Trelleborg Infrastructure summoned its most prolific expertise for the engineering challenge of laying the world's longest immersed tunnel in a seismically active area. As the only company in the world with capabilities for immersed and bored tunnel sealing, Trelleborg had been invited by China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) to take part in the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau (HKZM) link project.
After almost two years on the drawing board with CCCC's project engineers, Trelleborg Infrastructure was awarded the tunnel sealing contract in October last year. The collaboration itself was a milestone in what can be considered one of the most solid foundations of Dutch-Chinese relations: a 125-year design life for a tunnel meant to seal China's future.
"We are honoured to take on this enormous challenge," says Peter Stello, Trelleborg Infrastructure managing director. "The HKZM project is our most advanced in Asia as it contains all our knowledge in one sealing system."
Headquartered in Ridderkerk, the Netherlands, Trelleborg Infrastructure groups the civil engineering, dredging and energy infrastructure units of the Swedish global industrial group Trelleborg.
Combining a global footprint - 120 production facilities in 44 countries - with 106 years of experience, the Trelleborg group is renowned for leading-edge expertise in polymer technology and advanced solutions know-how. Unrivalled in seal design and elastomer technology, Trelleborg Infrastructure produces customised engineered rubber products and systems for civil works, offshore oil and gas, dredging, sewage, building and industry.
With its ability to guarantee water impermeability for at least 100 years, Trelleborg emerged as the reliable partner with the proven track record to take on the challenging HKZM link project. Spanning six kilometres, the HKZM immersed tunnel will be sealed using Trelleborg's Gina gaskets, Omega seals and water-stops. These products have been used in Europe since the 1960s and are installed in tunnels on every continent, including many in China. Hence the products are tested globally for enduring water-tightness even in the midst of seismic ground movements.
"Our products are critical in this project as the water depth is more than 40 metres and there are 32 tunnel elements to be laid in an earthquake zone," Stello says. "Safety and social responsibility are of paramount importance, so we calculated our performance stringently over the design life of 125 years."
Trelleborg will start deploying its sealing system this year, targeting full delivery by 2014. The entire HKZM link project is due for completion by 2017. Part of the immersed tunnel sealing requirements will be produced in Qingdao, where the Trelleborg group operates one of six wholly-owned production plants on the mainland.
Trelleborg Engineered Systems Qingdao was set up in 2009 mainly for the dredging business, which is booming on the mainland given its robust port development and the 110,000-kilometre stretch of waterways requiring maintenance. Trelleborg also expects to play a bigger role in the mainland's offshore wind farm build-out. The company's self-activating and inflatable grout seals are commonly used in Europe to safely install offshore wind turbine installations.
"We will transfer some of our knowledge and product base to the Qingdao facility as China is an important hub for us to reach the rest of Asia. We want to be a part of all the interesting high-end projects," says Ruud Bokhout, Trelleborg Infrastructure business development director.
As a pioneer in industrial engineered rubber solutions, Trelleborg welcomes synergies presented by its heightened engagement in Asia. Stello says more product development could take place in the region as it becomes the world's economic driver.
With Trelleborg's vast technical know-how and deeply ingrained safety ethic combined with the rich opportunities in Asia, innovation is certain.
"Our only focus is on innovation and we are developing new products in our industry that are game changing," Stello says. "This is most important to us regardless of the region we're in."
Trelleborg welcomes collaborations with universities, technological partners and engineering companies in Asia on promising ventures.
Early adoption of new technologies has been a key factor to Trelleborg's long-standing success, along with its customer-centric mentality. The company hopes to achieve a balanced production between Asia and the Netherlands, building on the opportunities in Asia to channel Trelleborg standards in technology, working environment and social responsibility.