Category: News

Entries that appear on the news page.

Europe’s First Crossover TBM breaks through at Moglicë Headrace Tunnel

On May 3, 2018 a 6.2 m (20.3 ft) diameter Robbins Crossover (XRE) TBM broke through into an underground chamber, marking the completion of the first TBM-driven tunnel in Albania. The TBM, operated by contractor Limak, was also the first Crossover machine to operate in Europe, and bored through geology including ophiolite, sandstone, breccia and siltstone flysch.

“The cutterhead and cutters have achieved outstanding performance,” said Engin Gur, TBM Manager for Limak. The TBM achieved rates as high as 648 m (2,126 ft) per month in April 2018, and as much as 37.4 m (122.7 ft) in one day. The Crossover TBM did not encounter high-pressure water and was thus used in hard rock Double Shield mode throughout tunneling.

“The TBM performed very well, as did a Robbins-supplied adit conveyor that operated in a 180-degree continuous curve. It was impressive,” said Max Walker, Robbins Field Service Superintendent. Several field service personnel remained onsite throughout operation of the TBM to provide guidance and trouble-shooting.

The machine was launched in November 2016 following Onsite First Time Assembly (OFTA), which enabled the machine to be initially assembled at the jobsite. The crew ramped up production slowly over the next 230 m (755 ft). “Ground conditions were good and we did very few cutter changes—only 20 cutters were used during the bore,” said Walker. Two-stage grouting was carried out as the TBM bored and lined the tunnel in three 8-hour shifts. “The personnel on this project have created a friendly work environment; they’ve made it enjoyable coming to work each day. They’re good guys to work with,” he added.

While the TBM did not need to be sealed, the unique machine design took into account a predicted high risk of water inflows. The Crossover XRE machine used a belt conveyor and not a screw conveyor for muck removal, so the muck chute needed to be able to be sealed off in the case of an inrush of water. The bulkhead was thus designed with a large sealing gate just above the belt conveyor. These pressure-relieving gates could also be used in a semi-EPB mode: As the pressure built in the cutting chamber, the gate would then be opened by the pressure, and material would spill onto the belt. As the pressure lowered, the gates would then automatically close, again sealing off the chamber. In extreme cases, the gates could be sealed and the probe/grout drills could be used to drill, grout, and seal off water. Additionally, the gripper shoes and inner telescopic shield were designed with inflatable seals to further protect against inrushes of water.

With the breakthrough now complete, grouting will continue behind the TBM segments. No additional lining will be added, and the tunnel is expected to become operational by May 2019.

The 6.7 km (4.2 mi) long Moglicë headrace tunnel is part of the Devoll Hydropower Project, a Build-Own-Operate-Transfer (BOOT) scheme to construct two hydropower plants along the Devoll River, named Moglicë and Banja. The project is owned by the Norwegian power company Statkraft AS. The completed Devoll Hydropower Project will increase Albania’s electricity production by 17% and will have an installed capacity of 242 MW.


Robbins TBM uncovers Spectacular Cavern at Galerie des Janots

A rebuilt Robbins 3.5 m (11.5 ft) diameter Main Beam TBM has yet another milestone to add to its storied career: an unexpected cavern, encountered and successfully passed through.

Contractor Eiffage Civil Engineering is operating the machine, which launched in 2017 for the Galerie des Janots project in La Ciotat, France.  The cavern, studded with stalactites and stalagmites and measuring 8,000 cubic meters (283,000 cubic ft) in size, was grazed on the tunneling operation’s left side.  The crew named the cavern “grotte Marie Lesimple” after their site geologist.

“We hit the corner of it. To cross it, we had to erect a 4 m (13 ft) high wall of concrete so the TBM would have something to grip against,” explained Marc Dhiersat, Project Director of Galerie des Janots for Eiffage.  A small door allowed access inside the cavity, which formed naturally at a point 60 m (200 ft) below the surface. The TBM was started up and was able to successfully navigate out of the cavern in eight strokes without significant downtime to the operation.

