Friday, May 8, 2009

Humongous Tunnel Boring Machines

Tremors!.. They're getting louder... OMG, it's getting out - and it's HUGE!!

What dwells beneath, does not dwell so quietly - these enormous machines are notorious for producing shaking and loud noise, but they do the job - excavating tunnels wide enough to fit two trains inside (maximum tunnel diameter 19 meters). They produce a smooth tunnel wall, but woe to any creature that stands in its way (obviously).

Some hard rock facts:

- Modern TBMs have fifteen electric motors, which supply some machines with a record-breaking 6,375 horsepower.

- "The machine tows nearly 800 tons of backup equipment through the tunnel, including trailers for electrical support systems, firefighting supplies and even a lunchroom."

- "The face of the drill contains a small door through which workers can crawl to replace the 15 or so cutters that wear out every day."

- The biggest ever built was used to excavate Gotthard Base Tunnel - 19 meters diameter. It was made by Herrenknecht AG of Schwanau, Germany in 2005. Here is a scaled-down model.

Here is how Herrenknecht company describes it:
"With two 57km-long tunnels, the Gotthard Base Tunnels will be the world's longest railway tunnel. Four Herrenknecht Gripper machines are excavating a total of 75km through the Alps. The identical S-210 and S-211 (diameter of 8.830m each) have been cutting their way through the rock from the south since November 2002 and February 2003 respectively.

These machines easily capture the imagination of movie makers. The whole pulp-style scientific romance "Core" is built around exploring the Earth's innards, and in "Oceans 13" the guys smuggle a 600-ton tunnel boring machine under Vegas.

Here is TBM cabin control center - and the driver

Through Hard Rock, with the help of Heavy Metal -
"Gripper" machines use special plates to push rock around.

Gripper, Double-Gripper, MixShield, Double-Shield - Herrenknecht AG manufacturers a full spectrum of these macho machines.

The Worlds Largest Hard-Rock Tunnel Boring Machine - STRABAG AG- at the Niagara Tunnel Project (current progress: around 8 meters per day)

Excavating close to earthquakes

There were special conditions with the Arrowhead Project, that Herrenknecht AG has been commissioned to undertake - very close proximity to major earthquake fault:

"Nobody has ever excavated so close to the site of earthquakes before. The route of the S-233 and S-234 through the South Californian mountains above San Bernardino is only a few hundred meters away from San Andreas Fault."

"Providing drinking water for the population of Los Angeles, California, is without doubt one of the greatest challenges facing the municipal authorities and local government. The mountain overlooking San Bernardino, through which a tunnel is to be drilled to pipe the water, presents quite unique challenges of its own: the aqueous rock has been heavily fissured by the San Andreas fault, which is located very close to the mountain."

Here is a good animation of how these machines work:

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