The mining industry continues to be a hotbed of patent innovation. Activity is driven by the need for safety, productivity, and sustainability, which are all supported by robotic deployment. The two main uses of robotics in mining are for drilling and haulage. Drilling rigs can be automated to various extents, while haulage vehicles can be replaced by either autonomous trucks or autonomous railways. Minor uses include underground rock cutters and inspection drones. Productivity is improved primarily because robotic technology is more precise, reliable, and enduring than human labor. The main contribution of robotics to the sustainability of a mine is the reduction of energy expenditure. In the last three years alone, there have been over 62,000 patents filed and granted in the mining industry, according to GlobalData’s report on Robotics in mining: remote mining vehiclesBuy the report here.

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According to GlobalData’s Technology Foresights, which uses over 70,000 patents to analyze innovation intensity for the mining industry, there are 40+ innovation areas that will shape the future of the industry.

Remote mining vehicles is a key innovation area in robotics

Remote mining vehicles refer to autonomous or semi-autonomous vehicles that are used in mining operations and controlled from other sources through an interconnected system that provides GPS (global positioning systems), vehicle controllers, and obstacle detection systems to mining machines. These vehicles are designed to operate in mining sites without the need for direct human intervention. They are equipped with advanced technologies and sensors to navigate and perform specific tasks, such as transportation of materials, excavation, and drilling, in a mining site. The popularity of autonomous haul trucks is continuing to grow across surface mines, with miners taking advantage of improvements to productivity, reductions in accidents and operating costs, increased machine and tyre life, and lower fuel consumption.

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 remote mining vehicles.

Key players in remote mining vehicles – a disruptive innovation in the mining industry

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

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

Patent volumes related to remote mining vehicles

Company Total patents (2010 - 2022) Premium intelligence on the world's largest companies
Aichi Steel 200 Unlock Company Profile
Sandvik 131 Unlock Company Profile
Epiroc 46 Unlock Company Profile
Komatsu 42 Unlock Company Profile
Atlas Copco 17 Unlock Company Profile
Caterpillar 16 Unlock Company Profile
Liebherr-International 7 Unlock Company Profile
Advanced Smart Mobility 7 Unlock Company Profile
Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation 4 Unlock Company Profile
Rio Tinto 2 Unlock Company Profile
Vale Inco 1 Unlock Company Profile
JRL Coal 1 Unlock Company Profile
Robotic Research 1 Unlock Company Profile

Source: GlobalData Patent Analytics

Epiroc and Sandvik are some of the leading patent filers in remote mining vehicles. In 2022, Sandvik developed battery-electric truck TH665B prototype, which has a 65t payload capacity to support underground mining operations. The truck has been designed to enhance sustainability, productivity, and cost efficiency in bulk mining operations. The machine is equipped with extremely efficient electric driveline to offer high acceleration and fast ramp speeds. The additional features of the truck include a new battery lifting system to provide improved reliability and Sandvik’s self-swapping system to enable quick and easy battery swaps within minutes. In September 2023, Sandvik, AngloGold Ashanti and Barminco began trials of the TH665B mining truck at the Sunrise Dam mine in Western Australia.

Meanwhile, Epiroc, as part of its 6th Sense underground solutions, has created technologies to enable drills to be quickly and precisely navigated and drill according to a drill plan. In January 2023, Epiroc received its largest-ever automation order to develop an autonomous haul truck solution for Roy Hill's iron ore mine in Western Australia. The fleet will consist of 54 Caterpillar and 42 Hitachi trucks. More than 200 modified ancillary vehicles will also interact with the autonomous haul trucks. In October 2023, the company secured another order from mining contractor Byrnecut to deliver a fleet of Minetruck MT65 S haulers. for the Kathleen Valley lithium mine in Western Australia.

In terms of application diversity, Atlas Copco leads the pack, while Advanced Smart Mobility and Epiroc stood in the second and third positions, respectively. By means of geographic reach, Sandvik held the top position, followed by Komatsu and Aichi Steel.

To further understand the key themes and technologies disrupting the mining industry, access GlobalData’s latest thematic research report on Robotics in Mining.

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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.