by Steven Lassen, Senior Customer Application Engineer, LEMO USA
Fiber optics is being used as a backbone to many networking systems, which means that it is infiltrating many previously wire-only industries. Fiber optics superior capabilities in transmitting a wide range of communications signals is being recognized by medical device manufacturers and integrated into sensors, imaging and minimally invasive surgical systems.
What Makes Fiber Optics Better?
Data rates are continually growing faster for robotics and medical devices so fiber optics provides a better choice in networking. The basic difference between a wire system and a fiber optic system is that fiber optics sends data, in the form of light pulses, down the fiber cable instead of using electronic pulses through copper wires. Fiber optics is fast, has much larger capacity and provides faster data rates per size than standard copper wire. Fiber cables are thinner, more flexible, typically stronger and require less maintenance than wire cables.
There are two basic types of fiber optic cables being used today:
- Single Mode fiber means that the fiber is designed to carry only a single mode of light and retains its integrity over long distances.
- Multimode fiber allows for more than one mode of light to travel inside the fiber and is intended for comparatively short distances.
Increased Data Security
Fiber optic cables are impossible to infiltrate. Fiber optic signals cannot be intercepted without cutting and splicing into the fibers making them highly secure in today’s data heavy environment. Furthermore, fiber optics is characterized by low signal amplitude loss, no susceptibility to electromagnetic interference, and an absence of interference between neighboring lines.
Hybrid Cables and Connectors
Most systems equipped with fiber optics also require simultaneous electrical energy for control operations and power supply. Current practice involves the use of separate electrical and fiber optic connectors, but new technology developed by LEMO greatly simplifies this practice by combining electrical and fiber optic signals in a single connector.
Fiber optics can also be combined with other elements such as electrical contacts, fluidic/pneumatic contacts and thermocouples, into a single hybrid connection.
Fiber optic cables can be created for a wide variety of uses, which means that your application will require a unique set of specifications. For example, environmental conditions can vary from inside a controlled environment to outside in a widely varying environment due to extreme heat and cold, high humidity, pulling and stretching, and more. Some applications, such as medical or robotic systems may require a hybrid cable where only a portion is fiber optic. If you have an unusual application that needs special construction, prepare your specification needs while recognizing that minimum order quantities might be enforced. Your application will dictate what cable and connector specifications are required so that you do not over- or under-spend during purchasing.
Have cleaning kits and inspection tools available
When working with fiber optics cables and connectors, it is suggested that you clean the cable every time you unmate the connector for any reason. Cleaning maintains the integrity of the fiber optic cable and its signal assuring that your application continues to run smoothly. Cleaning is quick and easy with the right tool, which works with male or female contacts. An inspection tool can also be used to perform quality inspections after manufacturing, cleaning, or repair and comes with a handheld microscope/camera and monitor.
Train your operators
If fiber optics is a new concept for your design, consider taking a short training course that takes you through the step-by-step process of fiber optic cable termination. Training should include hands-on experience for those who will be installing and maintaining fiber optic cables and connectors in the field.
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