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On May 23, 2019, a celebration was in order: The last of six 8.93 m (29.3 ft) diameter EPBs had completed excavation at Lot 4 of Mexico City’s Túnel Emisor Oriente (TEO), a feat marking the completion of ten years and 62.1 km (38.6 mi) of tunneling. “We are proud of having successfully finished the excavation, despite all the adversities we faced, such as large inflows of water, hydraulic loads and constant changes in geology. We solved these by adapting the excavation mode according to each type of geology found,” said Hector Arturo Carrillo, Machinery Manager for Lot 4 contractor Carso Infraestructura y Construcción (CARSO).
Despite multiple challenges, the operation achieved a project record of 30 m (98 ft) in one day, and a high of 528 m (1,732 ft) in one month. It’s a result that, Carillo says, has much to do with the continuous conveyor system being used for muck removal: “It should be noted that our advance rates were achieved thanks to the great Robbins conveyor design. The tunnel conveyor was composed with elements such as the booster, vertical belt, curve idlers, and advancing tail piece, as well as elements on the surface. Personally, I think it is a great, admirable system that has helped us achieve the TBM’s performance.”
The breakthrough was the latest and greatest milestone for an urgently needed wastewater project that spanned some of the most difficult geology ever encountered by EPBs. The 10.2 km (6.3 mi) long Lot 4, running from Shaft 17 to Shaft 13 at depths of up to 85 m (280 ft), included sections of basalt rock interspersed with permeable sands with high water pressure. “Our machines had to go through the worst geology, but they were designed for it,” said Roberto Gonzalez Ramirez, General Manager for Robbins Mexico, of the three Robbins EPBs and continuous conveyor systems used on Lots 3, 4, and 5 of the project.
All of the machines were designed for water pressures from 4 to 6 bars, with mixed ground, back-loading cutterheads to tackle variable ground conditions. High pressure, tungsten carbide knife bits could be interchanged with 17-inch diameter carbide disc cutters depending on the geology. Other features included man locks and material locks designed to withstand pressures up to 7 bar, a redesigned bulkhead, and Hardox plates to reinforce the screw conveyors as well as removable wear plates to further strengthen each screw conveyor flight. The rotary union joint was redesigned to improve cutter change times during cutterhead interventions, while a new scraper design offered more impact resistance in mixed ground conditions with rock.
The Lot 4 TBM was assembled in the launch shaft no. 17 and commissioned in August 2012, with the bridge and all the back-up gantries at the surface. Two months later in October 2012, after advancing 150 m (490 ft), the machine and its back-up were completely assembled in the tunnel. One month later, the continuous conveyor system was installed and running.
After 405 m (1,328 ft) of excavation, the presence of rocks, scrapers, parts of the mixing bars and other wear materials in the excavated muck prompted a cutterhead inspection. With high pressure up to 3.5 bars, it was determined that a hyperbaric intervention was necessary, and on June 2nd, 2013 the first hyperbaric intervention through an EPB in a tunnel was performed in Mexico. However, these interventions were done at great cost and proved to be time-consuming. After about 50 hyperbaric interventions the remainder of the project’s interventions were done in open air. “The interventions carried out in atmospheric mode were the biggest challenge. The great influx of water tested the limits, because we were excavating on a decline. In all of these interventions we had to implement a double pumping system, at both the TBM and the shaft,” said Carrillo. Despite the challenges of pumping water at volumes up to 180 l (48 gal) per second and cleaning fines from the tunnel each time the operation was performed, atmospheric interventions were still lower in cost and quicker than those done at hyperbaric pressure.
Even when conditions were tough, Carrillo felt his operation was well-supported by Robbins Field Service: “Robbins were always present giving ideas and contributing all their experience to solve the problems. One of the most recent examples, almost at the end of this project, was where the machine encountered a blockage to the shield and could not move forward. It became necessary to implement the exceptional pressure hydraulic system, reaching a pressure range of 596 bar on 28 thrust cylinders. Robbins personnel helped us during all that time and we were able to get through it.”
In April 2019, a Robbins Double Shield TBM defied the notoriously difficult geology of the Himalayas to break through about one year ahead of the overall project schedule, and seven months ahead of the TBM tunneling schedule. Nepal’s first tunnel boring machine, at 5.06 m (16.6 ft) diameter, achieved over 1,000 m (3,300 ft) monthly advance on two separate occasions and averaged over 700 m (2,300 ft) per month over the course of tunneling. The machine completed the 12.2 km (7.5 mi) Bheri Babai Diversion Multipurpose Project (BBDMP) for the Government of Nepal’s Department of Irrigation (DOI) and contractor China Overseas Engineering Group Co. Ltd. Nepal Branch (COVEC Nepal).
