At Fiber Optic Center, we pride ourselves in knowing fiber optic cable assembly production inside and out. We often encounter people outside the industry trying to get in and asking, ‘why don’t we just automate the entire process?’.
Great question and quite a few have tried. Some have succeeded, but these are the big guys that spent millions and years developing the process, and in most cases have come up with an ingenious solution to a very specific application or product.
In other words, a system that wouldn’t work well for a fiber optic assembly house looking to be nimble and well suited to address the customer’s ever demanding and changing needs.
So why is automation so difficult? In short, there’s a lack of standardization, and we’re not even speaking about standardization in one particular connector style. Even the same connector styles, LC, SC, ST, etc. have different designs from different manufacturers. Yes, there are intermateable, but their constructions are often different and thus their termination procedures are as well.
One industry leading automation company made an automated fiber optic crimping machine which was eventually taken off the market. I don’t bring this up to highlight a failure, rather to point out how difficult it is to create cost effective automation equipment for the fiber optic cable assembly industry.
Does that mean automation is a lost cause? Of course not, it just means we need to go to an ‘automation of the station’ model. We need to find the best ways to automate cable dispensing, cutting, coiling and stripping, mixing, degassing and dispensing of epoxies, cleaving of fiber, polishing of fiber optic connectors, and testing the final fiber optic cable assembly.
In one particular instance the Fiber Optic Center technical, sales and customer service staffs all assisted in bringing a developing cable assembly house into the automation world. They were having issues with consistency throughout the entire processes; in no small part due to the high turnover they were experiencing. It was, and is, very costly to train your workforce and get them up to speed, only to see them leave for something else.
We went into the site, reviewed all of their stations, and recommended the best, most-cost efficient automation equipment. FOC and this cable assembly house decided on Schleuniger fiber optic cable dispensing, cutting, coiling and stripping equipment. They immediately saw the failures due to improper strip lengths and fiber damage go away.
Moving on to termination and epoxy dispensing, we recommended and eventually implemented with their agreement the Greenlee automatic crimper, Linex bipax mixer, an automatic centrifugal, and an EFD epoxy dispenser. All of these helped eliminate faults, like epoxy voids in the fiber optic connector cavities due to improper epoxy application.
The customer had already been using state of the art Domaille polishing equipment, so we worked with them on tweaks and their lapping film polishing processes to improve their yields at the testing stations. Fiber Optic Center and the customer decided on JDSU Map optical loss and return loss to stream line their test reporting and data collection. Also, when it came to the MPO/MTP production the compact nature of the MAP-230 with a 2 x 12 switch which took up considerable less bench space and made life much easier for the test operator. Testing time decreased significantly.
The fiber cable assembly house also wanted to record their MT images. In their previous visual inspection equipment they had to scan to each fiber before running the test and storing the image. We introduced, and they quickly fell in love with, the FibeQA FastMT. It cut their test time down at this station by well over 60% by allowing the operator to see all the fibers at once and save the imagines in one test.
At the end of the project the fiber optic cable assembly house had seen an increase in productivity, a decrease in failures and ultimately a significant cost saving throughout their production. Yes, the initial expense both in time and money was substantial, but in the end the customer found using Fiber Optic Center to help recommend and implement the most current fiber optic automation was well worth it.
Fiber Optic Center offers decades of practical cable assembly production experience by our technical experts who work daily with our customers improving their processes. Our traveling technical personnel have set up termination lines throughout North, Central and South America, as well as several locations in the Far East, Eastern and Western Europe, the United Kingdom and Ireland.
If you have a technical question for Fiber Optic Center, you can visit the AskFOC web page: focenter.com/askfoc/
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