The mining industry continues to be a hotbed of innovation. Activity is driven by improved computing power and connected sensors to control and monitor the mining environment. By adding internet connectivity and sensors to vehicles, machinery, and people, mining companies can increase efficiency, improve productivity and safety, and reduce costs on the mine site. Examples of this include autonomous drilling, driverless haul trucks, and predictive maintenance. In addition, it is imperative to provide workers with clean, non-toxic air and sufficient oxygen in underground mines, and IoT sensors can monitor potential dangers, such as convergence or toxicity, in real-time. Buy the report here.

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Devices such as drones, wearables, proximity detection sensors on moving machinery and vehicles, and scanners to identify different ore grades and feed this information through the mining value chain can all yield small but cumulative gains in productivity. In the last three years alone, there have been over 48,000 patents filed and granted in the mining industry, according to GlobalData’s report on Internet Of Things in Mining: Remote Tunnel Monitoring Systems.

According to GlobalData’s Technology Foresights, which uses over 350,000 patents to analyse innovation intensity for the mining industry, there are 150+ innovation areas that will shape the future of the industry.

Mine sensor network is a key innovation area in Internet of Things

Mine sensor network is a network of connected sensors to monitor mines and enhance operational safety and efficiency, and optimise mine productivity. Sensors are devices that detect and respond to changes in their surrounding environment. Inputs can come from a variety of sources such as light, temperature, motion, and pressure. The most common sensor types are temperature sensors, pressure sensors, proximity sensors, optical sensors, accelerometers, and gyroscopes. As the IoT grows, sensors will pop up everywhere, resulting in a massive increase in the amount of data collected. Advances in efficiency and productivity in turn will help reduce carbon emissions.

Mine sites have various checks and controls to ensure the site is operational and safe. Automating these manual checks helps save time and money and allows real-time monitoring of assets. For example, Alrosa, Russian diamond mining giant developed an autonomous wireless monitoring system (AWMS) for its water works division. The AWMS consists of sensors located at the existing meters on the tailings plant, which monitors 33 thermometric and 31 piezometric wells and measures the tailing dump and storage pond levels. It also monitors water levels, soil temperature, and hydraulic system status in real-time. Digitalising these vital checks saves time and provides a constant view of these key metrics. It improved operations and safety at its tailings storage facility for its processing plant.

Similarly, about 100,000 machinery sensors and approximately 40 billion records from across Newcrest’s international mine sites are coupled with Insight’s advanced analytics and Industrial Internet software sensors to predict ore levels in the crushed bins when the hardware sensors fail. By coupling AI and IoT, Newcrest can now continuously predict the level of ore in the bin with 85% accuracy.

GlobalData’s analysis also uncovers the companies at the forefront of each innovation area and assesses the potential reach and impact of their patenting activity across different applications and geographies. According to GlobalData, there are 10+ companies, spanning technology vendors, established mining companies, and up-and-coming start-ups engaged in the development and application of mine sensor network.

Key players in mine sensor networks – a disruptive innovation in the mining industry

‘Application diversity’ measures the number of different applications identified for each relevant patent. It broadly splits companies into either ‘niche’ or ‘diversified’ innovators.

‘Geographic reach’ refers to the number of different countries each relevant patent is registered in. It reflects the breadth of geographic application intended, ranging from ‘global’ to ‘local’.

Patent volumes related to remote tunnel monitoring systems

Company Total patents (2021 - 2023) Premium intelligence on the world's largest companies
Kobe Steel 19 Unlock Company Profile
China Energy Investment 18 Unlock Company Profile
Sandvik 11 Unlock Company Profile
Strata Products Worldwide 9 Unlock Company Profile
Caterpillar 9 Unlock Company Profile
Epiroc 8 Unlock Company Profile
Komatsu 7 Unlock Company Profile
Tian Di Science & Technology 6 Unlock Company Profile
China Baowu Steel Group 6 Unlock Company Profile
Zhengzhou Coal Mining Machinery Group Company 6 Unlock Company Profile
China National Petroleum 5 Unlock Company Profile
China Coal Technology & Engineering Group 4 Unlock Company Profile
State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of the State Council 4 Unlock Company Profile
Suncor Energy 4 Unlock Company Profile
Cniguard 4 Unlock Company Profile
Toyo Seikan Group Holdings 3 Unlock Company Profile
Daqo Group 3 Unlock Company Profile
JRL Coal 3 Unlock Company Profile
Talleres Zitron 3 Unlock Company Profile
Bucyrus Europe 3 Unlock Company Profile
Joy MM Delaware 3 Unlock Company Profile

Source: GlobalData Patent Analytics

Leaders in mine sensor network include Strata Worldwide, whose solutions detect and prevent collision of machine-to-machine and machine-to-person in surface and underground mines. It promotes safety, while enhancing productivity and efficiency in mine operations. The systems are equipped with accident prevention safety functions such as alerting through audio and visual alarms and equipment interlocking.

Sandvik’s automated system installed in its loaders and trucks enables machine learning from the very first time they enter an operating space such as an underground tunnel. The vehicle’s intelligent system, guided by a set of lasers, maps out and records a path. Then the company’s patented algorithms, together with sensors and gyroscopes, ensure the vehicle knows the travel path, even where the GPS is inaccessible.

To further understand how Internet of Things is disrupting the mining industry, access GlobalData’s latest thematic research report on Internet of Things in Mining, 2021.

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GlobalData, the leading provider of industry intelligence, provided the underlying data, research, and analysis used to produce this article. 

GlobalData’s Patent Analytics tracks patent filings and grants from official offices around the world. Textual analysis and official patent classifications are used to group patents into key thematic areas and link them to specific companies across the world’s largest industries.