The large and well-attended ceremony featured a speech by the Prime Minister of Nepal KP Sharma Oli, where he praised the project and its success for the future of TBM projects in the country. “It is not just that new technology has entered Nepal; it is a matter of great gain. The government has plans to execute various other multipurpose projects such as the Sunkoshi-Marin Diversion Project.”
The machine’s completion of the tunnel in just 17 months came nearly a year ahead of the DOI’s deadline for completing the tunnel of March 28, 2020, with the contractor’s schedule being more aggressive. “The breakthrough ceremony was great. We’re proud that we finally did it and were ahead of the overall schedule by almost one year,” said Mr. Hu Tianran, Project Manager for COVEC.
When the BBDMP was fast-tracked as one of the country’s “National Pride Projects” feasibility studies showed that Drill & Blast excavation of the tunnel could take as long as 12 years. The DOI needed a faster option, and they found it in TBMs. They began working with local Robbins representatives MOSH Tunnelling to bring what would be the first Nepalese TBM ever into the country. The process for the DOI to acquire funding for the project and select a contractor through international competitive bidding took seven years, spanning from 2007 to 2015, when project commencement officially began. “We are proud to have introduced TBM technology successfully,” said Prajwal Man Shrestha, Robbins Representative in Nepal with MOSH Tunnelling. “Despite roadblocks and resistance along the way, we eventually introduced this technology, which broke all tunneling records in Nepal. The country has received international attention and contractors and developers from around the world are now considering Nepal for future TBM projects.”
The tunnel is located in the Siwalik Range, part of the Southern Himalayan Mountains, where geology consists of mainly sandstone, mudstone, and conglomerate. “Using the TBM method instead of the conventional drill and blast method was the key factor for the success of this project. It has set a good example for the implementation of a large number of similar tunnels in Nepal’s water/energy/transportation projects in the future. There are promising prospects in the application of TBM technology in Nepal in my point of view,” said Mr. Hu.
To ensure the best TBM performance and to prevent downtime, machine maintenance occurred daily at a fixed time. Geological engineers analyzed the ground conditions twice daily to adjust the tunneling parameters if needed. The careful plan of excavation worked: The knowledgeable COVEC team traversed a risky fault zone, the Bheri Thrust at the 5.8 km (3.6 mi) mark, with no problems, and overcame a stuck TBM shield at another point with a bypass tunnel constructed in just five days. To cope with the conditions, the Robbins machine was designed with Difficult Ground Solutions (DGS), a suite of features including enhanced probe drilling and forepoling capabilities, as well as a stepped machine shield and smooth cutterhead design to avoid becoming stuck in collapsing ground.
The secret to the machine’s rapid excavation is good planning, says Mr. Hu: “As the contractor and the equipment supplier jointly carried out in-depth research and detailed design in the preliminary stage, the TBM was matched to the various conditions of the project. Together with the advantages in hard rock construction that The Robbins Company has, we made an excellent performance of the TBM on this project.”
Once the BBDMP is operational, it will irrigate 51,000 hectares of land in the southern region of Nepal, and provide 48 MW annual generating capacity. It will divert 42 cubic meters (1,500 cubic feet) of water per second from Bheri River to Babai River under a head of 150 m (490 ft) using a 15 m (49 ft) tall dam, providing year-round irrigation in the surrounding Banke and Bardia districts. The estimated annual benefit in Nepalese Rupees is $2.9 billion for irrigation, and $4.3 billion for hydropower, making a total of NPR $7.2 billion (approx. USD $64 million) in benefits once the project becomes active.
In April 2019, a Robbins 3.5 m (11.5 ft) diameter Main Beam TBM broke through into open space, completing its 2.8 km (1.7 mi) long tunnel. It was not the first time the machine had encountered open space: twice during tunneling, the machine hit uncharted caverns, the largest of which measured a staggering 8,000 cubic meters (283,000 cubic ft) in size.
The obstacles overcome at the recent breakthrough are a significant achievement, said Marc Dhiersat, Project Director of the Galerie des Janots tunnel for contractor Eiffage Civil Construction. “We are proud to have led a motivated and conscientious team to the end of the tunnel who worked well without accidents despite the many technical difficulties encountered.”
