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As you probably know, the polishing process is an extremely important step in the manufacture of fiber optic cable assemblies. Your polishing process ensures your fiber optic connectors meet certain geometric parameters, industry specifications, and/or customer requirements.

When I visit fiber optic cable assembly houses, I help our customers set up their polishing process and, together, we determine the exact requirements for every step in the polishing process to support their unique application. While training customers, I often address common questions revolving around the polishing process: how to prevent film from moving, how much water to use, and how to establish good cleaning techniques to extend the life of the lapping (polishing) film.

I’ve addressed these common questions below, along with helpful tips. After reading this article, if you still have questions on your polishing process I encourage you to email your question to AskFOC@focenter.com.

 

Q.  “HOW DO WE KEEP THE POLISHING FILM FROM MOVING?”

A.  When fiber optic cable assembly houses set up a new polishing machine and establish their polishing process, they often find that film slipping or coming off the pad is an issue. To provide uniform polishing, film should never move on the polishing pad. If the film moves with the revolutions of the polishing machine’s platen (the turntable), then you’re not accomplishing anything.

Everything may be spinning, but you’re not actually polishing the connectors. It’s extremely important to overcome this issue! In fact, this is the first thing I show people when I teach them how to polish connectors. The following tips offer pointers.

 

Helpful tips:

  • The rubber polishing pad has two surfaces that can be used: a highly polished side and a dull, unpolished side. Place the lapping film on the polished side of the rubber pad – without any liquids. This process relies on “stiction” (adhesion of the film to the pad). First, though, you need to ensure the shiny surface of the polishing pad is absolutely clean. Use a lint-free wipe and isopropyl alcohol (IPA) as a solvent to remove dirt and oils. As long as the pad’s surface area is clean – and the polishing film is clean – you will have successful stiction. After you lay the film on the rubber pad, remove air bubbles by using a circular motion with the lint-free wipe.
  • If you’re using a glass plate, that’s a different animal! If your process requires use of a glass plate with a non-PSA-backed film, you can apply a thin film of liquid – a combination of IPA and distilled water – to create stiction. Unfortunately, the IPA-distilled water combination doesn’t provide a lot of strength to adhere the film to the glass plate. Take time to remove air bubbles when laying the film on the plate. This will give you adequate stiction to polish on a mechanized polishing machine. Alternatively, you can use a spray-on adhesive, which can be quite messy.
  • You don’t want the film to slip AND you don’t want the rubber (or glass) pad to slip. During the cleaning process, liquid may seep between the pad and the platen of the polishing machine. When turned on, the spinning and downward pressure can make the pad slip, which can cause poor results. To prevent this, make sure the pad and platen are completely dry prior to the polishing step.

 

 

Q.  “HOW MUCH WATER SHOULD WE USE?”

A.  When polishing fiber optic connectors on a fixed platen, water is used as a lubricant on the lapping film. How you apply the water – and how much to apply – needs to be determined when establishing your process.

 

The following tips address these points. Next, it’s important to train your operators, so they apply water consistently.

 

Helpful tips:

  • The majority of the fiber optic industry uses a distilled/deionized-water mix and a few companies use a combination of isopropyl alcohol and pure distilled water as the primary lubricant. Another school of thought is to use soap (liquid detergent) and water, because soap is slippery and creates very low friction. It’s a matter of choice, plus the type of connectors you’re polishing can dictate which type of lubricant you use. In rare applications, certain optical fibers cannot touch water and require the use of exotic lubricants. (Contact Fiber Optic Center at sales@focenter.com if you encounter such a situation.)
  • How much water should you apply to the film? Some people use a squirt bottle to spray the film. However, squirt bottles tend to flood portions of the film, and do not provide uniform coverage. I prefer using a SPRITZ bottle, which sprays a fine mist uniformly around the film. Using a spritz bottle, moisture is dispersed in a light and even manner and doesn’t pool. How much water to spritz on your film is very much dependent on your application. There’s no tried-and-true formula. I actually define this when I’m with a customer. (Fiber Optic Center sells 16-ounce and 8-ounce AngstromSpray Spritzer Bottles.)
  • What if you use too much water? If too much water is applied, you’ll risk overflow and flooding the platen. Liquid can seep underneath the rubber (or glass) pad and start slipping, and that’s a risk you want to avoid at all costs. Thankfully, today’s quality polishing machines have plates that lock to prevent the pads from spinning, regardless of how much water seeps underneath the pad. In that case, excessive water use won’t hurt your process – if you lock the plate – but it is messier and takes more time to clean between polishing steps. (Click here to view the polishing machines that Fiber Optic Center sells.)
  • Can you polish successful dry – with no lubricant? Some fiber optic cable assembly houses do, but I do not recommend this.
  • Certain fiber optic applications require continuous flow of water: one or two drops a second. The polishing machines we sell at Fiber Optic Center have the ability to provide a constant water drip – from one drop to a continuous flow. However, we strongly recommend you do not use running water in your polishing process.

 

 

Q. “HOW DO WE ESTABLISH GOOD CLEANING TECHNIQUES?”

A.  Good cleaning techniques throughout your polishing process will directly impact the quality of your process and extend the life of the lapping film. This helps to provide polishing uniformity and enables you to achieve the desired polishing results.

Take note of the following tips to establish good cleaning practices.

 

 

Helpful tips:

  • You must remove residual ceramic and epoxy residue on every lapping film to maintain its cutting and polishing effectiveness. To clean lapping film, spray the film with a mild isopropyl alcohol (IPA) solvent, 90% or better. Next, use a lint-free wipe with distilled water or dry the film with an air gun. Now the film is primed and ready for the next polishing round.
  • Lapping film must be cleaned, as noted above, prior to each use. The only exception is the final films – these must be cleaned with a thorough wipe down using a lint-free wipe and distilled water.

 

Quick Glances:

 

As I mentioned above, if you have any questions regarding your polishing process, email your question to AskFOC@focenter.com. We’ll answer your questions as quickly as possible. Our goal is to help you make world-class fiber optic cable assemblies that meet international standards for quality, performance, and reliability.

 

FOC RESOURCES – Click to learn more:

  • AskFOC
  • FOC-TV Training Videos: Select the video titled “Fiber Optic Polishing for Fiber Optic Cable Assembly Production” – and browse for other helpful videos

Blogs:

 

FOC technical solution content: http://bit.ly/2yOzO4f

Glossary, Acronyms, Military Specifications for Connectors: http://bit.ly/2a2EFn8

Q&A Resource: email technical questions to AskFOC@focenter.com

 

Follow Mario Goduco @PolishExprtFOC

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Mario Goduco

About Mario Goduco

Mario Goduco, Business Development, Technical Sales Mario has over 25 years in manufacturing, operations and business development with AMP, Thomas and Betts, Aster Corp., and Adirondack Wire and Cable design, manufacturing and sales of fiber optic connectors, fiber optic cable assemblies, optical splitters/wdms. In the last 15+ years with Fiber Optic Center, he has set up and/or optimized manufacturing facilities for fiber assemblies at over 100 companies worldwide. In a previous position as VP-Operations for US Fiber Optics, he created and managed assembly manufacturing facilities in the U.S., Mexico and China. He has written 4 papers on the processing of singlemode connectors and remains one of the pioneers in manufacturing low return loss connections. He has worked with fiber assembly operations in Asia, Australia, Europe, India and Africa. Mr. Goduco continues to provide technical consultation in the setup, staffing, operations and qualification of fiber optic assembly manufacturing all over the world. Follow @PolishExprtFOC