Webuild, how giant mechanical moles are repurposed

A dedicated Factory as a unique example of how to reduce operating costs and increase the efficiency of TBMs

The first TBM – Tunnel Boring Machine (mechanical mole), a giant over 100 meters long, which has excavated the tunnels where the Grand Paris Express (the new Parisian metro) will run, will be ready in the coming months. These days, it is entrusted to the care of Webuild’s specialized technicians, who are “regenerating” it to make it operational for a new challenge: using it in Italy in the tunnels where the future high-speed railway from Salerno to the city of Reggio Calabria will pass.

The Webuild Group thus embarks on a new challenge: the assembly and regeneration of these extremely sophisticated machines, in partnership with CREG, a world leader in the TBM sector and mechanized tunneling services, at the Terni production site of Adamantis, which operates in the metalworking sector. This is a unique example worldwide designed to reduce operational costs and improve the efficiency of the dozens of TBMs currently working on Italian construction sites where the great works of the future are being built, from Liguria to Sicily. To manage these activities, a new company called Webuild Equipment & Machinery – WEM has been established.

As in the case of the first mole that arrived from Paris, these excavation giants are brought to the factory, disassembled, overhauled, and possibly subjected to some technical modifications based on the characteristics of the project they will be used for. Digging under a riverbed, under a two-thousand-meter-high Alpine mountain, or just a few meters from the foundations of Milan’s historic center are highly complex activities that often require different technical setups for the TBMs. The process undertaken by Webuild also addresses this need, so in the dedicated factory – with its high logistical standards – these absolute marvels of modern engineering can truly be given new life.

The 58 Giants at Work on Italian Projects

A few hundred meters from the clear sea of Taormina, a TBM is digging the tunnel where the trains that will change Sicily‘s mobility will run. The mole working on the Taormina-Giampilieri route is one of the 19 that, according to plans, will be used on the island. The goal: to complete 7 projects that envision the completion of a new 200-kilometer railway network, 175 kilometers of which are in tunnels. This is the heart of the high-capacity Catania-Messina-Palermo railway that Webuild is building.

The Sicilian project is just one example of Webuild’s vast TBM fleet, which is about to reach 58 machines, divided between those already in operation, in assembly, ordered, and to be ordered for planned projects. Revising, modifying, and upgrading these TBMs for reuse in new projects thus becomes a strategic activity that confirms the Group’s established leadership in the mechanized excavation sector.

The Specialized Technicians Revitalizing Mechanical Moles

Once again, technical excellence relies on the professionals who bring it to life. The men and women who work on Webuild’s TBMs today, as well as the specialized technicians operating within the Terni factory. The incredible development of mechanized excavation activities has prompted the Group to make significant investments in innovation and training, focusing on the formation of specialized personnel through the use of sophisticated simulators.

In Belpasso, in the province of Catania, Webuild has inaugurated a fully automated and robotized factory producing the segments used to line the tunnels, which are placed by the TBM during excavation.

The Belpasso factory, capable of producing a segment every 7 minutes thanks to automation (3 minutes less than the traditional method), is a first experiment that will be followed by the opening of other training sites, starting from Novi Ligure in Piedmont to Campania, focusing on the mechanized excavation of the high-speed line from Naples to Bari. Centers of excellence that will develop national synergies for increasingly efficient use of large mechanical moles.