Product Enhancements to Improve Cleanliness
With cleanliness being the hot topic globally, we’re mindful that everything we touch or contact must be somewhat clinically clean. It’s becoming a way of life and a key factor in keeping contamination at bay. For the fibre optic industry, this has been a driving message for several years now with numerous white papers and publications written and some great innovation around cleaning tools and equipment. It’s now very evident the message has stuck and almost all installers now thoroughly clean and inspect every fibre ferrule to a standard prior to connection. Inspection probes and microscopes with varying range of capabilities including auto capture, built in analysis, recording and pass/fail thresholds have become essential tools for serious installers. These measures, no doubt, provide greater assurances for better network performance and longevity.
As an fibre assembly manufacture, you’d imagine that we’re already equipped with the best inspection kit and that’s true. We boast an array of interferometry devices for 3D inspection for end-face geometry, we’ve automated bench mount connector cleaners and of course, a variety of end-faces inspection equipment from all the leading brands; Viavi, Exfo and DataPixel. However, we have witnessed first-hand that it’s not enough to simply clean the connectors and cap them. It is essential that contaminates from the dust-caps are also looked at.
Dust-caps have almost been taken for granted in preventing contaminates and protection of ferrules from damage. This, however, is simply no longer true. It very much depends on material used as well as size and shape. Take the LC connector – the most popular and numerous in circulation today. Typically, most dust-caps supplied with the connector are what we describe as the top-hat design. It sits snugly into the gap between ferrule and housing and is an interference fit. For the most part, it does the job of protecting the end-face during transit and installation. However, our investigation unveiled some limitations. Firstly, it can easily be dislodged and because of it’s small, easily lost. Being so small, brings fingers and thumbs very close to the ferrule running the risk of leaving contaminates on fibre end-face or scratching it with the cap itself. Even with a laboratory set-up, we found this very easy to replicate. The other major failing was how much contaminates were inside the dust-cap which is then transferable onto the end-face of the connector, so we introduced dust-cap cleaning in a dedicated sonic bath before drying and sealing them for use following test and final inspection.
Looking for alternatives we came across what we describe as lego style. They are larger than the top-hat design so easier to handle and find if dropped and fit over the connector body so reducing finger contaminates. They clip to the connector in the same way as an adapter so reducing the risk of becoming dislodged transit or installation. They also allow the connector to breathe reducing the opportunity for condensation build-up in cold transit or storage. In our opinion, they are a serious upgrade and are moving over. They do use more plastic than the top-hap but we as a business are also more than happy to assist with recycling them after use as we have the ability to clean, and re-use.
Many of the big brand connector manufacturers have already adopted them for their product sets so they are becoming more readily available. The change will be happening at Leader Optec with immediate effect from our in-house manufacture, however there is likely to be a crossover period until all old stock is cleared.