The mining industry is truly international—not only are mining operations carried out globally, but there is considerable capital, knowledge, and mined-materials flow across international boundaries to satisfy the global demand for mined and processed materials. The coal industries in different countries have much in common, particularly with regard to health, safety, and environmental issues. Because of these similarities, there is considerable exchange of research results—developments in one country are quickly incorporated into mining practices in other countries. This global interaction is particularly facilitated by mining equipment manufacturers. The consolidation of coal mining equipment manufacturers over the past three decades and the broad applicability of equipment across a range of mining situations have led manufacturers to work with mining clients and their own suppliers to develop evolutionary improvements to their products. In addition, equipment manufacturers invest substantial resources to improve the durability and reliability of mining equipment. For example, one leading mining equipment manufacturer indicated that its global engineering budget was approximately $40 million, with about 25 percent spent on engineering development activities that are related mostly to evolutionary advances and software development.
Some equipment manufacturers have worked in partnership with government agencies and mining companies to develop and demonstrate new concepts (e.g., three major equipment manufacturers are members of the Australian CRCMining program; see Box 4.3). For some equipment manufacturers, mining equipment is only one of many product lines. The applied engineering research and development work that they conduct is generally fundamental to their production and materials processes, and the research is often proprietary and not generally available to the wider industry.
Cross-industry research under the aegis of coal companies or coal industry organizations, or with support from industry organizations, appears to be minimal. There are no longer organizations such as Bituminous Coal Research, Inc. (BCR) that used to work on coal mining and coal preparation issues. Instead, industry’s emphasis is on improvements to existing technologies—the remarkable increases of mining productivity since the mid-1970s (Figure 4.4) are a testimony to the development and adoption of evolutionary improvements in mining technology and practices. Several coal companies work in partnership with government agencies and academic institutions on coal mining research projects. The importance to researchers of access to operating mines and input from mining company experts is particularly worth noting.