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Customer story

Swissloop Tunneling builds innovative tunnel boring machine with parts from MakerVerse 

After a strong performance at Elon Musk's "Not-a-Boring Competition" in 2021, Swissloop Tunneling has been busy upgrading its award-winning tunnel boring machine. With some critical parts made by MakerVerse, the team is readying its powerful device for the upcoming competition in the United States.

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Industry

Geotechnical engineering

Company location

Zurich, Switzerland 

Company size

40+

Use case

End-use parts

Technology used

CNC Machining, Laser Powder Bed Fusion 

Material used

Steel

Parts produced

Connecting rings for a tunnel boring machine

Results

Accessed MakerVerse's range of technologies and expert insights to quickly source high-quality parts

Impact

The 3,000 kg machine was equipped with high-performance parts built to withstand demanding conditions

Swissloop Tunneling's Groundhog Beta tunnel boring machine

Building a safe and efficient tunnel infrastructure requires cutting-edge tunnel boring machines to excavate through soil and rock. However, high costs and demanding logistics limit the technology. Improved tunneling would help make transportation alternatives like the hyperloop a reality.

To overcome those challenges, Elon Musk and his "The Boring Company" sponsor contests where hundreds of teams worldwide compete to build the best tunnel boring machine. Swissloop Tunneling is one of the teams pushing the boundaries of tunneling technology.

In 2021 in Las Vegas, the team of engineering students from ETH Zürich won the innovation and design award and finished second overall. With the next competition just around the corner in the US, Swissloop Tunneling hopes to win it all.

The team turned to MakerVerse to upgrade their machine with several high-quality steel connectors built to withstand extreme conditions. 

"MakerVerse really took the time to understand our project and help us. Working together was a great experience, as they were always so open and transparent about all the parts we ordered."

Camilla Chitvanni,
Co-Head of Engineering  

The challenges

Swissloop Tunneling's machine, named Groundhog Beta, measures eight meters long,weighs 3,000 kilograms and has a diameter of 590 millimeters. Every component of Groundhog Beta must withstand burdensome workloads and high temperatures.

Since its last tournament, Swissloop Tunneling has been busy upgrading and optimizing their first machine, Groundhog Alpha. Especially the erosion and liner system have been redesigned for the new machine. Therefore, some parts had to be developed within the size of a prototype in the first phase, to validate designs and test further improvements.

 

For example, the liner system prototype was built at 1:5 scale before being scaled up to the final size. In the end, the team integrated the newly designed parts into Groundhog Beta and successfully completed its full-size version. 

One of the most critical sections of Groundhog Beta is the innovative tunnel lining system. The team integrated a polymer extrusion system into the machine to create safe and stable tunnel walls. The liner system prints a 15 mm thick tunnel wall to ensure the tunnel's structural integrity. This process uses a polymer granulate that’s pumped into the tunnel through air pressure. There, the polymer gets melted via an extrusion screw. As a result, the polymers reach temperatures of up to 200 degrees Celsius and must be cooled via a 10 degrees Celsius cooling fluid.

These massive temperature ranges, plus the critical importance of the entire tunnel lining system, meant Swissloop Tunneling needed extremely high-quality parts from a trusted partner. Importantly, the parts needed to be affordable and delivered in time to meet tight deadlines.

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The connector (with the four holes in the center) sits at the head of the extruder and connects four different tubes. It's made with Laser Powder Bed Fusion.

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A series of machined connecting rings join different components within the tunnel lining system.

The solutions

MakerVerse, with its wide range of technologies, provided the crucial liner system prototype with several high-quality components at the needed prices.

Swissloop Tunneling sourced several steel connecting rings with more than 500 mm diameters using CNC machining. These connectors join different components within the tunnel lining system, such as the liquid cooling chamber. Another connector, this time made with Laser Powder Bed Fusion, sits at the head of the extruder and connects four different tubes.

Swissloop Tunneling dealt with tight deadlines as they readied Groundhog Beta for the competition. With MakerVerse, they gained an open and transparent partner who kept them precisely up to date on the progress of their parts.

Notably, the quality of the parts was perfect for upgrading Groundhog Beta. MakerVerse's supply chain consists of only hand-picked, fully-vetted suppliers who have undergone a rigorous onboarding process. These quality control measures ensure the quality of every part ordered on the MakerVerse platform.

The results

Swissloop Tunneling is putting the final touches on Groundhog Beta before bringing it to the United States for The Boring Company's Not-A-Boring Competition. Leading up to this point, the team conducted many design iterations and performed constant testing while considering their budget.

Through these challenges, the team received high-quality parts and open communications from MakerVerse. "We're looking forward to working together again," said Camilla Chitvanni, Co-Head of Mechanical and Civil Engineering at Swissloop Tunneling. "All of us on the team appreciated the care and communications during the entire process." 

 

MakerVerse is committed to promoting student-driven innovation. In this case, instead of dealing with countless suppliers and worrying about deadlines, MakerVerse helped Swissloop Tunneling focus on what it does best: Building incredible tunnel boring machines.  

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