Continuing to Break New Ground

Historical Group PhotoThe Robbins Company designed and manufactured the world’s first rock tunnel boring machine (TBM), shortly after the company’s founding by James Robbins in 1952. Robbins built the TBM for Mitry Constructors who were working on the Oahe Dam diversion project near Pierre, South Dakota, USA.

The Robbins Company also invented both the Main Beam and Double Shield TBMs. Robbins is best known for its very successful Main Beam TBMs, but we are also a pioneer in hard rock Double Shield machines. More specifically, we have manufactured 50 Robbins Double Shields for 85 projects totaling over 550 km of tunnel.

The major breakthrough in the design of hard rock TBMs occurred in 1956 when disc cutters were first used exclusively to cut rock. On the first several machines pick cutters and disc cutters were used, but since then only disc cutters have been used to excavate hard rock on tunnels. In addition to Robbins’ large diameter tunnel boring machines, Robbins offers a range of “trenchless technology” products including auger boring machines, rock cutterheads for auger boring known as Small Boring Units (SBUs), and self-propelled Rockhead machines for longer bores.

Historical TBM PhotoToday, Robbins is an employee-owned company with three facilities in the USA, subsidiaries in ten countries and representation worldwide. Learn more about our locations.

Robbins continues to build on the foundations for success laid by James and his son, Richard Robbins. We maintain a highly qualified design engineering staff, worldwide manufacturing capabilities and some of the most experienced service technicians to be found in the industry. This is the Robbins team that builds the TBMs that hold more than 90% of all world records for high speed tunneling. Our world records are proof of the quality you can expect when you buy a Robbins product.

Major Milestones in TBM Tunneling:


Excavating Rock by Tunnel Boring Machine

First Successful Use of Disc Cutters
Year: 1956
Project Name: Humber River
Country: Canada
Before 1956, TBMs had never been used to excavate rock. The chrystalline limestone on the project was too hard for the drag bits being used on machines at the time. So, Robbins invented the rolling disc cutter and the contractor succeeded in boring the first rock tunnel ever.


Safe, High Speed Tunneling in Difficult Ground

First Double Shield TBM
Year: 1972
Project Name: Orichella
Country: Italy
The contractor for the project, SELI, needed a TBM solution that would protect workers in broken ground and provide a rapid rate of advance, while simultaneously lining the tunnel. To fit their need, The Robbins Company invented the Double Shield TBM.


Over 20 years in the making

One of the largest TBM projects
Year: 1978 – 1998
Project Name: Chicago Tunnel and Reservoir Plan (TARP)
Country: USA
In possibly the largest clean water environmental project of the twentieth century, the TARP project called for massive tunnel construction over the course of twenty years. The city’s bold concept called for the largest hard rock TBMs yet to be manufactured (10 m in diameter). Robbins delivered 20 TBMs over the course of the project.


Joining the United Kingdom to Continental Europe

Excavating Rock under 10 Bar Water Pressure
Year: 1987 – 1991
Project Name: Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL)
Country: England / France
The Robbins Company was the principal supplier of TBM technology for this project.
We also developed a new machine concept to manage the 10-bar water pressure anticipated in the worst sections of the tunnel. The project had been a dream for over 100 years, and was finally accomplished through a close collaboration between equipment manufacturers and the international consortium of contractors.


Arctic Circle Hydropower Project

The First 19″ Disc Cutters, the First HP-TBMs™ and the First Wedge-Lock™ Cutters
Year: 1988
Project: The Svartisen Hydroelectric Project
Country: Norway
Robbins introduced HP-TBM™, High-Performance TBM, for the Norwegian contractor Statkraft Anlegge when a project called for very difficult geology to be bored. The three HP-TBMs employed had substantially higher capacity main bearings, more cutterhead power, and more cutterhead thrust than any other hard rock TBMs of that size (3 to 5 m in diameter). To withstand all of this additional thrust and power, Robbins developed the new high-capacity 19″ cutter with wedge-lock™ mounting system.


Auger Boring Through Rock

The Advent of the Small Boring Unit
Year: 1996
Project: Pennsylvania Turnpike
Country: USA
The contractor, Fithian, was attempting to excavate a 36″ tunnel in rock with an auger boring machine using a carbide bit “Christmas tree” head. The head wasn’t cutting the rock and the contractor turned to Robbins for a solution. The Small Boring Unit (SBU) was invented for the job, and Fithian completed the tunnel in just one week with this new method.


Tunneling at Niagara Falls

The World’s Largest Hard Rock TBM
Year: 2006
Project: Niagara Hydroelectric Power Project
Country: Canada
Contractor Strabag AG of Austria took a unique approach to the tunnel construction for the Niagara power project when they elected to use a Main Beam hard rock TBM to excavate the 14.4 m diameter tunnel. Strabag had previous experience with Robbins HP-TBM™ technology from the Second Manapouri Tailrace Project in New Zealand. For Niagara, Strabag again elected to go with a Robbins HP-TBM™, this one being the world’s largest hard rock TBM. This machine is the first ever to be fitted with back-loading 20″ cutters.