MMC Gamuda KVMRT develops autonomous TBM, wins ITA Award

The autonomous tunnel boring machine (A-TBM) - developed in-house by Malaysian contractor MMC Gamuda KVMRT (T) Sdn Bhd - has been named ‘Technical Product/Equipment Innovation of the Year’ at this year’s ITA Tunnelling Awards, which recently took place in Miami, USA.

The A-TBM stands out as a novel approach to tunnelling – regarded as the world’s first automated system featuring custom artificial intelligence control algorithms, allowing autonomous control of TBMs. This state-of-the-art system analyses machine data in real time and assumes control of steering, advance, excavation and slurry sub-systems with minimal human input.

The operations involve TBM parameters that used to be monitored manually under less-than-ideal conditions underground in operator’s cabin, but has now been automated and enabled for remote monitoring with the incorporation of Industry 4.0 technologies such as Big Data and Internet of Things (IoT). According to MMC Gamuda, the system has demonstrated faster response times, improved accuracy and tangible productivity benefits including prolonged cutting tool life and shorter cycle times.

The A-TBM prototypes were already tested in the Klang Valley Mass Rapid Transit (KVMRT) Sungai Buloh-Serdang-Putrajaya (SSP) underground works package, which passes through four distinct geological formations of Kuala Lumpur. MMC Gamuda is the main contractor for this underground works package, where the autonomous system has been integrated into TBMs deployed for the project.

The A-TBM proved to be effective as all related mining drives has been successfully completed with minimal incidents, said MMC Gamuda. This echoes the success of the variable density TBM introduced by the contractor in the KVMRT Sungai Buloh-Kajang underground line – which is believed to be the world’s first TBM capable of mining safely in complex geologies, and also winner of Technical Innovation of the Year 2014 Award from ITA.

Present to receive the ITA Award 2019 was Ng Hau Wei, deputy project director at MMC Gamuda. “Our tunnelling team has poured a lot of sweat and tears into the innovation and overcame insurmountable road blocks to get to where we are today. This award goes to all the Malaysians out there who trusted us to deliver the SSP project safely and excellently with the use of technology,” he said.  

“We’re ecstatic that we could bring home this award for MMC Gamuda and Malaysia just two years since we started the autonomous TBM project. Clearly, the tunnelling industry is primed for another technological breakthrough and we’re proud to be leading the way.”

ITA Tunnelling Awards

The International Tunnelling and Underground Space Association (ITA) has been organising its Tunnelling Awards since 2015, to seek and reward the most groundbreaking innovation and outstanding projects in tunnelling and underground space use. The event was previously held in Hagerbach, Switzerland; Singapore; Paris, France; and Chuzhou, China.

This year, the event took place in Miami, Florida, USA, from 18 to 20 November in conjunction with the Cutting Edge Conference of UCA of SME. ITA has received more than 100 entries in the eight categories. The judging panel of the ITA Awards comprised 17 judges, chaired by Jenny Yan, new ITA president.

ITA was founded in 1974 to form a global tunnelling community where tunnelling knowledge can be shared and the use of underground space can be promoted strategically. The association currently has 78 member nations and 266 corporate or individual affiliate members.

Images: MMC Gamuda

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