Category: Blog

Multiple Machines: The Challenges and Successes of Delivering Three TBMs for Malaysia’s Longest Water Tunnel

Simultaneous delivery of TBMs, some of the most complex machines in the construction industry, is no easy task.  Robbins TBM assembly is most often a local process—one that requires skilled workers with knowledge of components designed and manufactured all over the world.

Robbins Main Beam TBMs assembled in the U.S. manufacturing facility.

Robbins use of local or nearby shops can often cut down on delivery times.  A partial video of the TBM assembly process in the Robbins China-Shanghai facility is available here:


The video depicts the recent assembly of one of three 5.2 m (17.2 ft) diameter Robbins Main Beam TBMs.  The machines are being built simultaneously for Malaysia’s Pahang Selangor Raw Water Tunnels, and are a good example of the assembly process.

Each machine is built at a workshop in Shanghai from components manufactured in the U.S. and China.  After assembly of each machine is complete, the TBM and continuous conveyor system are shipped from Shanghai to Port Kelang in Malaysia.  Once at the port, the components are trucked to the jobsite.

“One of the most difficult processes is finding a single shop that can manage the volume of fabrications and machining.  The delivery times for the Malaysian TBMs are one month apart, which means that at one point you are disassembling and shipping the first machine, testing the second machine and starting assembly of the third machine,” said Kolenich.  On average, each TBM requires a skilled crew of 20-30 fabricators, welders, and technicians, but shorter delivery schedules can require up to 60 people in two shifts.  “We have an experienced group in China that has been building machines for many years,” he added.

Assembly of TBM #3, the first machine to be built, was completed in early July 2010.  Assembly of the machine began with core components, including the main bearing and back-up structures, and finished with installation of the electrical and hydraulics systems, as well as outer components including cutterhead pieces and ground support.

The first of three Robbins Main Beam TBMs was completed in July 2010.

“We perform all of the same quality inspections in our shops, regardless of location,” adds Kolenich.  “At the end of assembly there is a two to three week no-load testing period to ensure that each machine is set up and functioning properly per the contractual and engineering requirements.”

The two other Robbins Main Beams will be completed later in 2010, with the factory acceptance for TBM #1 scheduled in August and TBM #2 in mid-September.  The three machines will be launched between December of 2010 and March 2011.

For more about the Pahang Selangor Raw Water Transfer tunnels, visit the Malaysian Government’s Ministry of Energy, Green Technology, and Water.

View a short video about the project here:

Ground Support for High Cover Tunnels: What is the Best Method?

Conditions in high cover tunnels are often challenging.  At the Olmos Trans-Andean tunnel, crews face 2,000 m (6,500 ft) of hard quartz porphyry, andesite, and other volcanic rocks under high stress.  At two rail tunnels in China’s Gansu Province, open-type machines are boring beneath 1,400 m (4600 ft) of weak phyllite and sandstone.

Launch of the Robbins TBM at Peru’s Olmos project, the world’s second deepest tunnel

Ground support, particularly in deep tunnel projects, is a highly debated topic.  However, recent successes have pointed to several systems that work in a variety of situations.  The Robbins Main Beam at Olmos was launched in 2007, and began to experience significant rock bursting and cathedralling under sections of high cover.  “We encountered a 1,200 m (4,000 ft) section of highly fractured ground, with over 8,500 recorded rock bursts.  Cavities also formed during tunneling that had to be injected with grout,” said John Simm, Robbins Field Service Superintendent.

To better contain the fractured rock, the machine’s roof shield fingers were removed and replaced with the McNally Support System, supplied by C&M McNally Engineering of Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  The McNally support System provides the benefit of continuous support along the roof area of the tunnel, which protects workers from falling rock.  The system works by replacing the curved finger shield plate for a curved assembly of pockets with rectangular cross-sections.  Steel or wood slats are extruded from the pockets and bolted to the tunnel crown using a steel strap, effectively supporting and minimizing collapsing ground.  As the machine advances, slats are reloaded into the pockets.

McNally slats supporting rock in the Olmos Trans-Andean Tunnel

The below video shows the crew loading McNally slats into the pockets:

The system successfully contained numerous high-pressure rock bursts at Olmos, as seen in the below video courtesy of Dean Brox from Hatch Mott MacDonald:

For the machines at China’s West Qinling tunnels, the answer is a versatile ground support system that can be adapted depending on the ground conditions.  The two 10.2 m (33.5 ft) diameter Main Beam TBMs are the first Robbins Main Beam machines built with specialized ground support and no finger shields.  Instead of the roof fingers, the machines are designed with mesh pockets beneath a protective shield for workers to safely install mesh panels.

Assembly of two Robbins Main Beams with specialized ground support at China’s West Qinling Tunnels

The machines can also use the McNally Support System if needed.  Modified pockets can be bolted inside the mesh windows, allowing space for short slats of steel or wood.

In addition, streamlined materials handling and separate roof and probe drills allow for improved progress in high cover conditions.  Redesigned ring beam installers allow for loose assembly and expansion against the tunnel walls, and can be easily converted to install steel straps rather than full rings.

Materials including ring beams and mesh panels are transported on a remotely operated carriage, requiring fewer transfer points

Both machines are currently excavating 16.6 km (10.3 mi) long rail tunnels.

The two 10.2 m (33.5 ft) TBMs were launched in June and July 2010

For more information on ground support in large diameter tunnels, check out this recent technical paper: Large Diameter TBMs_WTC2010