Fiber End Preparation

In fiber-to-fiber connections, a source of extrinsic coupling loss is poor fiber end preparation . An optical fiber-end face must be flat, smooth, and perpendicular to the fiber's axis to ensure proper fiber connection. Light is reflected or scattered at the connection interface unless the connecting fiber end faces are properly prepared.

The picture below shows some common examples of poor fiber ends. It illustrates a fiber end face tilt, lip, and hackle. Quality fiber-end preparation is essential for proper system operation.

Poor fiber-end preparation.

Fiber-end preparation begins by removing the fiber buffer and coating material from the end of the optical fiber. Removal of these materials involves the use of mechanical strippers or chemical solvents. When using chemical solvents, the removal process must be performed in a well-ventilated area. For this reason mechanical strippers are used for buffer and coating removal in the shipboard environment. After removing the buffer and coating material, the surface of the bare fiber is wiped clean using a wiping tissue. The wiping tissue must be wet with isopropyl alcohol before wiping.

The next step in fiber-end preparation involves cleaving the fiber end to produce a smooth, flat fiberend face. The score-and-break, or scribe-and-break, method is the basic fiber cleaving technique for preparing optical fibers for coupling. The score-and-break method consists of lightly scoring (nicking) theouter surface of the optical fiber and then placing it under tension until it breaks. A heavy metal or diamond blade is used to score the fiber. Once the scoring process is complete, fiber tension is increased until the fiber breaks. The fiber is placed under tension either by pulling on the fiber or by bending thefiber over a curved surface.

The next illustration below shows the setup for the score-and-break procedure for fiber cleaving. Under constant tension, the score-and-break method for cleaving fibers produces a quality fiber end. This fiber end is good enough to use for some splicing techniques. However, additional fiber-end preparation is necessary to produce reliable low-loss connections when using fiber optic connectors.

Score-and-break procedure for fiber cleaving.

Polishing the fiber ends removes most surface imperfections introduced by the fiber cleaving process. Fiber polishing begins by inserting the cleaved fiber into the ferrule of a connector assembly. A ferrule is a fixture, generally a rigid tube, used to hold the stripped end of an optical fiber in a fiber optic connector. An individual fiber is epoxied within the ferrule. The connector with the optical fiber cemented within the ferrule can then be mounted into a special polishing tool for polishing.

The picture below shows one type of fiber polishing tool for finishing optical fibers in a connector assembly. Various types of connector assemblies are discussed in later tutorials. In this type of polishing tool, the connector assembly is threaded onto the polishing tool. The connector ferrule passes through the center of the tool allowing the fiber-end face to extend below the tool's circular, flat bottom. The optical fiber isnow ready for polishing.

Fiber polishing tool.

Fiber polishing involves a step-down approach. The first step is to give the surface of the fiber end a rough polish. Rough-polishing occurs when the fiber, mounted to the polishing tool, moves over a 5m to 15m grit abrasive paper. The mounted fiber moves over the abrasive paper in a figure-eight motion. Thenext step involves giving the surface of the fiber end a fine polish. Fine-polishing occurs when the mounted fiber moves over a 0.3mto 1m grit abrasive paper in the same figure-eight motion. Fiber inspection and cleanliness are important during each step of fiber polishing. Fiber inspection is done visually by the use of a standard microscope at 200 to 400 times magnification.

A standard microscope can be used to determine if the fiber-end face is flat, concave, or convex. If different parts of the fiber-end face have different focus points, the end face is not flat. If all parts of the fiber-end face are in focus at the same time, the end face is flat.

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