- In 1952 TBM pioneer James S. Robbins was working in the mining industry when he came up with a plan to make excavations more efficient. That product, the modern TBM, revolutionized tunneling, and 60 years later The Robbins Company is still going strong.
- The earliest Robbins TBMs successfully utilized picks and discs to excavate relatively soft shale at South Dakota's Oahe Dam project. Four years later, Robbins began mounting his TBMs solely with disc cutters to excavate harder ground.
James Robbins developed the first modern TBM for the Oahe Dam Project in South Dakota, USA, 1952
- Canada's Humber River Sewer Tunnel is claimed as the first tunnel bored using discs alone, a design that today is used for all hard rock TBMs. "A lot of people had tried boring rock up until this time, but no machines had worked. No one could solve that problem until Dad did," said Dick Robbins of his father James.
- When James Robbins died, Dick took the helm as the company's President (1958-1994), designing along the way the precursor to all EPB and slurry TBMs for the Paris RER Metro in 1964.
- "We created the world's first below-water, pressure bulkhead shielded machine using air pressure. This maintained the tunnel face under pressure while the rest of the tunnel remained at atmospheric pressure. All future slurry and EPB designs had their genesis in this machine," reflected Dick, who cites this project as one of his career highlights.
- The world's first double shield TBM followed in 1972, a machine that successfully excavated broken ground (for Italy's Orichella Project) while simultaneously lining the tunnel with segments to maintain a fast advance rate. Other notable inventions included custom-built machines for mining applications, such as the non-circular Mobile Miner, and raise boring machines.
In 1964 Robbins developed the precursor to all modern EPB and slurry TBMs for the Paris RER Metro
- But it is the Channel Tunnel between England and France which holds the fondest memories for Dick Robbins, who in 2009 received the prestigious Benjamin Franklin Medal for Engineering in honour of his and his father's company's achievements in the TBM and tunneling industry.
- "One of the most memorable projects I've worked on is the Channel Tunnel," said Robbins. "We designed machines that successfully bored through water-bearing ground at 10 bar pressure, a much higher pressure than had ever been managed before." The 39km (24-mile) long Channel Tunnel was completed in 1991 following the use of five shielded TBMs designed by Robbins and erecting the on-pass precast concrete segmental lining as they advanced.
- Today, The Robbins Company is an international developer and manufacturer of a wide range of tunneling products, from small trenchless boring machines to mega-sized TBMs to continuous conveyors for mining applications.
The epic Channel Tunnel excavation utilized multiple Robbins EPB and double shield TBMs
- Today more than 200 people are directly employed at the company's main USA factory and headquarters in Solon, Ohio, with additional TBM manufacturing facilities in Kent, Washington. The company maintains its global presence through a network of offices in nine countries outside the USA including Chile, Spain, Mexico, China and Hong Kong, Germany, India, Italy, Korea and Romania, as well as having field representatives in 25 countries in total; all a far cry from the company's relatively humble beginnings six decades ago.
- "When I started at Robbins in 1968, there were 27 people and we considered ourselves TBM suppliers; nothing but the TBM. Today, we consider ourselves tunnel systems suppliers. We make everything from the cutters at the face to the stacker conveyors at the back," said Robbins current President Lok Home.
- The company is perhaps best known for its main beam gripper TBMs, the hard rock tunneling workhorses which worldwide continue to excavate an average of 200km of tunnels every year.
- When the giant 14.4m (47.2ft) Robbins main beam gripper TBM broke through at the end of its 10km water diversion tunnel drive at Niagara, Canada, it entered the international TBM record books, both in terms of its size and its advance rates.
- Despite difficult ground, and a project of both highs and lows, the Robbins machine managed to achieve two records for any TBM of 11m (36ft) in diameter or larger - first a record of 468m or 1,535ft in one month, and secondly a record of 153m or 503ft in one week, both achieved during July 2009.
- Robbins is continuing its tradition of innovation with a range of new developments, from EPB-specific disc cutters for mixed ground, to specialized ground support, to a new method of TBM assembly. The Onsite First Time Assembly (OFTA) method was first developed at the Niagara Tunnel Project in 2006, where it enabled the swift assembly in just 17 weeks of the world's largest hard rock TBM (14.4m / 47.2ft). OFTA has since been used on projects around the world, offering time and cost savings through initial assembly of the TBM at the jobsite, rather than in a manufacturing facility.
- In June 2012, Robbins celebrated its landmark 60th anniversary with an event following the North American Tunneling (NAT) Conference in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA. Both Lok Home and Dick Robbins spoke at the well-attended gala, which included a historical display of Robbins artifacts and memorabilia through the years.
Robbins TBM rolls into hard rock history - TunnelTalk, May 2011
Breakthrough ends tortured journey at Niagara - TunnelTalk, May 2011
Robbins TBM completes two-year Mexico City drive - TunnelTalk, April 2012
TBM excavation conquers Peruvian Andes - TunnelTalk, January 2012
Robbins TBM trio complete 48km tunnels for Iceland's Kárahnjúkar power station - TunnelTalk, April 2008
Mountain drives for water supply in Malaysia - TunnelTalk, April 2012
Robbins trio to team up in Malaysia - TunnelTalk, November 2009
Robbins launch on Malaysia's mega water project - TunnelTalk, February 2011
Dick Robbins awarded the Benjamin Franklin Medal for Engineering - TunnelTalk, April 2009
Modern large diameter rock tunnels, by Lok Home - TunnelTalk, April 2010
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