“This is certainly unusual, to come across a cavern of this size and significance. It is somewhat related to the geology, with karstic and volcanic formations having the most potential for underground cavities,” said Detlef Jordan, Robbins Sales Manager Europe. Karst cavities were a known risk during the bore, but the cavern was not shown in vertical borehole reports conducted from the surface along the alignment.

A further 1.8 km (1.1 mi) will need to be tunneled before the 2.8 km (1.7 mi) tunnel is complete. “It is possible there could be more unknown caverns. We have a geotechnical BEAM system on the machine, and are conducting probe drilling, shotcreting, and maintenance in a separate shift,” said Dhiersat. The BEAM system, standing for Bore-tunneling Electrical Ahead Monitoring, is a ground prediction technique using focused electricity-induced polarization to detect anomalies ahead of the TBM.

The crew encountered difficult ground conditions early on in the bore, consisting of limestone with powdery clays. “When the machine is boring it does well. We have good production and it’s a good machine for hard rock.  But sometimes it’s not hard rock that we encounter,” said Dhiersat.  The weak rock and clay conditions necessitated ground support including resin-anchored bolts and rings in bad ground, topped with a 10 to 15 cm (4 to 6 in) thick layer of shotcrete. Despite five months of poor ground conditions, Eiffage is optimistic that conditions will improve and the tunnel will be complete in the next four to five months.

Galerie des Janots is one of the 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 future Janots gallery 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 completed tunnel will pass under Le Parc National des Calanques, with cover between 15 and 180 meters (50 to 600 ft), in order to replace the pipes that are currently being utilized for the water supply networks. “The current pipes have a capacity of transit limited to 330 liters (87 gallons) per second, which is largely insufficient in the summer period. The objective of the operation is to secure the lines and increase capacity to 440 liters (116 gallons) per second,” said Dhiersat.


Veteran Robbins TBM plays a Main Role in Ending Residential Flooding

In Chicago, Illinois, USA Kenny Construction is nearing completion on the Albany Park Stormwater Diversion Tunnel. The project, owned by the Chicago Department of Transportation, will divert water from the Albany Park neighborhood, which has long been plagued by flooding. Plans for the tunnel began in 2013, after flood conditions became so severe that residents had to be evacuated from the area by boat. The tunnel is expected to be functional by April 2018.

A Robbins Main Beam Hard Rock TBM bored the tunnel and broke through at the end of August 2017, bringing the project one step closer to completion. The TBM, also known as “Keri,” has been owned by project contractor Kenny Construction since the 1990s and has been used on several projects prior. “The machine holed through into the inlet shaft,” said Clay Spellman, Project Manager for Kenny Construction. “We excavated the shaft as part of the project. The machine has since been disassembled and removed.”

For the Albany Park Project, Keri was rebuilt by Kenny Construction with size modifications designed by Robbins. Robbins took an existing cutterhead, repaired it, and then added segments, taking it from 5.2 m (17.2 ft) to 6.2 m (20.4 ft) in diameter. “Extensive modifications were also made underground to the machine to be able to install rock dowels and stand the ring steel under the roof shield,” added Spellman.

Rebuilding TBMs has always been a core part of Robbins’ business. Most customers immediately recognize that a rebuilt machine with updated systems can offer exceptional value without increasing risk, and a rebuilt machine can usually be delivered faster,” said Robbins Engineering Manager Steve Smading. “While the financial and schedule advantages are obvious, the flexibility of used equipment may be less obvious. Boring diameters can be increased or decreased and machine configurations can even be changed. For example, a Single Shield can be reconfigured as a Double Shield or vice versa, and a Main Beam TBM can be reconfigured as a shielded machine. Soft ground machines can be configured for different geologies and can be set up as either Slurry or EPB.”

Over 50 percent of all Robbins Main Beams ever manufactured have been used on three or more projects. Incredibly, many Robbins TBMs that have been used on multiple projects are approaching over 50 km (31 mi) of use. Prior to its ownership by Kenny, Keri has successfully bored tunnels in the Dominican Republic, Saudi Arabia, New York, and Chicago—totaling at least 19.5 km (12 mi) of tunnel.