The water tunnel, located below the community of Cassis, France, is an area of limestone known for its groundwater, karstic cavities, and voids. The limestone, combined with powdery clays, made for difficult excavation after the machine’s March 2017 launch. At the 1,035 m (3,395 ft) mark, the crew hit a cavern on the TBM’s left side. The cavern, studded with stalactites and stalagmites, was grazed by the TBM shield. The crew had to erect a 4 m (13 ft) high wall of concrete so the TBM would have something to grip against. The TBM was then started up and was able to successfully navigate out of the cavern in eight strokes without significant downtime to the operation—the process took about two weeks. Despite the challenges, Dhiersat thought positively of the TBM throughout the ordeal: “This has been the best machine for the job due to all the geological difficulties.”
The first cavern, while the largest, was not the most difficult void encountered. The machine was averaging 20 to 22 m (65 to 72 ft) advance per day in two shifts after clearing the first cavity, with a dedicated night shift for maintenance. While excavating, a combination of probe drilling and geotechnical BEAM investigation—a type of electricity-induced polarization to detect anomalies ahead of the TBM—were used. Crews ran the excavation five days per week, achieving over 400 m (1,310 ft) in one month. This performance continued until the 2,157 m (7,077 ft) mark, when the machine grazed the top of an unknown cavity that extended deep below the tunnel path. The structure measured 22 m (72 ft) long, 15 m (49 ft) wide, and 14 m (46 ft) deep, or about 4,500 cubic meters (159,000 cubic ft) of open space.
Crews probed in front of the cutterhead and began work to stabilize and secure the cavity with foam and concrete, as well as excavate a bypass gallery. “After filling much of the cavity (1,500 m3/53,000 ft3), our biggest difficulty was to ensure the gripping of the machine: We needed six bypass galleries and four months of work to reach the end of this challenge,” said Dhiersat. For the last 600 m (2,000 ft) of tunneling, “we were finally in good rock,” he emphasized. Overall rates for the project averaged 18 m (59 ft) per day in two shifts, and topped out at 25 m (82 ft) in one day.
“The cooperation with Marc and his team on site was very good and we always enjoyed their professionalism and commitment to the project and the task. This, without any doubt was key for the success we achieved,” said Detlef Jordan, Business Manager Robbins Europe. “For us, it was satisfying and motivating to see that, by working together and joining the efforts of all partners on the project, the best and most successful outcome can be achieved. This commitment for decades has been at the heart of success in the tunneling industry, but it has not always been observed on other recent projects.”
Galerie des Janots is one of fourteen operations designed to save water and protect resources, which are being carried out by the Aix-Marseille-Provence metropolis, the water agency Rhône Mediterranean Corsica, and the State Government. The Janots gallery, once online, will replace existing pipelines currently located in a railway tunnel—these original pipes have significant deficiencies with estimated water losses of 500,000 cubic meters (132 million gallons) per year. The new tunnel will increase capacity to 440 liters (116 gallons) per second.
On February 28, 2019 a ceremony was held to mark the breakthrough of a machine proven in both soft ground and hard rock. The 8.93 m (29.3 ft) diameter Robbins EPB and continuous conveyor system completed what is arguably one of the most difficult legs of the complex Emisor Oriente tunnel, an epic 62 km (39 mi) long conduit that will revamp wastewater treatment for more than 21.2 million people in Mexico City.
The 6 km (3.7 mi) long Lot 5, one of six lots at Emisor Oriente, required the Robbins machine to be launched from the deepest civil works shaft in Mexico, at 150 m (492 ft), and excavated mixed face conditions as well as abrasive basalt rock. “I am proud of concluding the excavation successfully given that this is the section with the greatest depth on the project,” said José Adolfo Méndez Colorado, Superintendente de Maquinaria for contractor Ingenieros Civiles Asociados (ICA). “Robbins Field Service had an important contribution in satisfactorily concluding this section. The machine operation was of primary importance: Field Service personnel know how to operate the equipment accurately for favorable results. The speed with which they detect a problem is a favorable point to reduce downtime on the excavation.”
The complexity of the ground conditions, continued Méndez, required the correct concentration and selection of polymers, a large challenge in itself. Field Service assisted with other issues and with equipment operation: “There were some issues with the screw conveyor conveying mixed ground and also in the articulation system, which were overcome with Field Service experience. They also knew the correct operation of the continuous conveyor system, which kept us to expected performance.”
