E-BERK, renowned for innovative tunnel boring machine (TBM) cutting tools, has taken the next step in its business development by manufacturing its own TBM at its base in Ankara, Turkey.
When E-BERK started in 2002 – in a small workshop in an industrial area of Turkey’s capital Ankara – it had only four employees, a far cry from its current count of approximately 500. Today, it fits the description of ‘tunnelling specialist’, but in the beginning, its range of disc cutter rings could barely fill a one-page sales brochure.
Starting as a producer of cutter rings, it has now expanded to provide a full spectrum of products for the tunnel boring machine (TBM) industry, including cutting tools, spare parts, back-up units and services such as TBM revisions. Part of E-BERK’s success can be attributed to its combination of innovative products with flexible production techniques, allowing it to successfully break into markets which have been traditionally dominated by big-name TBM producers.
It has exported its products and services to 24 countries so far, where more than 100 tunnelling projects having utilised its products. E-BERK cutting tools were used on the prestigious Bosphorus tunnel, which connected the European and Asian sides of Istanbul. The company has also provided cutting tools for:
- Moscow Metro
- Istanbul Metro
- Warsaw Metro
- Doha Gold Line
- Mecca-Riyadh Metro
- Mumbai Metro
- Chennai Metro
- Minsk Metro
- Paris Rennes Lyon railway tunnels
- Bucharest Metro
- Sofia Metro
- Shanghai Huangphu River Tunnel.
Using its experience with TBM spare parts and revisions, E-BERK’s entry into manufacturing its own TBM was a natural progression. But in keeping with its culture, E-BERK wouldn’t do so until the company had a thorough understanding of the user experience of operating TBMs.
Once management had focused on developing a TBM, the company first decided to operate machines in real tunnelling projects to discover the potential for innovation in the manufacture of machines. E-BERK was involved in three projects as a subcontractor, including 3-5 m diameter water tunnels to a railway tunnel with a diameter of 8 m.
As part of its fact-finding mission, more than half of E-BERK’s R&D engineers relocated to tunnelling sites, literally relocating the department into the depth of the tunnels.
The first E-BERK TBM
Following a year of development, the outcome of its hard work was revealed when the first E-BERK TBM, the E-3301, was introduced on 10 May 2017. The launch of E-3301, was celebrated with a ceremony attended by ministers from the Turkish Government, generating significant interest from public and private companies alike.
The introduction of a locally manufactured TBM will result in a more competitive market. Demand for TBMs is high, with many tunnelling projects planned for the future across the mainly mountainous geography that makes up the country.
The 3.25 m diameter E-3301 is now undergoing its final checks in E-BERK’s newly built TBM factory on the outskirts of Ankara, before it is lowered into a shaft in Tekirdağ, in the west of the country, near the border with Greece. At the time of writing, more than a dozen R&D engineers were putting the final touches on the machine.
E-BERK has been very secretive about its exact specifications other than standard information such as torque, thrust and engines; however, it has revealed the main innovation of the machine is in its software. E-BERK founder and CEO Özgür Savaş Özüdoğru says the company aims use innovation to target what he calls ‘legacy TBM manufacturers’ in the well-established TBM market.
“In this market – actually in any market – you must either have a strong brand or you must innovate. Ideally, you can have both, but it rarely happens because the legacy TBM manufacturers have no urge to innovate.
“They already own the market and they can sell what they already have. Why would they spend money on R&D to innovate?
“But if you are not one of them, then there is only one way to enter that market: innovation. We have a strong brand in TBM cutting tools and spare parts but it would be foolish for us to produce a TBM mimicking the machines of legacy manufacturers and then expect the buyers to flock in.”
He says when E-BERK entered the cutting tools market, established TBM manufacturers had a monopoly. Mr Özüdoğru says they took it for granted and dominated the market.
“They would charge whatever they wanted and nobody measured or cared how long those cutting tools lasted or how effective they were. It was the equivalent of ‘nobody gets fired for choosing IBM’, to use an example from personal computer industry.
“Choosing the cutting tools from a legacy TBM manufacturer was a safe choice. Even if things went wrong, even if the cutting tools lasted a few metres, nobody got fired; not only that, they were able to sell many more cutting tools that way.”
Mr Özüdoğru, a metallurgical engineer who graduated from the respected Istanbul Technical University, says that the company’s success has been based on innovation.
“There was no way we could compete by selling at lower prices. On a typical tunnelling project, you might have around 100 people working, not to mention the equipment worth many millions of dollars.
“Imagine the outcry if boring was interrupted for a few hours because a purchasing manager tried to save a couple of hundred dollars by buying cheap cutting tools? No, it would never work. Instead, we chose to innovate.
“This is exactly the mantra that we will follow with our TBMs: innovate and disrupt!”