Due to the project location in a residential neighborhood, there were restrictions in place as to when the machine could operate and the frequency at which blasting would be allowed per day. Despite these limitations, the TBM achieved a best day of 39.5 m (129.7 ft) and a best week (5 days) of 146.4 m (480.4 ft). The machine bored through dolomite with an average compressive strength of 64 MPa UCS (9,300 psi). “During boring we encountered approximately 30.4 m (100 ft) of fractured ground that had to be supported with rolled channels, straps, and 19 full circle steel rings,” said Spellman.

The drainage tunnel starts in Eugene Park and extends for approximately one mile under Foster Avenue to the North Shore Channel. When the Chicago River’s water levels reach flood stages—exceeding 2 m (7 ft)—the tunnel will divert a flow of 65 cubic meters (2,300 cubic ft) of water per second, avoiding Albany Park, then deposit it into the Channel. The tunnel will essentially be transferring the water where it would have ended up, without damaging the residential area or adversely affecting the river’s wildlife.


Robbins Main Beam Breaks Records in China

In Jilin, one of the three provinces of Northeast China, a 7.9 m (26 ft) diameter Robbins Hard Rock Main Beam TBM has achieved a national record for 7 to 8 meter (23 to 26 ft) machines: 1,423.5 m (4,670 ft) in one month. The record tops a previously-set achievement on the same project from earlier in 2017, when the TBM advanced at a rate of 1,336.8 m (4,386 ft) in one month.

The world record for the size class is held by another Robbins machine, set more than 20 years ago at the Tunnel and Reservoir Plan (TARP) in Chicago, Illinois, USA, for 1,482 m (4,862 ft) in one month. However, given the differences in rock conditions this Jilin project record is very significant. At TARP the rock was relatively homogeneous dolomitic limestone averaging 145 MPa/21,100 psi with occasional rock bolts; at Jilin the rock types were rated from 35 to 206 MPa UCS (5,100 to 30,000 psi), and identified as tuff, granite, sandstone, and andesite with multiple fault zones—conditions requiring nearly continuous ground support.

Despite the difficult conditions, the Jilin machine has achieved an average monthly advance rate of 708.3 m since the start of boring in March 2015—more than three times the average monthly rate of a Drill & Blast operation on another section of the project. “It is now very evident that well-equipped, open-type Main Beam TBMs with specialized features for difficult ground can traverse faults and large water inflows much faster than conventional tunneling methods. This fact, coupled with the high performance capabilities as demonstrated at Jilin, lowers the cost and time to complete long tunnels in difficult ground,” said Robbins President Lok Home.

The Jilin Lot 3 tunnel, which is being bored as part of a water conservation project, will be 24.3 km (15 mi) long when complete. Under contractor Beijing Vibroflotation Engineering Co. Ltd. (BVEC), the machine has excavated 14 km (8.7 mi) of the tunnel as of January 2018.

Throughout its bore, the Main Beam is expected to traverse a total of 24 fault zones. The TBM was designed accordingly, and is equipped with four rock drills, McNally pockets in the roof shield for the ability to install McNally slats, a ring beam erector, and a shotcrete system.  The McNally slats were used in difficult ground encountered in the tunnel.

The McNally Roof Support System was designed and patented by C&M McNally and licensed for exclusive use on Robbins TBMs in certain markets. By replacing the roof shield fingers on a Main Beam TBM, the McNally system prevents movement of loose rock in the critical area immediately behind the cutterhead support. The system has been tested and proven on projects worldwide—including the world’s second deepest civil works tunnel, the 2,000 m (1.2 mi) deep Olmos Trans-Andean Tunnel in Peru—to increase advance rates while still maintaining worker safety on Main Beam machines in difficult rock conditions.