“We are very proud of this machine as it has worked in two very different worlds,” said Roberto Gonzalez, General Manager for Robbins Mexico. In 2011 the machine originally slated for Lot 5 was fast-tracked to bore a 3.9 km (2.4 mi) long section of Lot 1b—a critical part of the line that needed to become operational right away to prevent chronic seasonal flooding. “The EPB proved itself while using conveyors in the sticky clays of Mexico City with very high percentages of water content, up to 400%.” The machine achieved rates of up to 592.5 m (1,944 ft) in one month—considered a record among the six EPBs (three of them Robbins) used on the project. After completing the bore in just 15 months, the machine was sent to the Lot 5 site, where modifications were made for a section of mixed ground and rock.
Modifications included a high-pressure man lock capable of withstanding 7 bars, chromium carbide wear plates added to the screw conveyor, and grizzly bars added to the cutterhead along with heavy duty cutting tools.
The machine was assembled in a 28 m (92 ft) long assembly chamber at the bottom of the launch shaft and commissioned in August 2014, requiring all back-up gantries to remain at the surface. Two months later in October 2014, after advancing 150 meters (492 ft), the machine and its back-up gantries were completely assembled in the tunnel. One month later, the continuous conveyor system was installed and running. “The assembly of the EPB at Lot 5 has the record of the deepest assembly of a TBM in Mexico. It required great coordination of ICA engineers, high capacity cranes for the assembly and human resources in order to keep to the ten-week schedule for assembly,” said Gonzalez.
With tunneling at Lot 5 now officially concluded there is one more breakthrough remaining before the Emisor Oriente line is complete: An 8.93 m (29.3 ft) Robbins EPB operating at Lot 4 is scheduled to break through this spring. A third Robbins EPB operating at Lot 3 completed its tunnel in 2018.
The Túnel Emisor Oriente (TEO) is the answer to more than 100 years of sinking in Mexico City as the result of drained lake beds and general lowering of the water table. The city’s buildings, main streets and other structures have sunk more than 12 m (39 ft) in that time, and much of the area is vulnerable to flooding. At the same time the area’s gravity-fed wastewater lines have lost their slope and are severely under capacity.
Once tunneling is complete, the resulting TEO will expand capacity, adding 150 m3/sec (5,297 ft3/sec) to the Valley of Mexico system, as well as alleviating the risk of flooding in critical areas. It will also convey wastewater to the country’s largest wastewater treatment plant. The massive tunnel includes 24 shafts, ranging from 23 meters to 150 meters (75 to 492 ft) in depth, plus an exit portal at the treatment plant in the Municipality of Atotonilco, in the state of Hidalgo.
Excavation of Turkey’s longest water tunnel came to an end on December 18, 2018. To get there, a 5.56 m (18.2 ft) diameter Robbins Crossover (XRE) TBM and the contractor JV of Kolin/Limak had to overcome dozens of major fault zones and water pressures up to 26 bar. The completed national priority water line is set to go into operation in March 2019.
The 31.6 km (19.6 mi) long Gerede Water Transmission Tunnel is an urgently needed project due to severe and chronic droughts in the capital city Ankara. Its final leg, a 9.0 km (5.6 mi) section of extremely difficult ground including sandstone agglomerate, limestone and tuff, was just one section in the middle of a tunnel widely considered to be the most challenging ever driven by TBMs in Turkey. “I’ve had the chance to study and visit the majority of mechanized tunnelling projects in Turkey since the 1980s. The Gerede project is one of the most challenging projects among them,” said Dr. Nuh Bilgin, Professor of Mine and Tunnel Mechanization at Istanbul Technical University and Chairman of the Turkish Tunnelling Society.
The Robbins XRE TBM was called in to complete the tunnel, which was at a standstill after using three Double Shield TBMs from another manufacturer. Those machines encountered incredibly difficult geology including massive inrushes of mud and water. The Kolin/Limak JV had to develop a new strategy given the unexpected ground conditions. They contacted The Robbins Company, who suggested a Crossover (Dual-Mode Type) TBM for the remaining section of tunnel. “The Crossover TBM provided great ease and versatility during the entire project with frequently changing ground conditions. The TBM was equipped with features such as increased thrust, two-speed gearbox, and modular screw conveyor. It was capable of giving the necessary responses in different geologies, which was our most important asset in achieving our goal,” said Barış Duman, Project Manager for the Kolin – Limak JV.
