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Mitsubishi TBM business consolidation 27 May 2015

Peter Kenyon, TunnelTalk

Japanese Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) is reportedly preparing to consolidate its TBM manufacturing business by teaming up with rival Japanese TBM manufacturer IHI and steel manufacturing giant JFE Engineering.

Mitsubishi supplied one of two 15m EPBs for Madrid M30 highway tunnel
Mitsubishi supplied one of two 15m EPBs for Madrid M30 highway tunnel

The move will see MHI take a stake in a new company to be created next year from the 2010 joint venture partnership between the shield tunnelling divisions of Ishikawa Jima/Harinna Heavy Industries (IHI Corporation) and JFE Engineering, who are together now known as Japan Tunnel Systems Corporation – JTSC. The deal, which could be presented formally as soon as next week, is further demonstration of consolidation within the TBM manufacturing business sector.

Once the deal is struck MHI is expected to split its TBM business out of its larger Mechatronics Systems Division – which encompasses the manufacture of a whole range of environmental and industrial machinery – and integrate it instead into the newly constituted and specialist JTSC business. The move is the latest of a number of MHI spin-offs of its specialist subdivisions as part of an overarching strategy to increase competitiveness by entering into partnership arrangements that are intended to achieve economies of scale and facilitate access to different market sectors.

JTSC, the collaboration between IHI’s tunnelling division and JFE, has supplied a range of EPB and slurry TBMs machines in the 5.5m–14.14m diameter for both the road and rail infrastructure sectors, mostly for the Asian market. One of its most recent successes is supply of 4 x EPBMs and 3 x slurry machines for Contracts T207 and T212 of the all-underground Singapore Thomson Line.

JTSC JV established in 2010
JTSC JV established in 2010

MHI, meanwhile, and like many of its Asian competitors, specialises in EPB technology, having supplied more than 1,000 such machines of this type. It does, however, have some experience in the hard rock sector and also has a strong track record of supplying machines for major international projects both in Europe (Channel Tunnel, Spain high speed rail, Madrid M30 highway tunnel), the USA, and India (Delhi Metro). It also provided three of the eight mega-machines required for the Trans Tokyo Bay Highway Tunnel.

MHI has a wealth of experience in TBM manufacture and supply, including mega-diameter machines of 14m or more, and has itself collaborated over a 20-year period with Robbins of the USA – notably for the supply of a 6.26m diameter slurry machine for the 2.7km long water supply tunnel under Zhanjiang Bay in China; supply of two collaborative machines for the Delhi Metro; and for the eventually withdrawn tender for supply of the 17.48m world record TBM for the Alaskan Way highway tunnel in Seattle, USA, awarded in the end to Japanese rival Hitachi Zosen.

Robbins/MHI slurry
Robbins/MHI slurry

MHI’s potential future partners IHI and JFE (collaborating as JTSC), also have a strong track record in the TBM business, having manufactured more than 2,000 machines between them since 1960, including micro-tunnelling systems. The collaboration makes JTSC one of the newest players in a competitive Asian market where demand for TBMs in Singapore, Malaysia, China and Japan is especially high. In addition to standard EPBMs, IHI also supplies a range of technological variants including the Double-O Shield, box profile machines, non-circular cross section TBMs, upward boring machines and rotating shield tunnelling machines. It also manufactures segment erection systems as well as concrete and steel segments.

The new three-way partnership looks set to open potential new markets in the potentially rich Korean market. In May 2013 JTSC signed a contract with ambitious newcomer EM Korea for co-production of a range of micro-TBMs after the Seoul-based precision machining manufacturer made an entry into its domestic tunnel boring market via a deal through which it acquired technology, patents and licences from Japan-based Taiko Techs. The first machine produced in Korea rolled off the production line a year later in 2014.

EM Korea unveils the country’s first home-produced micro-TBM
EM Korea unveils the country’s first home-produced micro-TBM

In addition to TBM design and manufacture, JTSC offers a complete tunnel boring solution by also supplying back-up systems including slurry excavation systems, separation plants, pump control systems and slurry transportation systems; rolling stock, continuous conveyor systems, ventilation, dewatering and compressed air systems; field service, including personnel, assembly and disassembly operations, and maintenance; TBM guidance, remote monitoring, and segment erector systems; segment design and mould manufacturing, and slab and invert block design and manufacture; as well as additive injection systems, foam injection systems and backfilling grout systems. This is in addition to its own patented curve execution system for negotiating tightly curved alignments.

Industry insiders from Japan told TunnelTalk that competition is fierce in the home market, especially in the run up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. A number of infrastructure and smaller diameter water tunnels are coming on line in the run up to the Games, but there are fears that once the rush to complete projects for the showcase event is over the Japanese TBM market will shrink considerably and that there may be casulaties as a result.

In recent years consolidation has been a key feature of the TBM business. See the references below for details of industry consolidations, partnership deals and collaborations involving Lovat, Wirth, Caterpillar, Seli, NFM and CRTE of China.

References

           

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