The Jilin TBM’s first fault zone was encountered after just 87 m (285 ft) of boring, requiring cooperation between the owner, Jilin Province Water Investment Group Co., Ltd., contractor BVEC, and Robbins field service. Water inflows and collapsing ground in a section measuring 1,196 m (3,926 ft) long were resolved with a combination of McNally slats, grouting, and consolidation of the ground ahead of the machine. Ground support overall consists of wire mesh and shotcrete. Tunnel Reflection Tomography (TRT)—a method of ground prediction using seismic waves—is also being used to detect changing conditions ahead of the TBM.

Despite the initial challenges, the TBM is now achieving between 40 and 60 m (130 to 197 ft) advance per day. “My colleagues and I all feel that the Robbins TBM is very easy to operate.  All components of the system work well during operation, which has ensured our good progress,” said by Tao Yong, BVEC Jilin Lot 3 TBM Site Manager.

The Jilin Lot 3 tunnel is part of the Jilin Yinsong Water Supply Project, which will convey water to the central cities of Jilin Province.  The large-scale, trans-regional water diversion project is the longest water supply line, measuring 263.5 km (163.7 mi), with the largest number of recipients benefiting from it in the history of Jilin Province. The construction project will divert the water from Fengman Reservoir at the upper reaches of Di’er Songhua River to central regions of Jilin Province experiencing chronic water shortages. These regions include the cities of Changchun and Siping, eight surrounding counties, and 26 villages and towns under their jurisdiction.  Tunneling is expected to be complete in late 2018.


Robust Robbins EPB Completes Third Bore for Chennai Metro Project

On Tuesday, October 31, 2017, a 6.65 m (21.8 ft) diameter Robbins EPB TBM broke through at Chennai Metro, making this the third tunnel the machine has bored for the project and for contractor Afcons Infrastructure Ltd. The three separate bores for the EPB are part of an increasing trend, as many Robbins EPBs have been used on multiple tunnel drives with good performance. Robbins EPBs are built one third heavier than any other EPB on the market and are designed for 10,000 hours of usable life, making them ideal machines for use over many kilometers. “Robbins is known for designing resilient machines,” said Mr. Gopal Dey, Afcons Senior Manager. “For this project, we needed a machine that was specifically tailored to project conditions from soft clay to mixed ground with rock. Robbins EPB TBMs have unique design features that optimize the machine for the geology.”

After completing its original twin tunnels, the EPB was refurbished in preparation to bore its latest 1.8 km (1.1 mi) section. During refurbishment, the inner seal greasing system was changed from auto to manual mode and the foam nozzle system was modified. These changes optimized the machine for excavation in the highly variable mixed face conditions encountered in the first two tunnels.

The EPB was launched on February 3, earlier this year. According to contractor Afcons, the machine faced a major challenge right out of the gate. “When the TBM came out of the launching shaft, a few rings were erected and then the machine had to cross a live railway track, which meant there would be a possibility of ground settlement,” said Afcons Director, Mr. Manivannan. “At this stage, we had to closely monitor TBM face pressure and advance the machine at a uniform rate to ensure proper primary grouting.” The bore’s geology mainly consisted of clayey sand and about 60 meters (197 ft) of mixed ground.

“We [Afcons] chose this machine for this project due to the underground geology in Chennai, which continuously changes from soil to mixed ground,” said Mr. Dey. “We also liked that Robbins EPB machines are designed with active articulation to allow the machine to turn or steer with ease.” During active articulation, thrust cylinders react evenly against the entire circumference of the tunnel lining, even in a curve—a design that eliminates the problem of tunnel lining deformation. “This feature enabled the machine to negotiate through well-controlled conditions,” added Mr. Manivannan.

With all three tunnels, Robbins Field Service members were on location to assist and support as required. During the course of each bore, Robbins was there to advise Afcons on how best to maneuver through challenging ground and provide instruction for machine operation. The ability of the contractor and manufacturer to work well together, as Robbins and Afcons have throughout their contracts, was critical to the good advance rates. The result was a robust machine that advanced at rates of 80 mm (3 in) per minute in challenging conditions.