“The challenging part for us was to design and manufacture a TBM that could complete the difficult section of the Gerede Tunnel where two other competitor TBMs had failed,” said Yunus Alpagut, Robbins representative in Turkey. The specialized machine was designed to statically hold water pressure up to 20 bar, a failsafe that none of the standard Double Shield TBMs had been equipped with. A convertible cutterhead was also provided that was designed for ease of conversion between hard rock and EPB modes, and with cutter housings that could be fitted with either disc cutters or tungsten carbide tooling. To cope with difficult ground, the Gerede machine was also equipped with the Torque-Shift System, multi-speed gearing allowing the machine to function as either an EPB or a hard rock TBM. This function is done by adding another gear reduction–heavy duty pinions and bull gears accommodate high torque at low speed, allowing the machine to bore through fault zones and soft ground without becoming stuck.
The Crossover machine was assembled in spring 2016 after crews excavated a bypass tunnel to one side of one of the stuck Double Shield TBMs. An underground assembly chamber allowed the machine to be built in the tunnel using Onsite First Time Assembly (OFTA). “The logistics of getting components through the existing tunnel were the most challenging thing. The assembly chamber was 7 km (4 mi) from the portal. The water inflow of 600 l/s (159 gal/s) made it difficult to get the materials to the machine,” said Glen Maynard, Robbins Field Service Site Manager.
Despite the challenges, the machine began boring in summer 2016 and within the first 50 m (160 ft) of boring had successfully passed through the section that buried the original Double Shield TBM. The machine was required to be used in EPB mode as it encountered water pressures up to 26 bars, alluvium, flowing materials, clay and a total of 48 fault zones. Water pressure was lowered by draining the ground water through the rear shield probe drill ports, which were equipped with normally-closed ball valves. Probe drilling was done on a routine basis to get through the ground conditions. “Together with the difficult geological conditions the travel time to reach the TBM within the tunnel had effects on TBM performance. Despite this constraint, the tunnel excavation achieved a best day of 29.4 m (96.5 ft), best week of 134.6 m (441.6 ft) and a best month of 484 m (1,588 ft),” said Duman.
“We had many challenging areas with water and high pressures up to 26 bar along with alluvial material in fault zones. Ground pressure on the shield body caused squeezing conditions in clay. In these regions, we were able to quickly pass through by keeping the TBM advance rate, cutterhead rpm and screw conveyor rotation speed at the ideal level. Ultimately, we think our decision to select a Crossover TBM was correct,” continued Duman.
With tunneling complete, the pipeline is on track to open in March 2019. The tunnel will convey water from the Gerede River to Çamlıdere Dam, which provides potable water for the Ankara city water system.
On October 4, 2018, onlookers watched as a 3.8 m (12.5 ft) diameter Robbins Main Beam TBM completed its epic journey. The TBM, christened “Driller Mike”, after local rapper and activist “Killer Mike”, overcame extremely hard rock conditions along a curving 8.0 km (5.0 mi) tunnel to bolster the city of Atlanta, Georgia, USA’s water supply.
The new tunnel brings the Atlanta Water Supply Program one step closer to increasing the city’s water capacity to between 30 and 90 days depending on daily usage. “Our schedule for the project was very aggressive but the project team stayed together to overcome issues related to the mining of the tunnel,” said Bob Huie, Project Director for the PC Russell JV, the Construction Manager at Risk (CMAR) for the project.
The unique structure of the project team is credited with the overall project success despite challenges. “I’m proud of our team. They had obstacles and challenges and challenging ground, but they stuck together and didn’t give up, and they were successful. There was great leadership and supervision all around,” said Larry Weslowski, Tunnel Superintendent for the PC Russell JV.
The project is only the third such large construction project in the U.S. to use the CMAR structure. The PC Construction/HJ Russell JV was selected as the CMAR for the project, who then purchased the Robbins Main Beam TBM for the tunnel. The designer for the construction works including tunnel and shafts, JP2—consisting of Stantec, PRAD Group, Inc., and River 2 Tap—specified the hard rock TBM. Operation and assembly of the TBM was then sub-contracted to the Atkinson/Technique JV.
