Vocational route to world-class tunnellers

  • Nation
  • Saturday, 18 Aug 2018

Mean machine: The VD TBM is a complex German technology that facilitates tunnelling works in variable geology including extreme underground conditions. It requires highly skilled personnel to operate and manage given its sheer size and complexity.

KUALA LUMPUR: Extreme karstic geological conditions in the Klang Valley are a major challenge for tunnelling works for the nation’s biggest urban rail network – the Klang Valley Mass Rapid Transit (KVMRT) project.

Implementing such a massive infrastructure project in a very busy and high density urban area is an additional hurdle.

Mastering the tunnelling technology to meet such challenges has been a major achievement of project builder MMC Gamuda, and so is finding the right human resources to deliver the job.

Based on MMC Gamuda’s experience from MRT Line 1, plans were made to equip the local workforce with the right tunnelling knowledge and skills to reduce the nation’s dependency on foreign expertise, as well as add value to the national technical and vocational training and education (TVET) initiative.

With the added push by the Government to develop a tunnelling training institution, the builder set up the world’s first Tunnelling Training Academy (TTA) in 2011.

Training at TTA focuses on the operation and maintenance of the Variable Density Tunnel Boring Machine (VD TBM) that was jointly developed by Gamuda and the TBM supplier Herrenkhnect from Germany to meet the complex geological conditions in the Klang Valley.

Being the industry’s first, TTA upskills the local workforce on tunnel-related expertise – a field that has a huge demand globally – by engaging world-renowned German engineering companies like Siemens and Bosch.

Technology transfer

Gamuda, which has always emphasised the idea of upskilling and positive career growth, finds it important to train and hire the right staff at all levels as it contributes to the growth of the company, said Gamuda Engineering managing director Datuk Ubull Din Om.

“As we build significant infrastructure in Malaysia, it is important that we set the stage for the right kind of training to ensure a steady supply of talent in the necessary fields.

“ Our collaboration with leading names like Siemens and Bosch asserts our commitment to ensure that only the best solutions are deployed to deliver our tunnelling jobs. This will result in valuable technology and knowledge transfer to sustain Malaysia’s growth,” said Ubull.

For instance, TTA collaborated with Siemens to localise a course on Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC) module for tunnel electricians. Mastering the PLC is akin to controlling the brain of the TBM and tunnel electricians will be better equipped to understand all the mechanisms that control the VD TBM.

“Electrically, the VD TBM is a combination of different types of German technology. By understanding the ‘brain’, the electricians can understand why the machine behaves in a certain way and what can be done to control it,” said Ubull, adding that electricians will be exposed to universal codes so that they are able to perform their maintenance routine and troubleshoot where necessary.

TTA also invested in Bosch training facilities, mainly on the VD TBM’s electro hydraulic system, to train tunnel mechanics on the mechanical and hydraulic components of the TBM.

According to Bosch Rexroth Sdn Bhd managing director Michel Gunawan, the collaboration helped TTA trainees enhance their technical knowledge in hydraulics, mechanical and electrical operations.

“Our training equipment based on standard industrial components assures safe operations by the trainees. At the end of the course, the trainees receive certification that are accepted worldwide.

“As the country progresses and develops its infrastructure, we are proud to be part of this growth with the nation,” said Gunawan.

Elaborating further on the inclusion of Siemens and Bosch modules, Ubull said the modules were completed prior to work commencement on MRT Line 2, as there was a need to upskill tunnel electricians and mechanics who would be instrumental in operating and maintaining the TBMs.

“We are able to reduce or control our downtime if all tunnel mechanics are familiar with the basic mechanical and hydraulic systems used. So far, for MRT Line 2, we have been able to keep the VD TBM running 24/7 with the usual scheduled maintenance,” he said.

TTA has also developed additional modules covering localised aspects such as tunnel emergency procedures, and quality, safety, health and environment (QSHE) components, based on their knowledge and experience of handling the VD TBM.

TVET elevation

This seamless knowledge transfer has increased the value of Malaysian tunnel experts by many folds.

For the record, Gamuda’s tunnel building record includes the world’s first dual purpose Stormwater Management and Road Tunnel (SMART), the Penchala Link tunnel, Kaohsiung Metropolitan MRT in Taiwan and the MRT Line 1. It is currently working on MRT Line 2 which connects Klang Valley to the administrative capital of Putrajaya.

This not only gives local youths a competitive advantage in the building industry, but also elevates the standard of TVET in the country, making it at par with other specialisation globally. This also goes in tandem with the Government’s plan to raise the bar on TVET.

TTA also works closely with the Education Ministry, Human Resources Ministry, the Youth and Sports Ministry and leading TVET institutions in the country such as Institut Latihan Perindustrian (ILP) and Akademi Binaan Malaysia (ABM) to select and train top graduates for various positions such as tunnel crew member, assistant TBM operator, tunnel electrician, tunnel mechanic and erector operator covering the entire operational and management aspects of the VD TBM.

Youth Skills Development Division director-general Dr Wasitah Mohd Yusof said training provided by TTA has transformed the conventional theoretical and practical training provided to their ILKBS graduates.

“To date, many of our graduates have joined TTA and placed at various worksites of the MRT Line 2,” said Wasitah, adding that they have received positive feedback on quality of training and encouraging work environment from former graduates who are currently employed with Gamuda.

She said training provided by TTA is not only organised but the training syllabus is also of international standard. Employees’ welfare and career progression are also given equal emphasis.

“TTA has world-class training facilities for tunnelling projects in Malaysia. With the current exposure, ILKBS graduates not only can expand their career locally but also become a specialist at an international level,” said Wasitah.

In years to come, TTA is poised to be the hub of tunnelling technology and education as it continues to upskill the workforce and set the standard for professional tunnel construction.

Since its establishment, TTA has trained 1,000 graduates and is in the midst of training another 600 by the end of MRT Line 2 in 2022.

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