Robbins embarking on a new chapter Feb 2021

Shani Wallis, TunnelTalk

Under a seamless transition, Robbins is to go forward in business under a changed ownership strategy with 100% of the governance coming back to Robbins and eliminating any other joint-ownership entity. “Where we had financial and ownership arrangements with other entities over the past few years, these are now dissolved and we continue business as we did in earlier times, under our own management and business strategy,” said Lok Home, President and CEO of the company in an interview with TunnelTalk. To execute the change, Home has established a new holding company, Global TBM Company, and has purchased substantially all the assets of the existing company from the receiver. The previous shareholders at the time the receiver took control were NHI, which became insolvent in 2018, Lok Home and numerous Robbins employees.

Robbins into the future
Robbins into the future

It was several years ago when Robbins decided to extensively enter the EPBM market and required a financial partner to support the expansion. Having had a long-standing association with NFM of France, which was 100% owned at the time by NHI of China, Robbins concluded that a three-way partnership between NHI, NFM and Robbins was the solution. Robbins retained 40% of the shares in the consortium. However, it became apparent that this strategy was no longer viable when the state-owned NHI became insolvent and NFM was put up for sale. Home then began the complex process of taking back the 60% share owned by NHI. It is the conclusion of that process that creates a new future for the company within the Global TBM Company and with a name change from The Robbins Company to Robbins.

High-powered, technically well designed TBMs are the hallmark of Robbins TBMs
High-powered, technically well designed TBMs are the hallmark of Robbins TBMs

Home has a long association with Robbins, joining the company at its then headquarters in Kent, near Seattle, USA, as a young mining engineer in the late 1960s. After a 15-year period with the company, he accepted a post to manage the Jarva TBM business that had recently been acquired by Atlas Copco. When Atlas Copco management decided to move the Jarva TBM division back to Sweden, Home established Boretec with partners, including Tony Peach of Australia. Atlas Copco then bought Robbins in the mid-1990s but the association did not last and Home took the opportunity to buy Robbins in 1998. As result Boretec was consolidated into Robbins and operated at The Robbins Company. Closure of the recent transaction with the receivers of the foreclosed NHI USA TBM interests brings all Robbins assets back under the sole ownership of Home.

While ownership of the company has changed, Home and the engineering and operations teams at Robbins renew the stated company commitment “to service, quality underground equipment, and top-notch support that our customers have come to expect”. As well as customized TBMs and their backup systems, the company continues to design and develop Robbins cutters, continuous conveyor muck hauling systems, including vertical shaft conveyors, and its range of small-bore machines. With these, it also offers knowledgeable field service personnel and technical support.

Hear Lok Home speak of the future for Robbins

Now headquartered in Solon, Ohio, USA, and under the terms of the asset buy back, Robbins owns seven subsidiaries with workshop operations in China, India, Mexico, Brazil, Chile and elsewhere, the conveyor head office and workshop in West Virginia, the cutter operations in Kent, Washington, and the small-bore manufacturing facility in Solon. The company also has active agents in 20 additional countries. Together with the principle management and engineering team, including Doug Harding, Dennis Ofiara, Dean Workman, Brad Grothen, and field service leader Steve Chorley, the Robbins team includes engineers from China, Italy, France, Spain, Japan and many other countries. “We are a united nations of employees,” said Home, “and have some very talented young engineers that are showing effective leadership.”

“The company has a bright future as a result of the transaction,” said Home. “We start 2021 with no significant bank or institutional debt and have many projects to look forward to, as well as managing current operation and delivery of crossover and main beam rock TBMs equipped for challenging geological conditions in many countries including the USA, Norway, India, China and Canada. For the future, our clients can depend on Robbins to deliver high-quality and technically well-designed machines for very difficult projects. That is where Robbins really stands out. We have always been focused on building the best and strongest machines and will continue to do that.”

Robbins has a record for supplying TBMs for tough projects and succeeding
Robbins has a record for supplying TBMs for tough projects and succeeding

From the first modern TBM, built by Robbins in 1952, to recent innovations such as the crossover TBM for varied ground conditions, Robbins engineering and innovations have made a success of an impressive portfolio of projects over nearly 70 years, including many of the world’s most difficult TBM achievements. Continuing its leadership in innovation and new developments, there is preliminary news of a soon-to-be-introduced non-circular rock boring machine – something of a principal goal for the industry over many years.

In looking to the future of the TBM marketplace globally, Home said there will be no shortage of projects in the coming decades, particularly as developing countries begin to focus on their urgent underground infrastructure needs in water management, metros, and intercity connectivity. “Every great city of the world has an underground metro system, for example, and for TBM suppliers, current developments prove that more of these underground projects will be managed by TBMs, rather than drill+blast or other alternatives. The TBM manufacturing industry over the past decade has shown that modern machines can go through any ground – if well designed, set up and equipped. There may well be additional manufacturers in the international marketplace, as work in China winds down, but the scale of the work into the future will keep us busy.”

Robbins continues to promote OFTA – onsite first time assembly

Robbins also remains focused on creativity and innovation to solve the greatest industry challenges and plans to continue its many industry involvements, including with the ITA (International Tunneling and Underground Space Association) and its associate member organizations, and with the global industry community. “The ITA is a valuable global forum for the industry,” said Home. “It has the ability and the resources to lead the industry in addressing some of the international developments needed to advance the underground infrastructure industry.”

“For example,” he said, “we need more standardization and ITA could help with that. There are so many different diameters for metro running tunnels and more standardization would lead to economies of scale and a reduction in costs. ITA could help with the development of different lining systems. At present we have shotcrete and cast concrete on one side and precast bolted and gasketed segmental linings on the other. There should be different options between those extremes. We need better contracting environments, better consulting standards, better dispute resolution practices. Leaders of the industry, functioning through the ITA and its committees, including ITAtech that I am part of, can spearhead and bring about these changes.”

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