How to Specify Fiber Optic Connectors for Industrial Applications

By Contributed Article | May 05, 2014

Need some tips for installing fiber optics on the factory floor? Relcom shares its tips on how to specify fiber optic connectors for industrial applications.

fo-connector-300x300This information is provided by Relcom.

Fiber optic cable connects to the station’s transmitter and receiver by specialized connectors. There are a number of different types of fiber optic connectors, but the most popular is the “ST.”

All connectors cause some attenuation. For quality connectors, the attenuation should be less than 1dB maximum. Manufacturers’ claims about average connector attenuation should be ignored unless many connectors are used in a single cable and statistics above average are meaningful. Generally, only two connectors are used, so statistical averaging is not useful. The connector attenuation figure should also include allowances for temperature and other environmental conditions of the industrial environment.

Fiber optic connectors’ ends are highly polished so that the connector can have low attenuation. Some means should be provided to protect the polished connector ends from damage during routine handling.

The connectors should have means to secure them to the station so that they do not come loose with vibration. In fiber optics, even an extremely small separation of optical components can cause major signal losses.

Compared to connectors for copper cables, fiber optic connectors are relatively difficult to install on the cable. The installer has to work with hair-thin fiber, mix and apply epoxy, then polish the end of the connector to a mirror finish. Installation takes a great deal more care and requires specialized tools and trained technicians. Fiber cable connection can be performed by the end user, but it is risky. There are several ways to avoid the risk.

One way for the end user to avoid installing fiber optic connectors is to buy pre-connected cables. The cables are made and tested by the manufacturer and are known to be good. The drawbacks are that the exact length of the cables must be known and extreme care taken to protect the connectors while the cables are installed. Lead times for getting cables for initial installation and possible subsequent reconfiguration should also be considered.

Another approach is to contract a fiber optic installer. Because an installer works with fiber optic cables and connectors professionally, there is some hope that the job will be done right. The professional installers are trained and have the right equipment to do the job. As with other types of contractors, there is a risk, however. In industrial situations where uptime is critical, waiting on outside contractors to make repairs or modifications in a timely fashion may not be practical.

Another approach is to use fiber optic splices. As the name implies, splices are devices that connect two pieces of fiber optic cable to each other. A short piece of fiber optic cable with connectors on both ends can be purchased. These short cables and connectors have been tested by the vendor. The short cable is cut in half and each half spliced to the end of the long fiber optic cable. Splices are relatively easy to install and do not require the ends of the fiber to be polished.

There are connectors that combine a connector and splice. The connector part contains a short piece of fiber, which is pre-polished at the factory. The part also has an integral splice that is relatively easy to attach to the fiber cable. The drawback of the connector/splice combination is that it is about five times more expensive than an ordinary fiber optic connector.

Recently, low-cost connectors have been developed that do not require the fiber to be glued into the connector with epoxy. The fiber is simply crimped into the connector. This greatly simplifies the assembly procedure. However, the connector end still must be polished.

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For more information on fiber optic connectors and the suppliers that provide them, visit the Buyers Guide.

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