I was just looking back through some of the slides from a Cabling Installation and Maintenance fiber optic webinar I sat in on last week (by the way, one of the most useful webinars I’ve ever sat through), and I was again amazed at how important cleanliness is to successful fiber terminations. Presenter Varis Hicks from EXFO shared NTT-Advanced Technology’s list of most common reasons for fiber optic network failures, and contamination is the top offender. The numbers are pretty crazy – reportedly, 98% of installers and 80% of network owners run into issues caused by not-clean-enough endfaces. Sounds like there are a lot of fiber optic connectors out there in need of some serious (albeit gentle) scrubbing.
That’s why I thought I’d tell you about MicroCare Sticklers™ CleanWipes. As far as optical cleaning wipes go, these things are exactly what you want: strong, portable, and most importantly, lint-free. The “fabric” that CleanWipes are made of is non-woven “hydroentangled polyester” – look closely at it, and you’ll see that it has a random, swirly, web-like formation. And unlike cotton, paper, and other natural materials, the polyester filament is made to not produce dust, lint, or fiber particulate, so your careful cleaning won’t leave behind any unwanted nasties that could mess things up.
Another thing that I really like about these fiber wipes is that they’re available in both stay-at-home and field-friendly packaging. If you tend to do most of your fiber terminations and cleaning in-house, the 90-count tub is perfect for your workbench. What’s really cool is that the tub is cylindrical, but its lid is hexagonal, so if the container gets knocked over, it can’t roll away on you. If your business relies more on field terminations, the individually packaged wipes are perfect – just open one contaminant-free packet at a time, as needed.
Proper fiber and endface cleaning may be vital to a network’s success, but just because it’s important, it doesn’t have to be a major hassle – all you need are the right products to make the most of your technique. That’s why it’s a great idea to get these on your side.
Can someone please explain to me why I always seem to find fiber optic cleaning supplies so fascinating? While I have a very decent understanding of the fiber cleaning and termination processes, they’re by no means tasks that I carry out on a daily basis, so why do I tend to stop and say “ooooh!” every time an innovative new fiber cleaner happens to come my way? It’s probably a mystery better left unsolved, but it comes in handy nonetheless – if I weren’t a big enough cable nerd to find these things cool, I’d never be able to yack on about them to you. So, without any further ado, let’s get down to today’s latest and greatest.
The AFL Telecommunications One-Click Cleaner captured my fancy just yesterday, mostly because its convenience and portability factors are through the roof - it’s basically a pen-shaped cleaning tool for fiber optic connectors and adapters, and to be quite honest, it reminds me of those One-Touch blood glucose meters that one always sees TV commercials for. Now, the One-Click won’t do anything to help monitor your blood sugar levels, but it does have a design that’s compact, all-inclusive, and intended for multiple uses (500, to be exact!) – just like the portable blood sugar testers. But the nice thing about the One-Click is that it doesn’t involve sticking your fingers (phew).
So, as for how it works – it’s very easy really. One of the chief charms of the One-Touch connector cleaner is that it has no need at all for things like isopropyl alcohol or cleaning solutions – instead, it relies on a self-forwarding cleaning tape to take care of the so-called dirty work. And you’ll really like this – the cleaning and tape-advancing take place all in one step – you just insert the One-Click’s tip into a fiber optic connector, and push until you here a click (hence the name). That’s it. In the time it takes to hear that sound, the cleaning tool automatically forwards to a fresh section of tape, makes solid contact with the connector’s backplane, and rotates to pick up dust, oils, lint, and other debris. You don’t even have to bother twisting your wrist.
