Equipment Options

Tunnelling equipment and technology available in the market

The equipment and technology market can broadly be divided into three categories – drill and blast equipment, tunnel boring machines (TBMs) and other equipment.

Tunnelling equipment is usually acquired through purchase of new machinery, purchase of used/refurbished equipment or renting of equipment. The selection of an option from among these depends on a number of factors like the availability of funds, the number of hours of work required, the proposed timeline and work schedule.

Foreign manufacturers have the majority share in the tunnelling equipment market with only a minuscule share held by domestic players. According to the Department of Com-

merce, between 2010-11 and 2014-15, the import value of tunnelling equipment increased at a compound annual growth rate of 5.14 per cent from Rs 978 million to Rs 1,195 million. From April 2015 to January 2016, India imported tunnelling equipment worth Rs 1,417.4 million. Meanwhile, the import of other boring machines has been witnessing a downward trend.  Some of the countries exporting tunnelling equipment and other boring machines to India are Singapore, China, Germany, Finland, Japan, Korea and Taiwan.

Drill and blast equipment market

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The major equipment used in the drill-and-blast method comprises double boom jumbo, roadheaders and drilling rigs. These machines generally have a service life of 10-12 years. In terms of market share, Sandvik Coromant and Atlas Copco are the leaders with maximum share of the market. Other key players are Caterpillar, J.C. Bamford Excavators Limited, Normet, Okumura, Soilmec S.p.A., Akkerman, Doosan Corporation and the Volvo Group.

For the equipment supplier, besides the supply of equipment, the scope of work usually includes inspecting equipment on demand and at fixed time intervals (15-30 days), maintaining inventory of spare parts, providing skilled professionals at the site for installation and maintenance of machinery as well as an annual maintenance contract (wherein the payment is made on a per metre basis and the entire risk is borne by the supplier).

TBM market

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The use of TBMs is gaining prominence in the Indian tunnelling industry, especially in congested urban areas. There are three types of TBMs deployed in the country – open-mode TBMs, earth pressure balance (EPB) machines and mixed shield or slurry TBMs.

There are generally two types of TBM contracts – metre contracts on consumables and manpower contracts. Under a metre contract, the supplier provides the TBM as well as the cutting tools. The risk here is borne primarily by the equipment supplier and the payment is made on a per metre basis. Under a manpower contract, the supplier provides a team of experts to undertake the tunnelling work along with the TBM, with payments being made on a monthly basis. Since TBMs are used for a short period of time, they are often sold back to the manufacturer or to another contractor.

TBMs have been used largely in the metro rail, water supply and irrigation sectors in the country. They were first deployed in the Delhi metro project Phase I. Subsequently, a large number of metro projects have been or are being executed using TBMs. Various types of TBMs have been deployed, depending on the local geological conditions. For example, the Bengaluru metro project deployed slurry TBMs, which are used in highly permeable, unstable terrain. In contrast, the Delhi metro project Phase III deployed EPB TBMs, which are used for digging tunnels in unstable ground with clay, silt, sand or gravel.

In the water supply and sewerage sector, the use of TBMs for the construction of tunnels in urban areas started only recently. The main reasons for this are space constraints, heavy traffic movement and congestion, and varied geological conditions. In the irrigation sector too, a few ongoing tunnel projects are using TBMs rather than the drill-and-blast method used earlier.

Indian tunnel construction contractors primarily import TBMs designed and manufactured by foreign suppliers. Some of the major TBM suppliers are Herrenknecht (Germany), the Hitachi-Zosen joint venture (Japan), Okumura (Japan), Robbins (USA), Shanghai Tunnel Engineering Company Limited (China), Seli Tunneling Denmark ApS (Denmark), Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (Japan), Terratec (Australia) and Tiandy Heavy Industries (China). At present, Herrenknecht dominates the TBM market in the country. The scope of work of these equipment suppliers has evolved and expanded over the years. Besides supplying equipment, these companies also provide services such as total logistics support, on-site first-time assembly, technical assistance, specialised manpower for maintenance of TBMs and on-site excavation services as requested by clients.

Other equipment

Other key equipment required for tunnelling projects includes excavators, loaders, crawler cranes, gantry cranes, forklifts, shotcrete machines and dozers. These are manufactured by both foreign and Indian companies such as Larsen & Toubro, Normet, J.C. Bamford Excavators Limited, Volvo, Herrenknecht, Hitachi Zosen Corporation, Robbins, etc. The majority of these foreign equipment manufacturers have set up regional offices in the country to provide after-sales support services including logistics support, technical assistance, etc.

Key trends

The structure of the TBM industry is constantly evolving, with the entry of new domestic as well as foreign players. Due to the swift approval and execution of new metro rail projects, domestic companies are either acquiring equity stakes in or entering into agreements with foreign manufacturers to meet the increasing demand for TBMs. Earlier, big companies used to prefer purchasing tunnelling machinery, particularly TBMs, as per the requirements of a project. Of late, equipment rental has emerged as the preferred option as many projects involve the use of different machines for short periods of time. Therefore, a few big manufacturers have started offering tunnelling machinery on a rental basis. Some companies that have forayed into the organised rental sector are Quippo (owned by Srei Infrastructure), Gmmco (C.K. Birla Group), and the Sany Group.

Further, tunnel contractors are exploring new markets to acquire/import new tunnelling equipment and machinery. The share of various countries exporting tunnelling and other boring machines to India has fluctuated substantially in the last five years. The share of Italy and China has declined sharply while that of Singapore and Finland has increased significantly.

The way forward

The outlook for the tunnelling equipment and technology market seems bright in India. The experience thus far indicates a greater inclination towards the adoption of conventional techniques such as drill-and-blast. Thus, there will be higher demand for simple equipment like drillers, excavators, loaders, cranes, etc. The demand for TBMs will come mainly from metro and water supply projects, at least in the near term.

Some of the key issues that need urgent attention of all stakeholders are shortage of skilled manpower for manning and maintaining TBMs, absence of spare parts inventory, geological surprises and inadequate investigation resulting in high wear and tear of equipment, and uneven risk assessment and sharing between contractors and equipment suppliers.


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