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Tue May 21 2024

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Customers wanted for tunnel fit-out robot

6 days A consortium of mechanical and civil engineering, and robotics specialists have developed a machine that could eliminate manual labour from fitting out tunnels .

ATRIS, the Automated Tunnel Robotic Installation System [Photo: Andrei Zota/Costain]
ATRIS, the Automated Tunnel Robotic Installation System [Photo: Andrei Zota/Costain]

The Automated Tunnel Robotic Installation System, or ATRIS, has been developed in prototype to install mechanical and civil services in tunnels.

Ait has been developed by a group involving Tunnel Engineering Services (TES), i3D Robotics, the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC), Costain and VVB Engineering.

All they need now is some customers.

The prototype ATRIS can autonomously select brackets, locate where they need to be mounted along a tunnel wall, and install them. Traditionally, installing these services in tunnels is hazardous, labour-intensive and time-consuming. Getting a robot to do it reduces risks to human health and safety.

The developers also claim that it will increase productivity by 40% due to faster installation, and so reduce installation costs for new mechanical and electrical (M&E) systems by 30%.

The 22-month project, partly funded by Innovate UK, was led by TES, which developed the initial concept in partnership with the consortium; MTC led the design and manufacture of the robot's end effectors;  i3D developed visualisation software for navigation; Costain and VVB provided industry knowledge in tunnelling and fit-out requirements.

The consortium has been trying to create a buzz among potential clients and says that customer feedback has been “very positive” but no actual orders have been booked yet.

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Alan Worsley, design and project manager at tunnel engineering services (UK) Ltd said: “TES has over many years designed and manufactured mechanised tunnelling machines and special purpose equipment for the construction industry. Over this time, innovation has been at the forefront of our business, and the need for automation in traditionally manual M&E fit-out techniques has led us to develop ATRIS and make it commercially viable for the market. We believe the system can offer a safer, more cost-effective and sustainable solution for future infrastructure projects.”

Steve Nesbitt, chief technologist for the built environment at MTC, said: “Like many sectors, construction has faced labour challenges over the past few years which has driven greater interest in using robots, beyond manufacturing and logistics, to address these issues. By contributing our expertise to this project, we are paving the way for construction companies to adopt technology for greater control and structuring of on-site works, making infrastructure delivery safer, more productive, and more sustainable.”

Jon Storey, i3D’s lead engineer, said: “Developing an automated system to install infrastructure in tunnels has been a long-standing ambition for the construction sector. ATRIS has moved us significantly closer to that goal. The use of stereo vision with machine learning and robotics to place bolts precisely on a curved surface is an unprecedented achievement, with potential applications beyond the construction sector, such as nuclear decommissioning and defence.”

Costain’s mechanical and engineering manager Lee Bateson, who also leads on the company’s robotics initiatives, said: “Teaching the robots to learn seemingly simple tasks – such as how to avoid cross-threading the screws that go into the sockets – has been hugely fulfilling, thanks to the consortium’s collaborative spirit. Whether it’s carbon reduction, increasing productivity or improving workforce health and safety, this is transformative technology that will have enormous benefits for the customers that we build tunnels for.”

VVB Engineering operations director Nicholas Beedle said: “Tunnel works historically are expensive to build and maintain, and in the higher risk bracket for safety during construction and operation. It is important that ongoing improvements are made to address both of these issues.  The development of the robotic AI solution is a step towards solving both of these industry challenges.”

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