Mining Contract: Improved Longwall Automation by Utilizing Sensors to Detect the Rock Coal Interface

Contract # 75D30121C11971
Start Date 9/1/2021
Research Concept

Longwall mining can be one of the safer methods for the extraction of coal and other minerals. However, numerous risks still exist to personnel associated with the process. Miners can be exposed to levels of respirable dust, there are numerous points where an operator could experience trauma due to the multiple pieces of heavy moving equipment, and in some mines a danger of frictional ignition exists.

Despite significant investment and progress on the automation front in mining, one critical factor has eluded technology advancement: the detection of the rock-coal boundary. Currently, operators rely only of eyesight, their sense of hearing (recognizing the sound of rock being cut), and experience to decide how high the lead drum is to be positioned.

Contract Status & Impact

This contract is ongoing. For more information on this contract, send a request to

The objective for this contract research is to investigate a technology or combination of technologies that will improve the ability to understand the location of the rock-coal interface on a longwall face. To this end, this research will investigate various technologies such as vibration, sound sensing, and hyperspectral imaging.  Machine-mounted accelerometers are used in many industries to perform tasks, and that technology may be brought to bear in investigating machine vibration detection. Secondly, the contract will explore the possibility of analyzing audio signals to detect when a shearer is cutting outside of the desired boundaries of the coal seam. As with vibration sensing, cutting rock produces a different noise spectrum that may be identified with an audio sensor. Thirdly, using hyperspectral imaging, a hyperspectral camera most likely can recognize and differentiate between coal and rock to aid in steering the shearer, so too will that be investigated. If fully realized in mining applications, such technologies could ultimately be used to control the shearer without requiring local human intervention.

Page last reviewed: February 24, 2023
Page last updated: February 23, 2023