M’sian technology goes to Sydney

Deep digger: A TBM breakthrough being celebrated at the Ampang Park MRT Station site at Kuala Lumpur in this file picture.

PETALING JAYA: The foray into artificial intelligence in mechanised tunnelling has reaped Gamuda Bhd dividends as it is now in the driver’s seat to construct a portion of Sydney’s underground metro network.

In a statement earlier this week, Minister of Transport and Veterans for the New South Wales government, David Elliott, announced that Australia will have its first autonomous tunnel boring machines (TBMs) that will be deployed to build a pair of metro tunnels, each running for 9km.

The tunnels are part of the Sydney Metro West project, and Gamuda will be building the stretch between Westmead and Sydney Olympic Park, in partnership with Laing O’Rourke.

Following a rigorous selection process, the Gamuda Australia-Laing O’Rourke consortium bagged the A$2.16bil (RM6.8bil) Western Tunnelling Package in February.

Gamuda Australia is working with its long-standing tunnelling technical partner, Germany’s Herrenknecht to design, build and deliver what is billed as autonomous-TBMs (A-TBMs).

The autonomous system takes care of all repetitive tasks from the operator, allowing the TBMs to be more accurate, optimises the amount of force used, which lessens equipment wear.

This reduces maintenance down-time, thus speeding up excavation, with promises of cost savings due to shorter construction time.

The concept of A-TBMs were developed in Malaysia during the construction of tunnels for the Kajang MRT line (formerly known as the Sungai Buloh-Kajang Line), and put into practice when the Putrajaya MRT (formerly Sungai Buloh-Serdang-Putrajaya) Line was built. In both of these MRT lines, Gamuda used many Herrenknecht TBMs, with the familiarity of this German manufacturer stretching back to the construction of the Stormwater Management and Road Tunnel (SMART) in 2003.

“These are Australia’s first autonomous TBMs, and these two mega machines utilise artificial intelligence, developed by Gamuda, to automatically steer, operate and monitor a number of TBM functions,” said Elliott in the statement.

With tunnelling works set to commence in late 2023, the machines will feature artificial intelligence software developed by Gamuda that will be used to automatically steer, operate, and monitor various TBM functions.

The A-TBM team was formed in July 2018 as part of Gamuda’s continuous improvement process arising from various tunnelling jobs here and abroad, with Justin Chin Jing Ho appointed project lead. He is now the managing director of Gamuda Engineering Sdn Bhd.

Chin conducted regular reviews with the team and acted as mediator between top management and the working team.

In a span of months, the algorithms for auto-steering was written and synchronised into TBM programmable logic controllers (PLCs), and validated on a TBM mining underneath a 13-lane highway during the Putrajaya MRT construction.

In less than a year, the system was expanded into three more major sub-systems of tunnelling.

Since 2019, the A-TBM has received numerous global awards for its groundbreaking “reinvention” of the TBM.

“This was largely due to the utilisation of our pool of talent and unlocking their full potential. We have continuously achieved the impossible over the years, and will continue doing so by constantly challenging and taking our innovations to the next level,” said Chin.

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