This latest tunnel connects multiple stations along the metro line, starting from Washermenpet through to Sir Theagaraya and to Kurukpet. The Chennai Metro Project will provide much needed transportation to a rapidly developing city.


A 100th System for Robbins Continuous Conveyors

On October 18, 2017, a Robbins 9.26 m (30.4 ft) diameter Crossover machine started up at the Akron Ohio Canal Interceptor Tunnel (OCIT) in Ohio, USA—but the startup wasn’t the only milestone.  Running behind the Crossover TBM is the 100th Robbins Continuous Conveyor system supplied for muck removal.  The side-mounted conveyor is a design standard, but the landmark is a significant one: “With this system we have provided more conveyors than any other TBM conveyor supplier,” said Dean Workman, Robbins Director of Conveyors, Cutters, & SBUs.  Counting conveyor systems the company has on order but has not yet delivered, that number is now well above 100, Workman added.

The Akron OCIT conveyor system consists of the belt plus a main drive, splice stand, storage unit, and advancing tailpiece, operating through several curves requiring patented self-adjusting curve idlers that correct themselves based on varying belt tension and belt load. The system discharges onto a customer-supplied overland conveyor, which delivers the muck to a large storage yard near the portal site. The belt was designed to handle variable geology, from soft soils to partial face rock and finally full-face shale rock.

The 100th conveyor system has been refurbished and customized for the job in a process that Robbins has been perfecting for decades: “We design our conveyor systems to last for five to ten years, but many last for decades longer. We have systems utilizing components that have been in operation for 30 years. We haven’t reached a limit for many of our systems—for example we had a specialized conveyor system built more than a decade ago for the Parramatta Rail Link in Sydney, Australia. Those components were refurbished for a job in Atlanta, Georgia, and now they are being used at the Dig Indy tunnels in Indianapolis, Indiana.  These are long and challenging tunnel drives and the components are up to it.” While the Akron OCIT conveyor is just beginning to haul muck, it is sure to be a benefit throughout the project’s varying ground conditions.

The conveyor in Akron is also part of a long history for Robbins conveyors—the first of which (not counted in the list of 100) was the first ever continuous conveyor system used behind a TBM.  That prototype, developed by founder James S. Robbins in 1963, was successfully used behind the 11.2 m (36.7 ft) diameter Main Beam TBM at the Mangla Dam project in what was then known as West Pakistan. While conveyors would not be adopted as a standard method of muck removal for many years afterward, the project laid the groundwork for future success.

Today’s conveyor systems are capable of spanning dozens of kilometers and hauling 1,800 metric tons (2,000 US tons) an hour or more.  It’s a legacy that Workman sees will continue to grow: “This is my 20th year with Robbins and I remember when we started our conveyor list.  It is amazing to look at all of the jobs and things we’ve done. It’s amazing to see what these systems can do.”


Robbins Slurry TBM ramps up for Mumbai Metro Line 3

The first of two Slurry TBMs, a rebuilt 6.65 m (21.8 ft) diameter machine, passed its factory acceptance on September 4, 2017 in Singapore. The machine, fitted with a Robbins cutterhead and outer shields, is destined for the Mumbai Metro Line 3 under contract UGC03 for the Dogus-Soma JV (DSJV), and will begin excavation in late 2017.  The factory acceptance for a second 6.65 m (21.8 ft) diameter Slurry TBM will be conducted by the end of 2017.

The on-time delivery of the first machine is just the beginning of partnership that will span years.  “There are few companies in the international arena that are as professional as Robbins.  Robbins has been very helpful to DSJV since the inception of the project and will be our partners until the end of the contract. Robbins’ presence in India including field service crews will be a great help for us in future,” said Mr. DV Raju, Senior Vice President for SOMA.

The two machines will excavate parallel 3.5 km (2.2 mi) long tunnels between Mumbai Central and Worli station sites, passing through three intermediate cut and cover stations on the way.  Ground conditions consist of fresh to weathered basalt and breccia up to 100 MPa UCS with water pressures up to 3 bar.

