Category: News

Robbins EPB and Conveyors complete complex Lot 5 at Emisor Oriente

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.


Robbins Crossover TBM completes Turkey’s Longest Water Tunnel

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.


Tough TBM and Team Overcome the Odds with Atlanta Breakthrough

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.

 


Hiroshima Heavyweight: Slurry TBM Launches in Japan's Hard Rock

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.


Robbins Crossover TBM “Rosie” Makes Breakthrough at Akron OCIT

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 TBM bores 1,000 Meters in One Month

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.


Twin Robbins Crossover TBMs to bore on Mumbai Metro Line 3

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.


Record-Setting Robbins TBM breaks through at China’s Jilin project

In mid-May 2018 the national-record-setting 7.9 m (26 ft) Robbins Main Beam TBM at the Jilin Lot 3 Tunnel broke through. A formal ceremony followed to commemorate the stellar performance of the tunneling operation and its early completion. “I have participated in this project from the beginning. The project broke through 147 days earlier than scheduled. The project has achieved the fastest monthly advance rate record–1423.5 m/4,670 ft—for 7 to 8 m (23 to 26 ft) diameter TBMs in China. And the machine has reached over 1000 m (3,280 ft) per month for three consecutive months. I am so proud of these achievements,” said Mr. Wu Zhi Yong, Vice Chief Engineer and Jilin Yinsong Project Vice General Manager for contractor Beijing Vibroflotation Engineering Co. Ltd. (BVEC).

The completion of the 24.3 km (15 mi) tunnel nearly five months ahead of schedule is a monumental achievement considering the difficult ground conditions encountered. Rock types ranged from tuff to granite, sandstone, and andesite with multiple fault zones—conditions requiring nearly continuous ground support.  Rock strengths varied widely from 35 to 206 MPa UCS (5,100 to 30,000 psi).  The contractor cited a number of factors that contributed to the swift advance rates: “It is the stable and reliable performance of the Robbins machine, and the professional technical skills of the service technicians. The Robbins crew coordination, reasonable working progress arrangements and the sophisticated technology all allowed the project to make the fast advance rate,” said Mr. Wu.

The Robbins Main Beam TBM bored through a total of 24 fault zones utilizing a unique combination of steel McNally slats (extruded through pockets in the TBM roof shield to prevent movement of loose rock), wire mesh, and shotcrete. The TBM was specifically designed to tackle the tough conditions. “Under the variable ground conditions, especially weak, soft, and fractured rock, the optimized system and reasonable design of the machine ensured effective tunneling progress. Robbins’ unique gripper system, continuous propel system, hydraulic drives, roof support and stable cutterhead reduced the wear of cutters.The efficient belt conveyor inside the main beam allowed quick muck removal from the cutterhead to the back of the machine, which ensured the good progress of the TBM,” said Mr. Wu.

The Jilin Lot 3 tunnel is part of the Jilin Yinsong Water Supply Project, which at 736.3 km (457.5 mi) is China’s largest scale water diversion project to date. Once operational the water lines 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. The project will optimize water resource distribution, improve regional eco-systems, and ensure better food production and water safety for the people of Jilin Province.


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.