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Codelco to test Komatsu tunnel boring machine capable of adapting to small curves

A yellow tunnel boring machine on a white background
A Komatsu mining tunnel boring machine

Komatsu Ltd., through its subsidiary, Komatsu Cummins Chile Ltda., has agreed with Codelco to collaborate on trialling a new tunnel excavation method using Komatsu's newly developed mining tunnel boring machine starting in 2024 at Codelco's Chuquicamata Mine in Chile. Through trial use of the new machine, Komatsu and Codelco aim to speed up the potential introduction of this machine.

Demand for underground mining equipment is expected to increase along with global demand for mineral resources that require increasingly deeper mining operations. 

Komatsu developed the first tunnel boring machine for rock excavation in 1963 for use in civil engineering in Japan. Since that time, the company has introduced a cumulative total of more than 2,300 tunnel boring machines to the market. Based on Komatsu's experience in excavation, the mining tunnel boring machine is equipped with new technologies that enable adaptability to small curves, reversing, and passing intersections in hard rock tunnel excavation. Previously, the use of a tunnel boring machine has generally been limited to excavating nearly straight tunnels. This new technology improves the flexibility of the equipment and enables the excavation of tunnels according to the more unique designs of each mine.

The mining tunnel boring machine works by continuously performing a series of processes, such as excavating rock with disc cutters and discharging the chipped rock backwards with belt conveyors while fortifying the excavated tunnel wall. Excavation with disc cutters improves tunnel strength and stability by creating a circular tunnel shape with smooth walls with less damage to the excavated tunnel (compared to the drilling and blasting method). 

To support users' needs for increasingly sustainable ways of mining, the new machine runs off electricity, does not require blasting, and performs a series of tunnel excavation processes with a single machine, reducing the number of vehicles required overall. The result is a new excavation option that reduces the creation of greenhouse gases and particulate matter emissions for an improved underground environment that requires less ventilation than other methods. At the same time, it increases the productivity of personnel associated with tunnel excavation work compared to conventional methods.

In response to climate change and the need for solutions for environmental issues, Komatsu has been focusing on the development of equipment for the future of underground hard rock mining under the slogan of "No blasting, no batch, no diesel." The mining tunnel boring machine and the new method embody this approach and seek to help users improve safety, environmental friendliness, and productivity (shorter tunnel construction period and lower tunnel construction costs) at underground mines. It will also help them achieve more in their mining operations.

Per the company's ongoing mid-term management plan, Komatsu is working on expanding offerings for underground hard rock mining, creating new value for users with the development of new equipment, processes, and technologies.

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8770 W Bryn Mawr Ave., Suite 100
Chicago, IL
US, 60631


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