A Tradition of Innovation: The 2013 Muir Wood Lecture takes a cue from Robbins’ Long History

Dick Robbins and Lok Home

Robbins current president Lok Home (left) with Robbins former president Dick Robbins (right).

When asked about his most memorable tunneling project, Dick Robbins narrowed it down to two: The Channel Tunnel and the Paris RER Metro. The former company president and CEO from 1958 to 1993 has seen hundreds of tunneling projects in his career, and should know.  The Channel Tunnel, with its hybrid machines capable of operating under 10 bar water pressure, was challenging to say the least.  But the Paris RER Metro in 1964 resulted in a radically unique machine design: “We created the world’s first below-water, pressure bulkhead shielded machine using air pressure. All future slurry and EPB designs had their genesis in this machine,” said Robbins. A sealing system using steel fingers back-supported with foam kept the gap between the machine shield and segments airtight.  Wire brush seals with grease were not developed until later projects (see below).

Paris RER Metro

The central section of the Robbins machine at the Paris RER metro, with the Arc de Triomphe in the background.

These two projects are just a few of the highlights Dick Robbins is set to touch on during his 2013 Sir Alan Muir Wood Lecture, honoring the late tunneling statesman who initiated and served as the first president of the International Tunneling Association (ITA).

The talk, titled “A Tradition of Innovation: The Next Push for Machine Tunneling” will cover everything from the beginnings of mechanized tunneling to the era of modern tunneling when his father James S. Robbins came up with the idea of developing full-face TBMs (see picture below).  Discussion will then move to modern-day marvels like the world’s largest TBM set to bore the Highway 99 Viaduct Replacement tunnel.  Robbins will make the case that a culture of innovation is needed in greater force in order to push for new leaps in design that will accelerate the advancement of the industry.

James Robbins at the Humber River TBM launch, 1956

James S. Robbins (in driver’s seat), Robbins founder, at the launch of the Humber River Sewer TBM in 1956. The machine was the first ever to exclusively use rolling disc cutters.

See the Talk:

ITA-AITES World Tunnel Congress
Geneva, Switzerland
Opening Ceremony & Sir Alan Muir Wood Lecture
Monday June 3
9:00 AM to 10:30 AM

For more information on Robbins’ long history, check out the lecture Dick Robbins and colleagues made when he received the 2009 Benjamin Franklin Medal.

Desiree Willis