The JV selected Slurry machines for their contract due to the challenging ground conditions expected. “I have worked with Slurry TBMs on similar geology globally. Slurry TBMs have real power and will suit the hard rock geology of our Mumbai Metro contract 3. The water table and variable geology, especially basalt of higher hardness, can be easily tackled by Slurry TBMs,” said Mr. Tamay Sayin, Project Manager for DSJV.   The cutterheads of the machines are fitted with wear protection, wear detection bits, and Robbins 17-inch disc cutters for the conditions. Grizzly bars will limit the size of boulders that can enter the cutterhead to 250 mm (9.8 in).  The slurry systems includes rock crushers as well as abrasion-resistant plating in high-wear areas.

The two TBMs are the first of a total of four machines being provided by Robbins for the Mumbai Metro Line 3. Another two 6.65 m (21.8 ft) diameter Crossover XRE machines will bore parallel 2.8 km (1.7 mi) tunnels on a separate contract in 2018. “Mumbai Metro is one of the most prestigious metro works in the country, and Robbins’ involvement in providing suitable machines and associated services is an honor,” said Kapil Bhati, Managing Director for Robbins India.

The 33.5 km (20.8 mi) long Line 3 of Mumbai Metro being constructed by the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation (MMRC) will consist of 26 underground stations and one at-grade station that will reduce heavy traffic and rail congestion between Bandra and Churchgate areas of the city. A total of 17 TBMs are being procured to bore various sections of the tunnels, which will be excavated at average depths of 15 to 25 m below the city. The entire line is expected to be operational by 2021.


Robbins Double Shield Takes on Nepal’s First TBM Project for Bheri Babai

Nepal will welcome its first TBM ever this summer, a 5.06 m (16.6 ft) diameter Double Shield machine for the Bheri Babai Diversion Multipurpose Project (BBDMP). The Robbins TBM underwent its Factory Acceptance Testing in July 2017 and is currently being shipped to the jobsite in the Siwalik Range, part of the Southern Himalayan Mountains. Pre-construction, including laying gravel onto rural roads and excavating wells for drinking water, has been completed to make way for the TBM and its impending launch.

The BBDMP is one of Nepal’s 11 National Pride Projects–prioritized plans sanctioned by the Government of Nepal to further develop the mainly rural country. This project will irrigate 60,000 hectares (almost 15,000 acres) of land in the southern region of Nepal, benefitting an estimated 30,000 households. It will divert 40 cubic meters of water (1,400 cubic feet) per second from Bheri River to Babai River under a head of 150 m (492 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.

Contractor China Overseas Engineering Group Co. Ltd. Nepal Branch (COVEC Nepal Branch) is responsible for the headrace tunnel and is aware of the challenges associated with tunneling in tough geology. “The design of Robbins TBMs is good, and in particular Double Shield TBMs,” said Project Manager of BBDMP, Hu Tianran. The Siwalik range is projected to consist of mainly sandstone, mudstone and conglomerate, requiring a TBM that can withstand squeezing ground, rock instability, possibly high ingress of water and fault zones. Maximum cover above the tunnel is 820 m (0.5 mi).

Due to the challenges in the young geology of the Himalayas, Difficult Ground Solutions (DGS) have been incorporated into the machine’s design. A stepped shield has been designed to move through squeezing ground. Robbins Project Engineer Missy Isaman talked about the DGS features incorporated into the TBM: “There is a probe drill in the rear that probes through the gripper shield in 14 places. We added ports in the forward shield for drilling too. There are eight ports around the circumference for hand drilling. There are also six ports in the top 100 degrees of the shield for forepoling.” She further noted that no equipment was ordered for either of the forward shield drilling options, but it’s easier to add the ports to the shield now, in case more comprehensive drilling is needed later in the bore. Other machine modifications included 35 mm (70 mm on the diameter) of possible overcut for gage cutters, and additional ports in the forward shield for dewatering.

Muck removal will be achieved by muck cars. Robbins will provide Field Service to support the machine erection, testing, commissioning and boring of the first 500 m (1,640 ft). The tunnel will be lined with hexagonal precast concrete segments.

