Microtunnel Boring Machines (MTBMs) are advanced tunnelling equipment that uses mechanical, hydraulic, and electrical systems for precise excavation and installation of pipelines, cables, and other underground infrastructure. 

MTBMs are becoming increasingly popular in various industries, including oil and gas, water supply, sewage, and telecommunications, due to their efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and safety. This article provides a comprehensive guide to MTBMs, including their working principles, types, applications, advantages, and challenges.

Working Principles of MTBMs

MTBMs consist of a cutter head and a jacking system, which are installed at the beginning of the tunnel. The cutter head excavates the soil and rock, and the jacking system pushes the machine forward. As the MTBM excavates the soil, pipelines or other infrastructure materials are installed behind it. 

The MTBM is operated remotely and monitored using sensors and cameras. There are three main types of MTBMs: Slurry Shield, Earth Pressure Balance (EPB), and Open-Face, each designed for specific applications.

Applications of MTBMs

MTBMs have a wide range of applications in various industries. They are used for the installation of pipelines for the transportation of crude oil and natural gas in the oil and gas industry. In the water supply industry, MTBMs are used for the installation of water pipelines, and in the sewage industry, they are used for the installation of sewage pipelines. 

MTBMs are also used for the installation of telecommunication cables, including fibre-optic cables, which are critical for high-speed internet connectivity.

Advantages of MTBMs

Microtunnel Boring Machines (MTBMs) offer several advantages over traditional tunnelling methods that make them an attractive option for organizations in various industries. Here are some of the advantages of MTBMs:

1. Precision

MTBMs are highly precise, allowing for the excavation of tunnels with minimal deviations from the intended path. The machine is controlled remotely, and its progress is monitored using advanced technologies such as sensors and cameras, ensuring that the tunnel is excavated precisely according to the design.

2. Cost-Effectiveness

MTBMs are cost-effective compared to traditional tunnelling methods. They require fewer workers and less equipment, reducing labour and operating costs. MTBMs also take less time to install underground infrastructure, reducing overall project costs.

3. Less Disruptive

MTBMs are less disruptive than traditional tunnelling methods. They produce less noise and vibration, and they do not require large excavation sites. This makes MTBMs ideal for urban areas where minimizing disruption to businesses and residents is critical.

4. Safety

MTBMs are safer than traditional tunnelling methods, as they reduce the risk of accidents and injuries. Traditional tunnelling methods such as drill and blast can result in cave-ins, which can cause injuries and fatalities. MTBMs, on the other hand, use a shield to protect workers from falling debris and prevent soil collapse.

5. Environmental Impact

MTBMs have a lower environmental impact than traditional tunnelling methods. They produce less waste, and the excavated soil can be used for landscaping or other purposes. MTBMs also produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions, making them more sustainable than traditional tunnelling methods.

6. Flexibility

MTBMs are highly flexible and can be used for a wide range of tunnelling projects. They can excavate tunnels of various diameters and lengths, and they can navigate through different types of soil and rock.

Challenges of MTBMs

While Microtunnel Boring Machines (MTBMs) offer several advantages over traditional tunnelling methods, they also present some challenges that organizations need to consider. Here are some of the challenges of MTBMs:

1. Limited Access

MTBMs are not suitable for all types of soil and rock, and some areas may be inaccessible due to space constraints. For instance, MTBMs may not be suitable for rocky terrain, and they may require additional stabilization measures for soft soils. In some cases, the space required to install an MTBM may not be available due to urbanization or other factors.

2. High Capital Costs

MTBMs are expensive, and their high capital costs may deter some organizations from investing in them. The cost of purchasing and maintaining an MTBM can be high, and this may limit their adoption, particularly for smaller projects.

3. Maintenance

MTBMs require regular maintenance to ensure their optimal performance. The cutter head, jacking system, and other components need to be inspected and serviced regularly, which can be time-consuming and costly. The cost of maintenance can also increase over time as the machine ages, leading to additional expenses.

4. Safety

While MTBMs are safer than traditional tunnelling methods, they still present some safety risks. Workers need to be trained on how to operate the machine safely, and they need to follow strict safety protocols to minimize the risk of accidents and injuries.

5. Technical Expertise

MTBMs require technical expertise to operate and maintain. Organizations need to have skilled personnel who are trained in the operation and maintenance of MTBMs. In some cases, organizations may need to outsource these services, which can increase costs.

6. Environmental Impact

While MTBMs have a lower environmental impact than traditional tunnelling methods, they still produce some waste and emissions. The disposal of excavated soil and other waste materials needs to be managed properly to minimize their impact on the environment.

Future Prospects of MTBMs

The demand for MTBMs is expected to grow in the coming years, driven by the need for advanced and efficient infrastructure in various industries. The development of new technologies, such as automation and artificial intelligence, is also expected to enhance the efficiency and precision of MTBMs. 

Furthermore, the growing focus on sustainability and environmental protection is expected to drive the adoption of MTBMs, as they produce less waste and pollution compared to traditional tunnelling methods.


MTBMs are advanced tunnelling machines that offer several advantages over traditional tunnelling methods, including precision, cost-effectiveness, less disruption, safety, environmental impact, and flexibility. These advantages make MTBMs an attractive option for organizations in various industries looking to enhance their underground infrastructure.

However, MTBMs also present some challenges, including limited access, high capital costs, maintenance requirements, safety risks, technical expertise, and environmental impact. Organizations need to evaluate these challenges carefully before deciding to invest in MTBMs and develop strategies to manage them effectively. 

The future prospects of MTBMs are promising, driven by the need for advanced and sustainable infrastructure and the development of new technologies.

If you are in need of reliable and experienced professionals for underground tunnelling in Toronto, look no further than Technicore Underground Inc. Contact us today to discuss your project and experience the industry-leading innovations and cutting-edge technologies that set us apart from the rest!

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