On March 3, 2022, a 7.95 m (26.1 ft) diameter Robbins Single Shield TBM completed a record-setting run below Lake Ontario. The machine, for the Southland/Astaldi
JV, bored 3.5 km (2.2 miles) in sedimentary rock for the Ashbridges Bay Outfall in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
The machine launched in March 2021 from an 85 m (280 ft) deep, 16 m (53 ft) diameter shaft and began its bore in predominantly shale, with limestone, siltstone and sandstone. During its excavation, the TBM and its experienced crew bored a city-wide record of 30 rings in one day, or about 47 m (154 ft) of advance. The machine and crew surpassed a previous best day of 21 rings at a project with similar specifications. “We are proud to have completed another successful tunnel with Robbins and greatly appreciate their field service support.” said Joe Savage, Project Manager for Southland.
“This is a wonderful type of geology for our machines. During the entire excavation, a total of 7 cutters were changed. The wear behaviour is incredible, between 2 and 5 mm, and everyone is amazed by the cutter performance,” said Alfredo Garrido of Robbins Field Service.
The crew operated the machine in two shifts of 12 hours from Monday to Friday. A Robbins continuous conveyor system including vertical conveyor transported muck behind the machine. “Every 25 machine cycles, it was necessary to stop the excavation to probe drill hole in front of the cutterhead to check for possible water. This drilling was done basically every day, stopping the machine for a few hours, but it was very necessary.” said Garrido.
The last kilometre of tunnel, bored below a series of 50 risers under Lake Ontario, was challenging but ultimately successful. “The team really worked together to overcome some tough ground conditions and high water inflows in the tunnel.” said Savage.
The success of the TBM is just one cause for celebration. The project won accolades from the Tunnelling Association of Canada (TAC) in late 2021 for its all-remote machine acceptance enacted due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The machine acceptance, the first of its kind, enabled communication
and confirmation between the machine’s assembly location in Mexico, suppliers in the U.S. and those involved in Canada. “It was a challenge for all the people involved due the pandemic travel restrictions; however, due to good planning and communication we were able to go through the Acceptance Test successfully. I think this might become quite common in the near future.” said Robbins Project Manager Javier Alcala.
The completed outfall will connect to the 50 in-lake risers to enable efficient dispersion of treated effluent over a wide area of the lake, making it the largest outfall in the country. The project for the City of Toronto will improve the city’s shoreline and Lake Ontario’s water quality by replacing a 70-year-old existing outfall.
The breakthrough of an 8 m (26.2 ft) diameter Robbins Main Beam TBM at China’s Yin Han Ji Wei project is not only a cause for celebration, but also a triumph of technology and perseverance. The machine overcame 17.5 km (10.9 miles) of tunnel in some of the most difficult geology ever encountered, breaking through in the first quarter of 2022. The water diversion tunnel traverses the Qinling Mountains of Shaanxi Province, with up to 2,000 m (1.2 miles) of cover.
“Every day was full of challenges. We are most proud of our teamwork and unyielding spirit.” said a representative for tunnel contractor China Railway Tunnel Group (CRTG). The ground, consisting of mainly quartzite and granite, was estimated to have a rock hardness of between 107 and 309 MPa (15,500 to 45,000 psi) UCS, being highly abrasive and a maximum quartz content of 92.6%.
“This was in my opinion the most challenging project ever completed by TBMs, and it proves TBMs are up to overcoming even the most difficult conditions. I have great respect for the CRTG crews and management, and I thank them for moving TBM technology to a new level.” said Robbins President Lok Home.
During tunnelling, crews encountered over 14,000 rock bursts, some with energy as high as 4,080 kJ. “Robbins’ overall equipment performance was excellent from the beginning to the end of breakthrough, and during seven years of excavation. This is despite the super hard rock with high quartz content, strong rock bursts, and substantial water inrushes.” said the CRTG representative.
Water ingress occurred a total of 69 times during the drive, with some inflows extremely high – exceeding 20,000 m3 (700,000 ft3) of water in one day from a single point. In-tunnel ambient temperatures peaked at 40oC and 90% humidity.
Throughout the challenges, the crew found ways to persevere. Rock bursting was controlled using steel slats in conjunction with the McNally crown support system, while zones of stress were predicted using a micro-seismic monitoring system. The micro-seismic system records rock stresses in a borehole 20 m (65 ft) ahead of the face and predicts the potential for rock bursting following comparative analysis with similar rockburst data from other projects, as well as from nearby sections of tunnel in the Qinling Mountains.
Water ingress was controlled by dramatically increasing pumping capacity in the tunnel to 41,000 m3 (1.4 million ft3) per day. Systematic probing ahead of the TBM was also used to detect water, as well as rock bursting. When ingress exceeded 70% of the in- tunnel pumping capacity, crews then carried out grout injections.
The abrasive, hard rock was another challenge, addressed by Robbins through the use of Extra Heavy Duty (XHD) 20 in (500 mm) diameter disc cutters that showed long cutter life and lower wear compared to standard 20 in (500 mm) diameter discs. The crew also optimised TBM operation with at times lower production rates where needed. “Especially with such a huge challenge, a strong cutterhead is required to ensure production. The quality of Robbins’ cutterhead has been proven. The cutterhead can still work properly after the tunnel breakthrough.” said the CRTG representative.
With TBM tunnelling complete, the route will become part of two other sections of an altogether 82 km (51 mile) long tunnel that will link up the Hanjiang and Weihe Rivers in Shaanxi province.
The completed tunnel, for owner Hanjiang-to-Weihe River Valley Water Diversion Project Construction Company, will secure a water supply for towns and agricultural areas in Central China, while also generating hydroelectricity.