If fiber optics were to have a dual arch-nemesis, it would definitely be that nasty pair known as Dirt and Grime. Think about how you can’t see quite right when your glasses or windows are smudged up. That’s because any dust or stickiness settled on see-though glass or plastic obstructs the proper flow of light, so objects on the other side can appear distorted. The same thing is true with optical fibers – these clear glass filaments relay data (in the form of light signals) from one point to another, and if their end-faces are covered in dust, fingerprints, or other grimy residue, the signals just aren’t going to come through right. Think of it as a bad game of telephone – you start out with a clear message at one end, and get stuck with a garbled mess at the other. Talk about something being lost in transit…
When it comes to fiber optics, clean connector end-faces equal clean data. It’s a simple as that. You just need to know that the cleaning products you’re using are truly taking all of the contaminants with them, instead of leaving a few particles behind to mess things up later. One of the most well-intentioned but sloppy connector cleaning implements out there is the fiber optic cleaning swab. Often made out of cloth or foam, these swabs may seem to get the job done, but are actually notorious for leaving behind microscopic bits of lint, which are often generated by the swabs themselves. You’re really not doing yourself any favors by using them.
You would be greatly helping yourself out, though, by cleaning your fiber optic connectors with Fiber Connector Cleaning Sticks from MicroCare. Just like swabs, they’re flexible and made to fit inside the alignment sleeves of fiber connectors, but material and cleaning-action wise, they’re worlds apart. MicroCare cleaning sticks are tiny cylinders molded from from lint-free fibers. When a solution-dampened cleaning stick is inserted into an alignment sleeve and pressed against the connector end face, its fiber ends actually open up slightly, allowing them to spin off-center as you turn the connector. This simple action allows the fibers to pick up far more dirt and debris, and actually wick the contaminants up into the tip. When that cleaning stick is removed, nothing is left behind except a squeaky-clean end face.
I haven’t talked much about fiber optics up to now, but I just learned about a fiber optic stripper that really caught my attention, and I think it’s more than worth a mention. Prepping optical fibers for splicing and termination tends to be a precise, and somewhat tricky, procedure, and things can get even more complicated and time-consuming when particularly stubborn fiber coatings are involved. Installers need to effectively strip off coatings without causing damage to the delicate fiber beneath, and that can be a challenge if the stripping tool used is purely mechanical. Baked-on coatings don’t always give way the way you’d like them to, but they’re generally much more compliant if you just apply some heat. That’s why the Jonard Thermal Fiber Optic Stripper works so well – it combines the softening effects of heat with the mechanical force of stripping blades, and leaves you with perfectly stripped fibers, no matter what they were coated with in the first place.
The whole key to the Jonard thermal stripper working so well is that the heat levels and exposure times are completely customizable to the particular type of fiber you’re working with – you’re not limited to a narrow range of coating materials. And the whole procedure is very easy – you just insert the fiber into a simple clamp platform, close the lid over the heating element, and let the heat do its job. When the LED on top of the unit lets you know that the heating process has been completed, you simply remove the fiber from the unit by gently pulling it out through the stripping blades, which grab onto the softened fiber coating and strip it cleanly away.
Jonard fiber optic strippers are available in adjustable-blade and fixed-blade styles, are RoHS compliant, and have power supplies that are UL rated in the United States and Canada.
Today’s featured item is a product line that every fiber optic field installer out there can appreciate – Corning UniCam® Fiber Optic Connectors. Terminating optical fibers can be a tricky and messy business that requires a lot of careful cleaning and polishing, as well as epoxy to secure the connectors onto the fibers. Good fiber terminations are almost entirely dependent on proper cleaning and end-face polishing, which make optimum light signal transmission possible.
Attaining perfect results when terminating out in the field can prove extremely challenging, because the environments in which the technicians are working aren’t controlled. They may not have a clean surface to work on, and there may also be a high level of environmental contaminants. Time is also of the essence-the more time it takes to terminate fiber optic cables, the higher the installation bill is. Fortunately, Corning came up with an excellent solution.
UniCam® multimode connectors offer the absolute fastest termination time in the industry – only 2 minutes per fiber! While you can never skip the cleaning step, UniCam cuts out the time-consuming polishing and epoxy, so in the long run you save money on polishing films and adhesives, as well as on labor! The secret is in the connector’s design: it’s been described as a mini fiber pigtail, and contains a factory-installed that is fully bonded to the ferrule. When the fiber being terminated is precisely cleaved and fit into UniCam’s patented alignment mechanism, both the fiber and the stub are protected against contaminants and other environmental factors.