the core can be found through any two partial numbers. Records are stored offsite at a data management centre such as Unicode. The database is populated with the details of every drum of cable sold. Data includes manufacturer, drum number, serial numbers of each core, product description, date manufactured and product owner.

The tape is put in at the stranding stage and does not impact on performance. Once inside the core it is heat resistant and difficult to remove. Only a small sample is needed to prove ownership.

CBI has already implemented this scheme at no extra cost to the customer. It allows theft prevention at all stages: manufacture, transit, storage and distribution to site. The serial numbers comply with the Second Hand Goods Act.

He concluded that this solution addresses theft in four ways: it gives proof of possession, it proves involvement with crime, it applies pressure on scrap dealers to keep a register of serial numbers in line with the Second Hand Goods Act and it compels them to report tampering of identifying marks.

Tyred of cable theft?

Cable theft is a crime scourge impacting everyone in South Africa. A potentially unique South Africa solution to this problem comes from the company Cable Theft. The company uses old truck tyres to protect cables. A length of flattened steel reinforced truck tyre thread is placed underneath a cable and another is placed above it. The two sections are bolted together at 500 mm intervals. The remaining sidewall sections of the tyres are cut into ‘half-moons’ and overlaid along the length of the trench.

The company has had success with this new method working for Eskom.

Contact Werner Britz on +27 (82) 882 5273, or

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