Since the day of their invention, fiber optic cables have change our world in many ways. It’s safe to say that fiber optics have played a huge role in bringing the whole world together especially as we live in an era of globalization where people from all over the world are connected to each other now more than ever. The ability to transmit huge volume of information with minimum interference and extremely fast speeds have mad our lives much easier than ever. As our reliance on these cables increase day by day, it is also important to carry out their maintenance and clean them from time to time. Fiber optic cables are usually joined together through fiber optic connectors. These connectors ensure faster connection and disconnection capabilities than other methods like splicing. Connectors are used to align the cores of two optic fibers mechanically to ensure passage of light.
The cleaning of these connectors is an important step in maintenance of the whole system. Any contamination can result in faulty function and large amounts of data loss. Even microscopic dust and oil particles are more than enough to block the core of a single mode fiber and cause permanent damage. Since most of the contamination particles are invisible to the naked eye, it is sometimes hard to determine whether a fiber optic connector is clean or not. In fact, there have been cases of fiber optic connectors being contaminated right out of a fresh packaging due to poor handling. This article will go over some methods that can be used to clean optic fiber connectors to make sure that they always perform at their best.
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Steps to follow before cleaning
Before you tackle the task of cleaning a fiber optic connector, there are certain precautions that need to be followed. It is important that anyone involved in the cleaning process must practice these safety measures to avoid any unfortunate accidents or injuries. These steps are as follows:
1) First things first, we need to make sure that the fiber optic cables are disconnected from both ends. This will be followed by making sure that no laser sources are turned on at the moment. Make sure to wear safety equipment and under no circumstances look directly into a laser source. You could get some serious eye damage as a result.
2) Next make sure that both ends of a fiber optic cable are not in contact with any physical surface. A physical contact (even with your fingers) can lead to contamination by oil or dust particles which is the opposite of what we want here. Also make sure that the protective cap is stored in a clean airtight container. This will make sure that the cap isn’t contaminated.
3) Make sure that you don’t bend the cables in any way during the whole cleaning process. This could result in fiber breaks which will cause further performance problems.
4) Inspect the ends of the cable with the help of a video or hand held microscope. This will aid you in seeing any microscopic particles that might be the cause of contamination.
5) Use good quality gloves (powder free) to avoid any further contamination.
With all of the necessary precautions out of the way, we can now focus on getting to the actual meat of the cleaning process. There are multiple methods that can be used to clean the fiber optic cable connectors. Let’s go over some of them:
The first method involves the use of a liquid cleaning agent to get rid of all the particles causing the contamination problem. It is highly recommended that you only use spectroscopic grade methanol or isopropyl alcohol from a fresh batch. By use of cleaning wipes, you can then clean the fiber optic connectors with the alcohol. Make sure to either use lint free cleaning wipes or pre-moistened isopropyl alcohol for the cleaning process. Also make sure that isopropyl alcohol is used in moderate quantity since we don’t want to overdo it. Although effective, this method does come with its fair share of minor headaches. If isopropyl alcohol is used in bulk, it can absorb water from air which can then cause further contamination problems. It is also a very poor solvent for certain soil particles oil which decreases the efficiency of the whole process. There is also a possibility of left behind residues or stains when using isopropyl alcohol.
Dry air cleaning
First we will use a stream of Clean Dry Air which will be blown over the connectors. The purpose of this practice will be to blow away any loose dust or oil particles. Take a small amount of spectroscopic grade methanol or isopropyl alcohol (1-3 drops) and place it in the center of a lens tissue. Make sure that the methanol or alcohol used is freshly prepared. Then hold the fiber by the connector and slowly drag the wet portion of the lens tissue on the optical surface. After The cleaning process use a video or hand held microscope to check for any further contaminants. If further contaminants are found, then repeat the whole process again. At the end of the cleaning process, immediately cover the cleaned components to avoid any contamination.
Dry connector cleaner
Unlike previously mentioned methods which use some amount of a liquid solvent to get the job done, this one is a strictly dry procedure to clean the fiber optic connectors. It is also called the cassette cleaner method. Cleaners use a dry wipe or swab to clean the connectors and cable ends. But this method also comes with its own problems. First of all, it is only appropriate for removal of very light contaminants. It is also much more difficult to remove soils without a solvent which otherwise removes them with better ease. Another problem is that the dry rubbing can generate static charge in connectors which can attract further contaminants.
It is important that optic fiber cable connectors should be inspected regularly. Optic fiber connectors collect dust and other contaminants over time which degrade their overall performance due to data loss. All the cleaning must be performed by trained professionals.