In 1952, 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 tunnel boring machine, 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 with solely disc cutters to excavate harder ground. Canada’s Humber River Sewer Tunnel was 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.
Upon the unexpected passing of his father, Dick Robbins would go on to serve as Robbins’ president from 1958 until 1994, designing along the way the precursor to all Earth Pressure Balance and Slurry TBMs at the Paris RER Metro in 1964, and the first Double Shield TBM in 1972. That first Double Shield machine successfully excavated broken ground 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.
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. “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.
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 of the world’s largest hard rock TBM (14.4 m / 47.2 ft). 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, Ind. 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. For more information on Robbins’ storied past and bright future, visit www.TheRobbinsCompany.com.