From a copper cabling perspective, the longest cable run between a device and an Ethernet switch is about 100 meters. At The Lakeland Companies, we do a lot of work in the grain industry and to install Ethernet in a grain elevator typically means exceeding this 100 meter limitation. To remedy this, we often use fiber optics for these longer Ethernet runs. And while we’ve installed and spliced fiber for years through our CACo Services Company, new technologies and tools have emerged that improve the effectiveness of the installation and provide longer life.
The traditional method for putting connectors on a fiber cable is to use what is called a butt splice. In this type of connection, the fiber ends are precision cleaved so that the connecting surfaces are aligned and as close together as possible. This type of connection may work well in the early years, but eventually the fiber surfaces oxidize and not as much light is allowed through the splice. When the degradation becomes great enough, communication through the fiber slows down or does not work at all.
What can be done to check on connections and improve the life of these fiber splices? For verification and troubleshooting of fiber splicing there are fiber testing tools like this one from JDSU, a worldwide leader in fiber optic testing and measurement. This device proves useful as it enables one to inspect each connection surface, determine the power of the light through the connection, and print a certification document for the fiber system that can be shared with the customer.
To improve the life of fiber splices, we are exploring a splicing technology called fusion splicing. This allows two pieces of fiber to be spliced together using a machine that microscopically lines up the fiber cores, fuses the glass, and then inspects the junction. In essence, the two pieces of fiber are literally fused into one. This eliminates the oxidation problem described earlier and provides for a better and longer splice life.
The next time you are struggling with troubleshooting a fiber optic network segment, consider renting a diagnostic tool from a company like Process Measurement Company (PMC) or call in the experts that are familiar with how to troubleshoot these types of networks.