RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT EC awards ambitious R&D programme Oct 2012
Shani Wallis, TunnelTalk
A wide-ranging lifecycle approach to design, construction, management and maintenance of underground infrastructure is the focus of a new €15 million research and development project awarded by the European Commission, which is contributing €10 million of the total investment, to a group of 21 industry laboratories and enterprise partners from nine European countries.
EC funds underground research

EC funds underground research

Titled New Technologies for Tunnelling and Underground Works or NeTTUN, the collaborative project will address key scientific and technical aspects of tunnel construction to respond to the increasing societal demands and the huge capital investments related to underground development.
Specific topics of study include development of:
• An advanced multi-sensor ground prediction system for TBMs to enable fast, frequent and effective detection in the ground ahead of the excavation face
• Advanced robotics for TBM maintenance that enables automation of routine-but-hazardous tasks
• Cutter tools with a greatly increased lifetime
• A novel system for the modelling of global risks to be used for the definition of the best strategy both during design and construction phases
• A suite of systems to model and control the impact of tunnelling on surrounding structures
• A decision support system for tunnel maintenance
• Development of master plans/concepts/technologies for inspection, maintenance and retrofitting efforts of existing and new underground structures.
These studies are designed to meet five specific project directives; to:
• increase the productivity of underground activities by at least 20%;
• enable underground operations with zero impact on existing surroundings in urban and non-urban areas;
• create inherently safe underground working and operating environments;
• strengthen the global competitiveness of the European construction industries; and
• increase the sustainable access to underground resources in Europe, with the related decrease of EU dependency on resource imports.
The new project is initiated and managed by French TBM manufacturer NFM Technologies. As leader of the programme, Dr Thomas Camus, Manager for R&D at NFM, told TunnelTalk that NeTTUN will deliver "maximum impact with its results, well beyond the current state-of-the-art, to demonstrate real progress that can be utilised to the benefit of the tunnelling sector across Europe and allow European companies and technology to compete globally."
He added: "The programme of interrelated projects across the next four-and-a-half years intends to enhance dramatically every aspect of the lifecycle of tunnelling: from design, to construction, and maintenance of Europe's already very extensive tunnel legacy."
With NFM as manager of the scientific and technical aspects, the coordinator of the project is Ecole Centrale de Lyon, the top French engineering college that is involved also in international research. The project partners, invited to participate for their particular scientific expertise and specialist experience, are:
• BG Ingénieurs Conseils SAS, France - engineering consultancy and specialists in tunnelling
• CISTEME, Centre d'Ingénierie des Systèmes de Télécommunication en Electromagnetisme et Electronique, France - a high-technology transfer centre working with the XLIM Laboratory, of the University of Limoges
• Deutsches Forschungszentrum fuer Kuenstliche Intelligenz GmbH, Germany - a robotics innovation centre
• Ecole Nationale des Travaux Publics de l'Etat, France - the National School of Public Works, one of the highest ranked engineering schools in France, involving the Department of Civil Engineering and Building Science
• Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, Switzerland - the Swiss Rock Mechanics Laboratory
• IDS Ingegneria dei Sistemi SpA, Italy - an independent system engineering company specialising in radar technology
• Inexia SA, France - a spin off from the French national railway authority, SNCF, of civil engineering and tunnelling experts now owned by Systra
• Metro C SPCA, Italy - the joint venture of five Italian construction partners working on construction of the new Line C of the Rome Metro
• MI-Partners BV, Netherlands - developers of high-end mechatronics applications
• National Technical University of Athens, Greece - Department of Geotechnical Engineering
• OHL (Obrascon Huarte Lain) SA, Spain - leading civil construction and tunnelling group
• Razel-Fayat, France - large construction group, recently merged with Fayat
• Sial.Tec Engineering, Italy - a team of specialist engineers in soil and rock mechanics
• SNCF (Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français), France - the French national railway authority
• Tallinna Tehnikaulikool, Estonia - Talinn University of Technology, Department of Materials Engineering
• Technische Universiteit Delft, Netherlands - Delft University of Technology with two departments working on the project; the Department of Geotechnology and the International Research Centre for Telecommunications-transmission and Radar.
• Universita Degli Studi de Roma Tor Vergata, Italy - Department of Civil Engineering
• Université de Limoges, France - the XLIM Laboratory
• University of Leeds, UK - School of Computing
Following the official launch of the project at the Ecole Centrale college in Lyon in September, at which 36 delegates were present, the process of programming the NeTTUN work over the next four-and-a-half years is well under way.
One of several specific deliverables is to conduct field demonstration of concepts, technologies and tools. To achieve this NeTTUN will work with project partners to integrate developments in real operations on the tunnelling contracts for the Metro Line C construction under some of Rome's most ancient monuments, as well as with OHL on the Guadalquivir highway tunnel project in Seville, Spain, which will use two new NFM TBMs of 14m diameter, and on the Razel-Fayat contract for the parallel emergency service tunnel as the final phase of safety improvement works for the Fréjus road tunnel between France and Italy.
NeTTUN receives its funding from the European Commission's Seventh Framework Programme for Research, Technological Development and Demonstration (FP7 2007-2013) under Grant Agreement 280712 and competed with 10 other proposals for the large-scale integrating collaborative programme. It succeeded as one of four shortlisted competitors for the €15 million funding and featured several advantageous elements to its bid.
As well as the wide spread of partners, both geographically across Europe and across the industry, including academia, large commercial and construction partners and small and medium enterprises, the proposal earned ranking points for its addition of a panel of expert advisers. These five leaders in their field include Donald Lamont of the UK who has expertise in soft ground TBM operations and man-entry interventions under compressed air conditions as well as the operation and ongoing maintenance of underground infrastructure as a Civil Engineering Inspector with the Channel Tunnel Safety Authority for the Eurotunnel link between Britain and France. Others include experts in computer data management; tunnel design and construction; the wear of different materials, and a representative in charge of tunnel assets on an existing national rail network.
Another strong feature of the bid was the proposal to be transparent and on record, not only to the EC sponsors but also the general public and industry at large. "Our objective is to bring the results and the developments to the attention of the industry as we progress," said Camus. "A website to track progress of the project will be accessible to all. Positive dissemination of information and the introduction of new hardware and software technologies into industry is a major part of the programme."
Unlike other forms of research, there is urgency to the research by NeTTUN. "Planning and construction of underground infrastructure is moving fast," explained Camus, "and we cannot wait and see what might develop from different research institutions. We need to leverage decisions that are being made and the sponsor wants results. It is a wide ranging and ambitious programme being undertaken and the partners are prepared to work together to deliver."
TunnelTalk will publish regular reports as the work of NeTTUN progresses.
First of two NFM mega EPBMs ready for Spain - TunnelTalk, November 2011

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