Sensor Based Sorting Technologies Drive Efficiency

Mining & Automation
May 18, 2018

Sensor Based Sorting Technologies Drive Efficiency


In mining operations, the use of right set of technological innovations can mean increased profitability and production efficiency. It was this ideology which drove the development of sensor based ore processing and sorting technologies as ore grade qualities declined all over the world. According to Tim Woodward, Managing Director of San Francisco based Prelude Ventures “With fewer and lower grade deposits available and declining metal prices, the global mining industry is desperately seeking efficiencies to offset escalating costs and resulting margin squeeze.”

Sensor based ore sorting/electronic sorting/automated sorting singularly detects particles and ejects them by an amplified mechanical, pneumatic or hydraulic process. “You use a sensor and measure the quality of the rock which could involve studying frequency of light, the color, X-ray transmission, X-ray fluorescence, electromagnetic/infrared laser etc. and then compare this to the database of other rocks to determine whether the sample is ore or waste” says Brent Hilscher Principal Process Engineer with Sacre-Davey Engineering. According to Brent, globally, the grades of ores have decreased considerably especially in the gold industry which is affecting the industry profits.

Typically sensor based ore processing is applicable in the following applications.

  • Industrial Minerals: Industrial mineral applications can include limestone, quartz, calcite, phosphates, magnesite etc.
  • Slag: This includes stainless steel slag, carbon steel slag, ferro silicon slag, ferrochrome slag, non-ferrous slag etc.
  • Ferrous Metals: Sensor based technologies can be used for ferrous metals like iron ore, chromite, manganese etc.
  • Coal & Other Fuels: These applications include coal, oil shale, uranite etc.
  • Gems: Precious gems like diamonds, emeralds, rubies etc. use sensor based technologies
  • Non-ferrous Metals: These include metals like gold, nickel, copper, tungsten etc.


The choice of the sensor based ore processing equipment to be used defines the success of the operation. The type of equipment to be used is defined by the type of mining application. The most common types of equipment include Channel-Type Sorters, Bucket-Wheel Type Sorters and Cone Type Sorters. Some of the leading suppliers of sensor based sorting technology include Outotec, Tomra, Redwave, Minesense, Scantech, Steinert GmbH etc. The new types of equipment that mines install are:

  • Belt-Type Machines: Belt-type machines are used for small and heterogeneous material. These machines focus on finer material and sort the ore.
  • Chute-Type Machines: Chute-type machines are relatively cheaper to install and result in lower operating costs. These machines are typically used for bigger size materials that are around 300mm in size.



Advantages of sensor based ore processing according to TOMRA, a sorting solutions technology developer:

  • Reduction in overall mining costs
  • Increase in deposit exploitations and the life-of-mine
  • Reliable and efficient sorting processes
  • Decrease in haulage costs as purer output is transported
  • Reclaiming old waste dumps
  • Diverting ore types by understanding the correct grades
  • Reduction in energy consumption because of faster and efficient machines
  • Reduction in water consumption
  • Increase in overall production
  • Reduction in the amount of fine tailings
  • Selling a coarse product



The biggest disadvantage of sensor based sorting occurs when rejection of waste is set at maximum in the machines. This can result in the rejection of a slightly lower grade of the actual metal or product in the ore as well. This means that in case of precious metals like gold, the monetary loss could be much higher and thus, in such a scenario a sensor based sorting technology no longer remains economically viable. Mine operators have to be aware of this drawback not only while choosing the type of sensor based sorting equipment for their mine but also while establishing rejection settings.

Additionally there is always difficulty in breaking through the established styles of working however, with right set of marketing and education, there is higher acceptance of robotics, automation, sensors etc. This is also since mine operators want to be more efficient and environmentally friendly. “If you operate your mine more efficiently, you are more environmentally conscious” says Tom Palangio, President of WipWare.



Hilscher feels that the industry has come a long way and is moving in the right direction for the future. However, he feels there are improvements still to be expected as below:

  • Sample Size: Currently the top size limit is approximately 4 inches for machines. This needs to be increased as much as possible because higher the limit, the less crushing is required before sorting thus increasing efficiency
  • Technology Improvement: Experts in the industry also feel that technology as a whole will undergo improvements relating to sensor accuracy, sensitivity, processing capacities etc.
  • Partnerships: The industry is already seeing development of strategic partnerships for example; Tomra has partnered with Outotec where Tomra provides the technology and Outotec provides the sales power.

Listen to the podcast – Ep 8: Understanding Sensor Based Ore Processing

Watch full podcast – Ep 8: Understanding Sensor Based Ore Processing

Watch interview with Brent Hilscher – Principal Engineer at Sacré-Davey Engineering

Watch Interview with Tom Palangio – President at WipWare Inc.

Listen to or Watch The Crowmsmen Podcasts to stay up-to-date on the latest technologies, challenges, opportunities, and government policies related to the industrial sector.

Read Crownsmen Industrial Reports or Watch Interviews with Industrial Leaders for in-depth insights into their industries, companies, and products.

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