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

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

The objective for this project 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 that for later work (beyond the scope of this project) could use it to control the shearer without requiring local human intervention.

Contract Status & Impact

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

Longwall mining can be one of the safer methods for the extraction of coal and other minerals. However, there still are numerous risks 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 all the investment and progress on the automation front, one critical factor has eluded the advancement in technology. The critical item that this work is trying to solve is detection of the rock-coal boundary. Currently, operators use eyesight and their sense of hearing (recognizing the sound of rock being cut) to decide how high the lead drum is to be positioned.

This contract will investigate various technologies such as vibration, sound sensing and hyperspectral imaging. The first technology this contract will research is machine vibration detection. Machine-mounted accelerometers are used in many industries to perform tasks, and that technology may be brought to bear here. 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. Just like with vibration sensing, cutting rock produces a different noise spectrum that may be identified with an audio sensor. The third technology is 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.

Page last reviewed: 1/14/2022 Page last updated: 1/14/2022