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Tunnel Boring Machines in Rock and Soft Ground

Columbia University E4130 Spring 2011


November 28, 2011

Lets Look Back


The first rock tunnel boring machines were developed in the late 1950s but did not have a major impact on tunneling until the 1970s. It was in the 1970s when progress began on soft ground TBMs.

Lets Look Back


Prior to this period rock tunnels were mined by Drill and Blast. Soft ground tunnels were mined by hand in a Shield.
If water was encountered in either rock or soft ground tunnels only two options* were available. One was dewatering and the other was compressed air. Most of the tunnels mined under the Hudson and East River in New York Metropolitan Region where mined using compressive air. Pressures ran as high as 50 psi above atmospheric pressure. Local 147 Sandhogs. *Sometimes grouting reduced water inflows into tunnels mined through competent rock.

Tunnel Boring Machines in Rock


The first successful hard rock TBM was built in 1956 by Robbins for a 3 mile long 11 ft. diameter sewer tunnel in Toronto, Canada. The TBM mined through sandstone, shale and limestone with UCS that ranges from 750 psi to 27,000 psi. The machine was originally design with drag bits and disc cutters. The drag bits were removed as an experiment which turned out so successful that most rock TBMs now have only disc cutters on a single rotational head

Cutterhead: Front end of a


mechanical excavator, usually a wheel on a TBM that cuts through rock or soft ground. Rotational speed up to 812 rpm. Typically powered with 3500 to 4000 H.P.

Disc Cutters: Disk-shaped cutter


mounted on a cutterhead. Thrust on cutter as high as 70,000 lbs each. Diameter are up to 19 inches. Disc cutter lifetime is measured in 125-250 cubic yards per cutter. For a 20 ft. diameter tunnel that would be 11 to 22 linear feet.

Tunnel Boring Machines in Rock


The major parameters that must be determined when predicting TBM production are:
Net penetration rate (m/hr) Cutter life (h/cutter or meters3/cutter) Machine utilization (%) Weekly advance rate (m/week) Excavation cost ($/m)

Tunnel Boring Machines in Rock


Machine parameters include:

Average Cutter Thrust Average Cutter Spacing Cutter Diameter Cutter RPM Cutter Head Power

Tunnel Boring Machines in Rock


Types of Rock TBMs:
Open Gripper/Main Beam TBM

Best used in competent to slightly fractured rock

Tunnel Boring Machines in Rock


Single Shield TBM

Best used in fractured rock

Tunnel Boring Machines in Rock


Double Shield TBM

Good for a wide range of geologic conditions