The robust TBM was assembled using Onsite First Time Assembly (OFTA) at the massive Bellwood Quarry site with help from Robbins personnel. “The guys built everything per the specs to help with scheduling. It was a challenge but there was no negativity during the process,” said Weslowski. Despite summer temperatures hitting 43 degrees Celsius (110 degrees Fahrenheit) and 100 percent humidity, the TBM was ready to launch by October 2016.
Hard granitic rock challenged the 19-inch disc cutters from the outset. “There was ground so hard that it would take eight hours to go 1.5 m (5 ft). It was between 117 and 310 MPa (17,000 and 45,000 psi) UCS. The beginning of the job was tough,” said Weslowski, but he added that once the learning curve had been overcome “they started breaking project records left and right towards the end. We got a best day of 38.4 m (126 ft). Rates just kept increasing.”Other challenges included groundwater encountered during tunneling. “We did encounter groundwater contamination that required remediation. This remediation work was completed successfully,” said Huie.
With tunneling complete, the USD $300 million project for the City of Atlanta’s Department of Watershed Management is on track to meet its scheduled overall completion date of September 2019. The project will turn the inactive Bellwood quarry into a 9.1 billion liter (2.4 billion gallon) raw water storage facility connecting with the Chattahoochee River and various water treatment facilities.
On September 18, 2018, a Robbins mega-sized slurry machine, measuring 13.7 m (44.8 ft) in diameter, made its first cut into hard rock. The epic launch at an urban jobsite was made possible by Onsite First Time Assembly (OFTA) of the TBM in Japan for the Hiroshima Expressway Line 5 project. The contractor, a joint venture of Obayashi-Taisei-Kosei, had a strict timeline of eight months to adhere to when it came to machine assembly. “This deadline was very important. After assembling the TBM, I think OFTA was appropriate for this project,” said Mr. Ryota Akai, Deputy Project Manager for the Obayashi JV.
Due to the project location there were also restrictions on delivering the TBM—in order to meet controlled transportation limits within the city, the TBM had to be divided into small transportable weights and sizes, then assembled in a small jobsite measuring just 30 m (100 ft) wide x 60 m (200 ft) long. The 2,400 metric ton (2,650 US ton) machine will bore 1.4 km (0.9 mi) of the 1.8 km (1.1 mi) long tunnel that, once completed, will significantly improve traffic conditions in Hiroshima.
The massive machine is the country’s first foreign-made large diameter Slurry TBM to excavate hard rock in Japan. “There is a lot of hard rock in Hiroshima,” said Mr. Akai, “and Robbins has a lot of experience boring hard rock.” The machine is expected to encounter granite with rock strengths up to 130 MPa (19,000 psi) UCS. Those involved in the project are excited to see what effect this will have on how Slurry TBMs are used in the future. “The development of this TBM is a milestone,” said Mr. Kiyomi Sasaki, General Manager of Robbins Japan, “it will lead to new tunnel applications worldwide.”
The design of the Slurry machine is robust in anticipation of potentially abrasive rock conditions and water pressures up to 13 bars. “The Robbins machine is very tough, for example the weight is very heavy. The cutterhead, both its material and structure, are very tough. It will not break in hard rock,” said Mr. Akai.
In preparation for the conditions, the machine was designed for 20-bar water pressure. The robust cutterhead was fitted with 20-inch and 17-inch diameter pressure compensating cutters, which utilize a patented design to effectively operate under high pressure. The joint venture intends to change the disc cutters an estimated 10 times during the bore as part of the machine’s maintenance.
Throughout the assembly and launch process the joint venture crew worked with Robbins Supervisors who assisted and provided guidance. “Robbins crews have a lot of experience; they help us every day despite the language barriers. I appreciate it,” said Mr. Akai.
The new Expressway Line 5 tunnel will directly connect Hiroshima’s urban area with a major national highway network and is expected to improve access to Hiroshima Airport. Tunnel completion is planned for 2020.
On August 29, 2018, a 9.26 m (30.4 ft) diameter Robbins Crossover (XRE) TBM crossed the finish line at the Akron Ohio Canal Interceptor Tunnel (OCIT). A press day followed on September 5, where companies and members of the media were invited to view the giant machine. The machine—dubbed “Rosie” in honor of Rosie the Riveter, an icon representing American women who worked in factories and shipyards during World War II—overcame tough ground conditions during the bore.
“One of the most challenging aspects of this job was that we launched right into the most difficult part. We had 60 m (200 ft) of soft ground, a very short reach, and then from there we went right into a mixed face for 180 m (600 ft),” said David Chastka, Project Manager for Kenny Construction, a joint venture contractor on the project with Obayashi. “It took everybody we had in the industry, everybody from Robbins, to fight through that first 240 m (800 ft).”