The project owner, the Government of Nepal’s Ministry of Irrigation (MOI), has chosen a TBM over the traditional method of Drill & Blast due to the faster mobilization and rate of advance offered by mechanized mining. “The reason a TBM was chosen for this project was because using D&B method could have taken at least 12 years for project completion. This was due to there only being one excavation heading with no possibility of launching multiple operations using adit tunnels,” said Robbins General Manager for Nepal, Prajwal Man Shrestha. More generally, Mr. Shrestha saw the project as a way to prove that TBMs can indeed take on complex Himalayan rock. “Since the Himalayan range has a young geology and not much has been surveyed yet, the use of newer technology is looked upon with slight apprehension. The first few TBM projects and additional surveys will show how suitable TBM technology will be for the Himalayan Range.”

The success of the BBDMP, a national pride project, is paramount for the country as well as the TBM industry. It is expected to help aide the food crisis in the mid-western region of Nepal by increasing agricultural yields and invigorating socio-economic development in the region. The Robbins TBM for the 12.2 km (7.5 mi) tunnel is scheduled to launch in November 2017.


Mexico City’s Record-Breaking Crossover TBM Makes Final Breakthrough

On June 8, 2017, a select group of project officials, including Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto, celebrated the final breakthrough of an epic tunneling project. The 8.7 m (28.5 ft) diameter Robbins Crossover TBM is the first such hybrid machine to operate in North America, and it completed the Túnel Emisor Poniente (TEP) II on a high note. The TBM, known as an XRE—a Crossover (X) between Rock (R) and EPB (E) TBMs—navigated fault zones, variable ground, low cover, and more to achieve a national record of 57 m (187 ft) in one day as well as maximum rates of 231 m (758 ft) in one week and 702 m (2,303 ft) in one month.

“The XRE has a great advantage as it is designed to work in open and/or closed mode (EPB); allowing it to excavate the tunnel either in soil or in rock. We’ve verified that its performance was very efficient,” said Ing. Juan Alberto Herrera Moro y Castillo, TEP II Section Chief for owner CONAGUA, Mexico’s National Water Commission.

The unique machine and its Robbins continuous conveyor system were built on location using Onsite First Time Assembly (OFTA), and designed for a contractor consortium of Aldesem, Proacon, and Recsa. The Robbins XRE TBM featured components like a convertible cutterhead with interchangeable cutting tools, interchangeable TBM belt conveyor and screw conveyor, and multi-speed gearboxes to increase torque for tunneling through difficult ground. “The benefits of the design are in its exceptional thrust power and in the ease of changing the cutterhead torque. This makes the process much easier should the machine become stuck in difficult ground,” said Alberto Martinez, head of the tunneling department for RECSA.

The XRE machine was launched in August 2015 to bore the 5.8 km (3.6 mi) long wastewater tunnel. The machine was set up in a hard rock configuration and mounted with 20-inch diameter disc cutters. Early in 2016 the TBM hit the first of several contact zones, a 30 m (98.4 ft) wide fault of fractured and blocky rock. While the excavation through the contact zone was slow going, progress picked up again in the more competent andesite rock. After an intermediate breakthrough in March 2016 into an 80 m (262.5 ft) deep shaft followed by inspection and maintenance, the TBM continued on.

While boring in fractured andesite rock in autumn 2016, the TBM encountered a naturally occurring cavern believed to be the result of either a rock fall in a transition zone, or an old, underground lake body that had eroded the rock away. The cavern was estimated at 90 cubic meters (3,200 cubic ft) in size, including about 57 cubic meters (2,010 cubic ft) of unstable floor area. The TBM was stopped and immediate measures were taken to stabilize the ground in front of the machine with polyurethane foam before filling the cavern with a mixture of pea gravel and grout.

