Back to the international congress of AFTES

This event took place from 6th to 8th september

16th edition of  international congress of AFTES – “The underground, a space of innovations”

From Monday 6th to Wednesday the 8th of September 2021, Omniscient was present at the International Congress of the French Tunnelling and Underground Space Association (AFTES) which took place at the Palais des Congrès in Paris.  Initially scheduled for September 2020 but postponed by a year due to the health situation, this event brings together various construction industry players, ranging from European leaders to start-ups. This 16th edition was structured around a key topic “the underground, a space for innovation”.

To echo this theme, we would like to share with you our thoughts on this event, focusing on two innovative companies developing highly technical products for use on tunnel construction sites.

CSTB – safeguarding our future cities

The Scientific and Technical Centre for the Building Industry (CSTB) is a French public company specialised in anticipating future cities by ensuring the quality of materials and their resistance to various extreme situations through research, certification and testing.


Safety of the workings: a unique method for testing the fire resistance of large-scale equipments

The Vulcain test platform, established in their Marne-la-Vallée site, can assess the fire resistance of equipment measuring up to 9 metres in height and 3 metres in width, through three ovens: horizontal, vertical and modular.

With the fitting of several temperature sensors, when the oven is operating, it is possible to measure the deformation of the material inside through image correlation.

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Jules Vernes wind tunnel: Ensuring the behaviour of structures in the face of extreme climatic conditions

In addition to its technology dedicated to the fire safety of a structure, the CSTB has the Jules Verne wind tunnel. With a 6,000-square-metre surface area, it allows all climatic risks (sandstorms, snowstorms, cyclones, etc.) to be tested on models or finished products, elements that are difficult to measure digitally, in order to guarantee the solidity and comfort of the latter.

Inaugurated in 2019 and located in Nantes, its size and capacity make this asset unique on a global scale.

The company does not work exclusively for the building and public works sector; the CSTB can collaborate with the automotive, aeronautical, railway and other sectors.

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With 44 years of experience, Herrenknecht is a German company specialised in the construction and sale of tunnel boring machines ranging from 10 centimetres (micro-tunnelling machines) to 19 metres.


A tunnel boring machine, in a few words, is…


A machine used to drill tunnels and remove materials from them.

A TBM consists of :

  • A shield providing protection at the front with a cutting wheel used to shatter the material,
  • A skirt allowing the installation of segments and thus the creation of a revetment,
  • A follow-on train for monitoring the machine and evacuating the rubble as well as supplying the segments.


Manufacturer of the world’s largest tunnel boring machine

Herrenknecht is one of the leaders in its industry and has been involved in over 4,000 projects worldwide. The company is currently working on the Grand Paris Express with the use of 24 tunnel boring machines.

Herrenknecht is a powerhouse among tunnel boring machine manufacturers. The company has created the largest tunnel boring machine in history. Used on a project in Hong Kong, the S-880 tunnel boring machine has a 17.6-metre diameter shield and weighs 4,850 tonnes, with a total length of 120 meters, thereby breaking all records. By comparison, the largest tunnel boring machine deployed by Herrenknecht on the Grand Paris Express, which is also the largest in France, measures 11 metres in diameter, weighs 1,800 tonnes and is 90 meters long.

In contrast to many of their former competitors, many of whom have gone out of business or been taken over by another major player, Herrenknecht is still present and competitive.

“Underground: space for innovation”: automation at the forefront

One of the emerging trends to uphold the safety of structures in the underground ecosystem is Structural Health Monitoring. This technology aims to maintain accurate and regular checks on equipment/infrastructure, monitoring their evolution while managing maintenance costs.

This new maintenance system is facilitated by increasingly automated products that send alerts and anomalies to web applications (Sixsense, Cementys, etc.).

Other cases where automation and robotisation are becoming essential in underground construction sites are with manufacturers of logistics equipment. Companies such as TMS and Metalliance, suppliers of pneumatic trains, are currently working on the long-distance control of their machines, with the ambition of offering a completely autonomous vehicle in the future.