The TBM was designed for the project’s geology, which transitioned from soil to partial face shale to full face shale rock. The Crossover XRE included features of both EPB and Hard Rock Single Shield TBM types, with a versatile cutterhead that could be configured for hard rock or soft ground conditions. While in soft ground and mixed face conditions the machine operated in closed mode, but once it hit solid rock crews switched excavation to open mode.“The machine had the power to get to the other side and made advance rates we never thought we were going to get. It was very successful in hard rock,” said Chastka. Advance rates once in full-face shale rock reached a high of 34 m (111 ft) in one day (two 10-hour shifts). Muck removal was achieved using a Robbins continuous conveyor, and conveyor availability remained high throughout the project.
“I am most proud of the team that I have had the pleasure of being a part of,” said Don Smida, Robbins Field Service Technician. “The overall scope of a project of this scale is immense, and the amount of daily cooperation & hard work that has been asked of The Robbins Company, the local unions, city staff, and Kenny-Obayashi is extremely important in reaching our common goals. I think we should all be proud of our teamwork going forward from a successful completion of the tunnel and into a successful disassembly of Rosie.”
Now that tunneling is complete, the machine will be disassembled and removed from its retrieval shaft this autumn. “The Ohio Canal Interceptor Tunnel is the largest public improvement project in our City’s history and a significant investment in our environment and infrastructure that will benefit Akron residents and businesses for generations to come,” said the City of Akron’s Mayor Daniel Horrigan. “Projects of this kind are inherently dangerous, and I am incredibly proud that the tunneling portion was completed without any major injuries, thanks to a dedicated team of professionals. And although Robbins is an international company with worldwide impact, we were pleased to be able to work with a local Northeast Ohio firm on this significant project.”
The OCIT Project for the City of Akron, Ohio, USA consists of the construction of a conveyance and storage tunnel system to control Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) for several regulators in the downtown Akron area. The EPA-mandated project includes the 1.89 km (1.17 mi) conveyance and storage tunnel, as well as drop shafts, diversion structures, consolidation sewers, and related structures.
Nepal’s first tunnel boring machine, a 5.06 m (16.6 ft) diameter Robbins Double Shield, is living up to the nation’s high expectations. The TBM, supplied in summer 2017 for the Bheri Babai Diversion Multipurpose Project (BBDMP), recently bored over 1,000 m (3,280 ft) in one month and has been averaging an impressive 800 m (2,630 ft) per month. The project is owned by the Government of Nepal’s Department of Irrigation (DOI) and operated by contractor China Overseas Engineering Group Co. Ltd. Nepal Branch (COVEC Nepal).
The decision to use a TBM for the BBDMP project—designated by the government as one of Nepal’s 11 National Pride Projects—was a departure for a nation where drill & blast has long been the preferred tunneling method. Early studies done on the tunnel path predicted that drill & blast excavation of the 12.2 km (7.5 mi) tunnel would take close to 12 years to complete. The tunnel is located in the Siwalik Range, part of the Southern Himalayan Mountains, where geology consists of mainly sandstone, mudstone, and conglomerate.
Mr. Wang Wu Shui, General Manager for COVEC Nepal, cited several factors that have contributed to the good advance rates so far, “In China, there is a proverb about TBM construction: ‘geology is the premise, equipment is the foundation, and talents are the key’. The great advance rates achieved at present mainly lie in preliminary planning, process control, and professional construction personnel.” Shui added that technical training and guidance are provided for each position so that all personnel can fully understand their job and team responsibilities. If unforeseen circumstances arise and there is no operator for a certain position, others have enough training to fill the role.
To ensure the best TBM performance and to prevent downtime, machine maintenance occurs daily at a fixed time. Geological engineers are sent to analyze the ground conditions twice daily so that construction personnel can adjust the tunneling parameters and prepare for auxiliary measures if geological changes are predicted.
The ground conditions during the record-setting month consisted mainly of sandstone and mudstone, but that is set to change. At about the 5.8 km mark, the machine will encounter a major fault zone known as the Bheri Thrust. Clay and water ingress are expected throughout the fault, which is about 400 to 600 m wide.