By the end of October 2016, the TBM had reached a final 900 m (2,950 ft) long section of soft ground, where it was converted to EPB mode. In this final reach of tunnel with low cover, the distance from the top of the tunnel to residential home foundations was as low as 4 m (13 ft), and the ground had the consistency of reconsolidated soil. In order to stabilize the soft soils and minimize the risk of settlement below the residential area, the tunneling crew drilled from the surface and installed 890 micro-piles at 1.0 m (3.3 ft) intervals. “We were able to do this without causing damage to property owned by neighbors in the zone bordering the path of TEP II, or to the road or the urban infrastructure installed in that area,” explained Ing. Francisco Miguel Lopez, Jobsite Manager TEP II for contractor Aldesa.

Now that tunneling is complete, the tunnel will receive a secondary concrete lining of 35 cm (14 in) thickness before going into service. The wastewater tunnel will overhaul the current system in western areas outside of Mexico City and serve to prevent recurrent flooding in Valle Dorado. In particular, the tunnel will benefit the cities of Cuautital Izcalli, Tlalnepantla, and Atizapan de Zaragoza, which altogether are home to 2.1 million inhabitants.


Robbins TBM “Rosie” is First Crossover TBM in the U.S.

A Robbins Crossover (XRE) TBM measuring 9.26 m (30.4 ft) in diameter underwent factory acceptance on May 30, 2017. The gargantuan machine was initially unveiled at Robbins’ Solon, Ohio headquarters during a press day on May 25 before being shipped 40 km (25 mi) south for construction of the Ohio Canal Interceptor Tunnel (OCIT) in Akron. Those present included Akron Mayor Daniel Horrigan, Robbins chief engineer Dennis Ofiara, and David Chastka, project engineer for contractor Kenny-Obayashi JV.

The TBM, which includes features of both EPB and Hard Rock Single Shield TBM types, is the first Crossover machine to be used in the United States. It will be launched from a 12 m (40 ft) deep portal site and build the first 68 m (226 ft) in soft ground, transitioning to a 183 m (600 ft) long zone of partial face shale before switching to hard-rock mode for the remainder of the drive in full face shale. Probe drilling will be done continuously using two probe drills to determine which mode the TBM should be in. “Robbins has provided a robust design that we are confident will be able to handle all of the challenges of the OCIT Project tunnel drive,” said Chastka.

Unique aspects of the machine include a versatile cutterhead that will be configured with consideration for both the short soft ground section and the longer section (about 65% of the tunnel) in hard rock. A combination of disc cutters and sacrificial rippers will be used in case a cutter becomes blocked.  The required rolling torque of the disc cutters has been reduced by 25% to encourage smooth rotation in soft ground. The motors of the XRE machine have been reworked from an original EPB configuration to permit higher motor speed at reduced torque for the open mode segments of the drive.

Muck removal will be achieved with a durable screw conveyor, the first flight of which is covered welded-in wear plates. The auger shaft is lined with hard facing in a crosshatch pattern, while the screw conveyor casing has been similarly lined in wear plates and hard facing.  A wear monitoring plan has been prepared for the entire drive in order to maximize efficiency in the section of more abrasive rock. Robbins Project Manager Pablo Salazar is proud of the utilization of local jobs during the TBM construction and design process: “We have built good portion of the machine in the northeast Ohio area. Many components were fabricated locally with sub-suppliers, as well as in our own shop.”

The machine was dubbed “Rosie” in honor of Rosie the Riveter, an icon representing the American women who worked in factories and shipyards during World War II. Hundreds of “Rosies” including Akron resident Rose May Jacob worked in factories to turn out materials and armaments for the Allied war effort. The TBM will be shipped in truckloads to the jobsite, with the large cutterhead shipped in four pieces. “The entire process of assembly has allowed to the contractor to follow very closely through the testing of the machine, so they are very familiar with the TBM at this point. At the jobsite, we will also provide immediate support for both spare parts and personnel,” said Salazar. Jobsite supervisors from Robbins will assist in TBM assembly and excavation for at least the first 1,000 m (3,280 ft) of boring.  Tunnel boring is scheduled to begin in August of this year.

The OCIT Project for the City of Akron 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.  The consent decree specifies that the tunnel must be operational by December 31, 2018.