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Which method of pipe jacking is better, pressure balance method or compressed air method?

Pressure balance method normally requires the use of mechanically operated tunnel-boring machine at its cutting head in pipe jacking. Slurry or steel bulkhead is commonly adopted to provide the balance of earth pressure and groundwater in front of the boring machine. Slurry used in balancing earth pressure and ground water pressure is constantly supplied to the face of the cutting wheel through slurry pipes. The excavated materials drop into a crusher for reduction in material size. Later, the debris and spoils will enter the spoil removal chamber near the invert of the shield and will be transported to ground level through slurry discharge pipes. This method of construction is normally adopted in sand and gravel. However, it suffers from the demerit that it is quite difficult to remove large rock boulders during the advancement of the machine. It is quite time-consuming for workers to go inside the relatively small airlock chamber and remove large bounders by hand tools.


The other type of pressure balance technique is called earth pressure balance method which is commonly used in clay and silty soils. It makes use of the principle of maintaining the pressure of excavation chamber the same as the pressure in ground. The excavated materials are transported through screw conveyor to the jacking pit.

Compressed air method in pipe jacking is commonly adopted in locations where groundwater table is high. An air pressure of less than 1 bar is usually maintained to provide the face support and to avoid water ingress. Pressurization and depressurization has to be conducted for workers entering and leaving the pipe-jacked tunnels. In case of porous ground, certain ground treatment like grouting has to be carried out. The removal of boulders by this method is convenient but it has the disadvantages of slow progress and significant noise problem generated by generators and compressors.


This question is taken from book named – A Self Learning Manual – Mastering Different Fields of Civil Engineering Works (VC-Q-A-Method) by Vincent T. H. CHU.

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Kanwarjot Singh

Kanwarjot Singh is the founder of Civil Engineering Portal, a leading civil engineering website which has been awarded as the best online publication by CIDC. He did his BE civil from Thapar University, Patiala and has been working on this website with his team of Civil Engineers.

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