The mining industry continues to be a hotbed of innovation, with activity driven by the need for safety and productivity. There has been a growing use of technology in improving safety and reducing injuries and fatalities on mine sites, particularly underground, where risks generally increase the deeper the mine. 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 Robotics in Mining: Tunnel Safety Devices.

However, not all innovations are equal and nor do they follow a constant upward trend. Instead, their evolution takes the form of an S-shaped curve that reflects their typical lifecycle from early emergence to accelerating adoption, before finally stabilising and reaching maturity.

Identifying where a particular innovation is on this journey, especially those that are in the emerging and accelerating stages, is essential for understanding their current level of adoption and the likely future trajectory and impact they will have.

150+ innovations will shape the mining industry

According to GlobalData’s Technology Foresights, which plots the S-curve for the mining industry using innovation intensity models built on over 350,000 patents, there are 150+ innovation areas that will shape the future of the industry.

Within the emerging innovation stage, mining inspection robots, autonomous steering systems, and robotic excavators are disruptive technologies that are in the early stages of application and should be tracked closely. Tunnelling machines, tunnel rescue devices, and tunnel lining construction devices are some of the accelerating innovation areas, where adoption has been steadily increasing. Among maturing innovation areas are CAD for drill planning and SCARA robotic arms, which are now well established in the industry.

Innovation S-curve for robotics in the mining industry

Tunnel safety devices is a key innovation area in robotics

Tunnel safety products and technologies range from personnel tracking to mobile proximity devices, methane sensors, refuge chambers, and ground support products and systems.

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 20+ companies, spanning technology vendors, established mining companies, and up-and-coming start-ups engaged in the development and application of tunnel safety devices.

Key players in tunnel safety devices – a disruptive innovation in the mining industry

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

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

Patent volumes related to tunnel safety devices

Company Total patents (2010 - 2021) Premium intelligence on the world's largest companies
China Railway Construction 74 Unlock company profile
China Railway Group 50 Unlock company profile
State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of the State Council 43 Unlock company profile
China Energy Investment 24 Unlock company profile
Yankuang Group 20 Unlock company profile
Huainan Mining Group 17 Unlock company profile
China General Nuclear Power 17 Unlock company profile
China Communications Construction Group 15 Unlock company profile
Jinneng Holding Group 15 Unlock company profile
Tian Di Science & Technology 14 Unlock company profile
Sandvik 13 Unlock company profile
China National Petroleum 11 Unlock company profile
Ministry of Defence (UK) 11 Unlock company profile
Power Construction Corporation of China 9 Unlock company profile
Orica 9 Unlock company profile
Shandong Hi-Speed Group 8 Unlock company profile
China Railway 11Th Bureau Group No4 Engineering 8 Unlock company profile
Caterpillar 8 Unlock company profile
Shanghai Tunnel Engineering 8 Unlock company profile
Beijing LongRuan Technologies 8 Unlock company profile
2nd Engineering of China Railway 12th Bureau Group 7 Unlock company profile
Shanxi Coking Coal Group 7 Unlock company profile
Shanghai Construction Group 7 Unlock company profile
Epiroc 7 Unlock company profile
Shanxi Tiandi Coal Mining Machinery 6 Unlock company profile
Pingdingshan Antaihua Mining Safety Equipment Manufacturing 5 Unlock company profile
China Railway 14 Bureau Group 5 Unlock company profile
China Petrochemical 5 Unlock company profile
China Railway Tunnel Survey & Design Institue 5 Unlock company profile

Source: GlobalData Patent Analytics

Leaders in tunnel safety devices include Orica, Sandvik and Epiroc. Amongst the innovations, Orica has partnered with Epiroc to co-design and build Avatel, which enables a single operator to prepare and charge explosives from the safety of an enclosed cabin, several metres from the face.

Meanwhile, Sandvik acquired DSI Underground, which provides ground support products, systems and solutions for underground mining and tunnelling industry, in July 2021.

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


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.