Shani Wallis, TunnelTalk
It was a high profile opening of the Tunnelling Training Academy in Kuala Lumpur. Former Malaysian Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad joined with Datuk Lin Yun Ling, Managing Director of Gamuda, to recognise the importance of the initiative. Dr Mahathir, a leading supporter of both the city's new mass transit project and before it, the now-famous SMART flood control/highway tunnel project, officially opened the new MMC-Gamuda Training Academy yesterday (December 15), a facility dedicated to training workers in all processes concerned with safe high-technology tunnelling.
- Former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad (top centre right) and Datuk Lin Yun Ling (top centre left), Managing Director of Gamuda tour the new well-equipped training facility and met the press
- With a scientific background as a medical doctor, Tun Mahathir appreciated the level of sophisticated technology on show. The display included the equipment and systems for PLC data acquisition and analysis and surveying systems; a segment erector simulator; a mounted cutterhead for tool change and maintenance training; a shotcrete nozzleman training bay; units for delivering annular grout and EPBM conditioning; and equipment for grout mixing and materials laboratory testing.
- Tun Mahathir said that training will not only provide opportunities for local labour in the growing tunnelling market in Malaysia, but also raise the income level of Malaysian workers, and improve the competitiveness of Malaysian contractors on the international tunnel construction market.
- Training course explained to Dr Mahthir (left) by Datuk Lin
- "Higher income is not just a case of increasing wages," said Tun Mahathir, who guided Malaysia through its greatest period of growth during his 22-year term as Prime Minister from 1981. During his Premiership he championed, among other developments, the construction of Kuala Lumpur's iconic Twin Petronas Towers, and the city's now equally outstanding combined flood control and toll road SMART tunnel. "With training and knowledge our workers and engineers will provide a higher level of local skill to local projects, as well as moving our local capacity higher up the technology supply chain to reduce dependence on international expertise."
- The new Academy adds a tunnelling-specific curriculum to MMC-Gamuda's existing non-profit training centres for heavy construction and earthmoving industries. Its creation is also linked to the major tunnelling works that will be needed to complete Kuala Lumpur's new Klang Valley Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system, some 10km of which runs underground in twin bored tunnels between seven underground stations.
- MMC-Gamuda JV, between two of Malaysia's largest construction companies promoted and built the SMART tunnel project and is competing for the MRT underground works as part of a Swiss Challenge procurement process. Gamuda's Datuk Lin explained in his address how the JV came to present an unsolicited proposal for construction of the Metro and instigated the competitive Swiss Challenge process.
- "It was back during construction of the SMART tunnel when Tun Mahathir visited the TBM tunnelling operations and asked us how we planned to develop our new tunnelling expertise and capacity," said Datuk Lin. "We did not have an answer at that time, but we undertook studies into new highway tunnel prospects before realising that mass transit was a more long-term solution for urban transportation. After ten months of detailed studies we first presented the idea to Dr Mahathir before then taking it to the Government. So within two years we had an answer, and this is now coming to reality."
- Competitive design-build proposals for the underground works are due in by the end of January with an award of contract expected by April or May. "We will do our best to come up with a competitive bid for the Swiss Challenge," said Datuk Lin. Tun Mahathir added his support to the local bid, saying: "If I had my way, of course I would like to see it done by locals."
- Segment erector simulator explained
- If MMC-Gamuda is successful, it will see a regroup of its SMART tunnel team, with many now-experienced locals moving into positions of higher management and engineering and a group of expatriates providing career experience of EPBM and slurry TBM contracting, operation and management. An anticipated 10 TBMs will be needed to complete the underground section within a tight construction period being imposed by the Government and the people of Kuala Lumpur, who are growing increasingly frustrated by the city's chronic traffic congestion. To operate these machines on a 24hr/7 day/week cycle, a minimum 30 skilled TBM operators will be needed, along with 30 skilled erector operators and teams of other trained tunnelling workers. If all goes according to current plans, the first TBMs would arrive for launch in early 2013.
- The opening of the Tunnelling Training Acadamy marks the beginning of a programme that seeks to attract and train 2,000 workers over the coming two years. Candidates will be recruited from within the MMC-Gamuda workforce and from local technical training schools and take them through various tunnel training modules. These range from 50-55 weeks for those training as electricians or mechanics; to 31-34 weeks for mechanical and electrical engineers or plc technicians; 9-15 weeks for tunnel shift engineers or supervisors/foremen; and 5-8 weeks for erector operators, nozzlemen and skilled tunnel workers. Academy organisers who have built the facility from an empty lot on Gamuda's main plant yard in just eight weeks, say no government money has been spent on the initiative. "We get credits on the compulsory construction industry contributions to government training schemes and schools, but the full 10 million Malaysian Ringgit, or about £2 million, needed to set up and fund the Academy for the coming three years is financed by the MMC-Gamuda JV," explained Don Hall, an expatriate engineer who joined Gamuda for the SMART project and stayed on to worked on the JV's Berapit rail tunnel project. "The demonstration and training equipment in the Academy, including the full size TBM cutterhead dressed with disc cutters and picks, and the erector simulator, have been offered to us at generous rates from industry partners."
- In his guided tour of the facility Datuk Lin explained that all existing workers coming through the Academy will receive full pay during their training and that the weeks of Academy practice will be transferred to full-scale operations on sites. "Training," he said "equals safety, quality and savings. Any damage while erecting a segment for example, adds up to hours of delay as the damaged units are removed and replaced."
- In closing his visit, Dr Mahathir joked: "I have my office on the 87th floor of one of the Petronas Towers [close to the route of the new MRT tunnels] and if it settles down I will know the culprits."
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