Together with Rio Tinto, Aker Wirth has developed a new, innovative tunnel boring system within Rio Tinto’s Mine of the Future program. The machine recently departed from Aker Wirth’s production facility near Dusseldorf, Germany, embarking on a journey to Northparkes copper mine in southeast Australia. The arrival of the Mobile Tunnel Miner is scheduled for mid-August. Then the machine will be made ready for its use in the underground mines.

The machine concept combines the flexibility of a roadheader with the robustness of a tunnel boring machine. To build this machine knowledge gained from a previous version that was developed and tested by Aker Wirth in the early 1990s.

The Mobile Tunnel Miner is very flexible and versatile. Using the undercutting technology it is especially efficient with tunneling in extremely hard rock (up to max. 300 MPa). Another feature of this tunnel boring system is its ability to cut—in addition to circular tunnels—rectangular or horseshoe-shaped cross-sections of up to 6 m bore diameter, eliminating the need to backfill the lower section of the round cross-section.

The machine can be moved flexibly forward with a walking mechanism and backward with a crawler. Aker Wirth engineers employed several swivel joints to attain a radius of just 30 m which is extremely small for a machine of this size and capacity. The tunnel boring system is equipped with support systems for additional strengthening the tunnel.