Laser guidance helps miners ‘see’ through rock

The winner of the first Rockathon, organised by EIT RawMaterials and its partner Sandvik, was the team from SPECTRAL Industries. SPECTRAL Industries develops a system that uses laser guidance to help mining engineers “see” into rock and make precision cuts.

Rockathon, a co-creation and open innovation event, took place on 5 September 2017 in Tampere, Finland. During Rockathon, technology and software development companies, as well as subject-matter experts, collaborated intensively on an onboard analysis project.

Rockathon participants were asked to contribute via brainstorming, ideation exercises and co-creation design thinking to a real-time system for moving mining machines. The challenge was to create and design a workable and compatible system for onboard ore analysis for mining equipment.

As the winning team, SPECTRAL Industries was awarded a collaboration agreement with Sandvik.

Here we interview Ad Maas, one of the members of the SPECTRAL Industries team, about Rockathon and their company’s product.

Q: Congratulations on winning the Rockathon! What was the experience like for you?

A: Thank you on behalf of our team: Mike Buxton, Joost Smeets, Marco Lichtenberg, Marijn Sandtke and myself, Ad Maas. First of all, it was fun: the concept of a hackathon creates very intense co-operation in a pressure-cooker mode. The information input density was high, due to a combination of field demos with expert team interviews. We learned a lot and experienced enormous efficiency in terms of results achieved versus time invested.

Q: Please tell more about your company and the innovative solution for the mining process.

A: SPECTRAL Industries ( is developing and marketing a laser-based sensor for chemical analysis. We focus on elemental chemistry, although mineralogy is possible as well. Our innovative solution is a concept that involves our unique LIBS sensor combined with a smart cuttings guidance system.

Q: The Netherlands is not known for having a mining industry. What made you consider the mining equipment sector as a choice for your product?

A: The Netherlands has no mining anymore, but still has mining equipment industry – and definitely oil and gas, off-shore and dredging related acitivities with similar sensing requirements. We believe that the time to introduce our LIBS technology in mining equipment worldwide is now, due to clear demand and decreasing cost levels. SPECTRAL cooperates with Dutch SME Royal Eijkelkamp SonicSampDrill, which produces small drill rigs.

Q: Were you aware of the highly technical aspects of the mining industry during your visit to the Sandvik’s site? Was it what you expected?

A: Sandvik’s equipment, test-mine and level of innovation were new to most of us, and impressive. Getting to know the details of the technical challenges was beyond our expectations.

Q: What are your future plans for the company? Will you consider working more closely with the mining industry?

A: SPECTRAL’s future plan is to really apply this technology in creating end-to-end solutions for major industrial challenges. Market/application focus is priority one for mining equipment, so yes we will be working intensely with parties in the mining industry sector.

Q: How long do you think it will take for your innovation to become widely used in the mining industry?

A: Two or three years. Of course we need to take care of validation and certification, but I am convinced we can progress rapidly.

Q: Do you think the Rockathon Mining Challenge was a great opportunity for your idea to materialize?

A: Yes, part of the concept was actually invented by our team during the Rockathon Challenge. Realizing this concept still has to take place in follow-up phases, which we are now defining.

Q: What do you think about asteroid mining?

A: Haha, that’s a nice question for someone with a space technology background: I’ve worked in space instrumentation for 18 years and visited Deep Space Industries in NASA Ames Research Center recently. I know it is going to happen, but it is long-term. The main challenge is to lower the cost of bringing back (raw) materials mined in space. Of course, if the value of the raw material is high enough, it could also be brought back to Earth. In any case we will need SPECTRAL sensors on asteroid mining equipment as well!