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thyssenkrupp x TUM Boring: Faster than a snail

An article by Daniela Große

A tunnel drilling machine that travels faster than a snail? Doesn't sound particularly impressive at first, but it's a real challenge for an entire industry. 60 students from the Technical University of Munich took on the challenge - and won Elon Musk's "Not-A-Boring-Competition"! Included: a slewing bearing from thyssenkrupp rothe erde.

Tomorrow's transportation should be one thing above all: fast and environmentally friendly. But reality shows dense roads and slow-moving traffic. No wonder that for some the future of mobility lies underground. This is also the opinion of Tesla founder Elon Musk. Amid heavy traffic, surrounded by a multitude of cars, he came up with an idea: revolutionize tunnel construction to relieve road traffic in the future.

Mobility of the future: an outlook on the mobility of tomorrow

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To achieve this, however, tunnel drilling machines must above all become faster. Currently, tunnel drilling machines dig through the earth more slowly than an ordinary snail crawls. By way of comparison, the common snail achieves top speeds of around 3 meters per hour, while the record in tunneling is 2.33 meters per hour. But how do these huge giants actually work?

Anything but boring: Not-A-Boring-Competition

To make tunneling more efficient and profitable, Elon Musk founded the Boring Company in 2016 and launched the "Not-A-Boring-Competition". Companies, amateur engineers, and students could take part. The task was quite simple: Beat the snail. 60 students from the Technical University of Munich accepted the challenge and set themselves the goal of breaking the snail's speed record!

Learn more about the competition: TUM Boring – A tunnel for Musk

60 students from the Technical University of Munich are working on the project to build the fastest tunnel drilling machine.

60 students from the Technical University of Munich are working on the project to build the fastest tunnel drilling machine.

60 students from the Technical University of Munich are working on the project to build the fastest tunnel drilling machine.

60 students from the Technical University of Munich are working on the project to build the fastest tunnel drilling machine.

60 students from the Technical University of Munich are working on the project to build the fastest tunnel drilling machine.

60 students from the Technical University of Munich are working on the project to build the fastest tunnel drilling machine.

60 students from the Technical University of Munich are working on the project to build the fastest tunnel drilling machine.

60 students from the Technical University of Munich are working on the project to build the fastest tunnel drilling machine.

60 students from the Technical University of Munich are working on the project to build the fastest tunnel drilling machine.

60 students from the Technical University of Munich are working on the project to build the fastest tunnel drilling machine.

60 students from the Technical University of Munich are working on the project to build the fastest tunnel drilling machine.

60 students from the Technical University of Munich are working on the project to build the fastest tunnel drilling machine.

60 students from the Technical University of Munich are working on the project to build the fastest tunnel drilling machine.

60 students from the Technical University of Munich are working on the project to build the fastest tunnel drilling machine.

60 students from the Technical University of Munich are working on the project to build the fastest tunnel drilling machine.

60 students from the Technical University of Munich are working on the project to build the fastest tunnel drilling machine.

60 students from the Technical University of Munich are working on the project to build the fastest tunnel drilling machine.

60 students from the Technical University of Munich are working on the project to build the fastest tunnel drilling machine.

60 students from the Technical University of Munich are working on the project to build the fastest tunnel drilling machine.

60 students from the Technical University of Munich are working on the project to build the fastest tunnel drilling machine.

60 students from the Technical University of Munich are working on the project to build the fastest tunnel drilling machine.

60 students from the Technical University of Munich are working on the project to build the fastest tunnel drilling machine.

60 students from the Technical University of Munich are working on the project to build the fastest tunnel drilling machine.

60 students from the Technical University of Munich are working on the project to build the fastest tunnel drilling machine.

60 students from 16 countries for a shared goal

The competition comes at a perfect time, because Kilian, a student at the Technical University of Munich and co-founder of the TUM Boring Team, has long been working on his own tunnel drilling machine (TBM). Because he, too, has other visions for the mobility of the future. He was the one who finally took care of the application for the competition. In the meantime, the team at the Technical University of Munich consists of around 60 members and a wide variety of fields of study. Together, they developed the prototype tunnel drilling machine, which eventually qualified for the finals of Musk's competition. Out of more than 400 applicants for the competition, the TU Munich team is now among the last twelve.

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Slewing bearing – the heart of the machine

The students were also able to realize their ambitious project with the help of sponsors. The slewing bearing in the drill head of their machine was manufactured by thyssenkrupp rothe erde, especially for the students' TBM. It moves the drill head and absorbs the enormous forces of the rock walls. Behind this is a lot of well-thought-out engineering, because the bearing design has to be based on individual requirements and specifications. Each slewing bearing is designed specifically for a particular machine. thyssenkrupp rothe erde specializes in these requirements and manufactures all the main components of its slewing bearings itself - from raw material to finished product.

Slewing Bearings in Tunnel Boring Machines – Keeping the World Turning

Giants underground: our six most impressive tunnel systems

Giants underground: our six most impressive tunnel systems

Giants underground: our six most impressive tunnel systems

Giants underground: our six most impressive tunnel systems

thyssenkrupp x TUM Boring: Between industry and university

But thyssenkrupp supports the students not only with an individual slewing bearing but also with technical expertise. Behind the collaboration is also a philosophy of mutual support. After all, developing a TBM is enormously time-consuming, cost-intensive and a real mammoth task for young students. For many students, it was the first time they had to apply their theoretical knowledge in practice. At the same time, the students' unconventional ideas are also an inspiration for established companies and experienced engineers.

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A sprint for the final meters

The final weeks at the Munich test site were of particular importance for the students. Because here they were able to put their concept through its paces and put the tunnel drilling machine through its first test run. Only now is it becoming clear whether it is ready for Elon Musk's "Not A Boring Competition."

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Hard work pays off

Last weekend, the time had finally come. After the individual components of the 22t tunnel drilling machine had been shipped to the USA and assembled in Las Vegas, the competition against the other teams - and the imaginary snail – could begin.

The first surprise already came during the safety check! Only two of eight teams were allowed to compete against each other: TUM Boring from Munich and Swissloop Tunneling (ETH Zurich). The TBM of the TUM team managed a tunnel of 22 m. The exact speed data is still being determined, but one thing is certain: the machine from TU Munich was the faster of the two TBMs. This makes the team of Munich students the winning team of the "Not-A-Boring-Competition" - and they also snatched another prize for the best navigation.

The secret of their success? A high degree of automation and an extremely precise drilling head. And, of course, having a heart for snails.