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New Technologies for Tunnelling and Underground Works

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Pioneering lifecycle approach to revolutionise tunnelling industry

An EU initiative has introduced technological tools to respond to growing societal demands and massive capital investments associated with underground development.

Digital Economy
Transport and Mobility
Industrial Technologies
Fundamental Research

The EU-funded NETTUN project developed systems and software for tunnelling and underground works to optimise tunnel construction, management and maintenance. Project partners developed a prediction system for tunnel boring machines (TBMs) that enables fast, frequent and effective detection in the ground ahead of excavation. They tested several subsystems on various sites. These included radar antennas, electronics, data processing software, an S-wave seismic source, software for the automatic detection of features in the radar and seismic images, and for tracking geotechnical events, an integrated, web-based end-user interface, and control software that manages the system’s overall process. The NETTUN team built a robotic maintenance system for TBM cutter tools to automate routine yet hazardous tasks. The system is equipped with a robotic arm on which dedicated and interchangeable grippers can be mounted to handle disc cutters or drag bits. It reliably handles the complete tool replacement procedure. Team members designed new locking devices for cutters and bits that allow handling by the robot. Twenty materials for drag bits were developed, and tribometers were designed and built to assess their behaviour. Six demonstrated a 20 % improvement in wear resistance. Scientists created several software tools. The first is a software programme that detects over-excavation situations at the earliest possible stage, thus providing sufficient time to act, prevent further progression, and avoid the occurrence of adverse consequences on structures and utilities. A simulation software programme probabilistically computes the distribution of tunnel projects’ construction time and cost for geological and construction-related uncertainties. Dedicated databases for risk factors and tunnelling performance were added, and an expert system was implemented to help users generate unbiased input data. It was extended to a complete decision-support tool. Lastly, the team created a software programme that supports tunnel diagnosis decision-making and assists tunnel maintenance experts in defining the appropriate strategy for inspections and maintenance operations. NETTUN deliverables will improve underground works technologies for intelligent mining while improving the entire tunnelling life cycle, from design to maintenance.


Tunnelling, NETTUN, underground works, tunnel boring machines, excavation

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