COVEC Nepal are prepared for the conditions and have worked out efficient tunneling logistics to decrease downtime. “The two working procedures of tunneling and segment erection are carried out simultaneously under the double shield tunneling mode, and the time to erect a ring of segments is 15 minutes in general,” said Shui. “Under the single shield tunneling mode, segment erection comes after tunneling in a sequential process, but the segment erection time is still about 15 minutes.” To further reduce time, consolidation grouting is carried out in advance during daily maintenance to avoid the impact of downtime for grouting on the overall construction progress.
Once complete, the BBDMP will irrigate 60,000 hectares of land in the southern region of Nepal, and benefit an estimated 30,000 households. It will divert 40 cubic meters (1,400 cubic feet) of water per second from Bheri River to Babai River under a head of 150 m (490 ft) using a 15 m (49 ft) tall dam, providing year-round irrigation in the surrounding Banke and Bardia districts. The water will also be used for hydroelectricity, with a generating capacity of 48 MW benefiting the country with NPR 2 billion (20 million USD) annually. The initial success of the TBM operation has already inspired developers and contractors to opt for TBMs over conventional excavation methods on upcoming Nepalese tunnels.
On June 11, 2018, a Robbins Crossover XRE destined for Line 3 of India’s Mumbai Metro arrived in Mumbai port following a successful factory acceptance test in April. The machine, combining features of a hard rock Single Shield TBM and an Earth Pressure Balance Machine, is one of two 6.65 m (21.8 ft) Crossover machines that will bore under contract UGC-01. Operation of these two machines will be carried out by Larsen & Toubro, part of the Larsen & Toubro -Shanghai Tunnel Engineering Co Joint Venture (L&T-STEC JV). The Robbins Company will provide key personnel for the initial boring phase. “During the factory acceptance testing, we observed that the machine and back-up system are robust enough for hard rock tunneling,” stated Palwinder Singh, Head of Tunnel Operations for L&T-STEC JV.
During the bores, consisting of parallel 2.8 km (1.7 mi long) tunnels, geologic conditions will include mixed ground and possible water pressures up to 2 bar. According to Singh, “A Crossover XRE was chosen because of the expected geology,” which includes basalt rock and transition zones consisting of black carbonaceous shale, tuff, and breccia. Rock strengths are anticipated to range between 15 MPa and 125 MPa (2,200 and 18,100 psi) UCS. The machines will bore with only 15 to 20 m (50 to 70 ft) of cover above the tunnel and the structure will be lined with reinforced concrete segments in a 5+1 arrangement.
The metro tunnels will run between the Cuffe Parade Station and Hutatma Chowk station, passing through the Vidhan Bhavan and Church Stations. Both Crossover machines will be launched from the same 25 m (82 ft) deep by 22 m (72 ft) long shaft at the Cuffe Parade Station. “The limited length of the shaft requires running the TBMs for the first 100 m (328 ft) with some or all the back-up decks at the surface,” said JP Bayart, Robbins Project Engineer. “The TBMs and back-up systems are connected with umbilical cables and hoses.”
The TBMs will begin their excavation in hard rock mode. “Each cutterhead is optimized for operation in rock, as this is what is expected. The machines can also operate in soft ground thanks to the screw conveyor with bulkhead gate and discharge gate,” said Bayart. “The Robbins Torque-Shift System, consisting of two-speed shifting gearboxes coupled to the main drive motors, allows for the high cutterhead torque required for soft ground operation.” The face of each machine is equipped with six muck buckets and six large internal muck loading plates. This design, in combination with the screw conveyor located at the centerline of each machine, will allow for the option of fully emptying the cutterhead chamber, resulting in minimal wear when EPB mode is not required. Muck will be removed from the tunnels via muck cars.
Assembly and launch preparations for the first XRE TBM began on 20 June and are estimated to take about six weeks. The second Robbins XRE TBM underwent factory acceptance testing at the end of May and will arrive at the jobsite at the end of July for its assembly. “Our target is to achieve an average of 250 m (820 ft) of boring per month,” said Jim Clark, Robbins Projects Manager India. “The target to complete the boring operations is 20 months, which includes the additional time required for the short start-up using umbilicals on the initial drives, dragging the machines and re-launching through three stations.” Contractor L&T plans to work crews on double shifts to cover a full day of operations in order to keep to this timeline. The machines will join two Robbins Slurry machines boring a separate contract of the Mumbai Metro Line 3. The first of those machines will be launching in August 2018. The Metro Line 3 project as a whole is estimated to be completed by 2021.
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