Jennifer L. Morey
HARRISBURG, Pa. -- As the saying goes, you get what you pay for. But according to a new study, the fiber optics industry could be getting more than that.
Researchers at AMP Inc., a manufacturer of electrical and electronic interconnection systems, found that polymer composite connectors are now functionally equivalent to their pricier relatives made from ceramic and stainless steel. This is good news for fiber optic cable network operators, who traditionally have had to sacrifice performance for cost or vice versa.
Cable connectors, which link fiber cable ends to transmitters, receivers or other cables, are used in applications such as office data communications networks. Without a strong connection, networks suffer high insertion loss, which can degrade performance beyond acceptable limits.
For their study, AMP researchers tested ST-style connectors in polymer composite, ceramic and stainless steel materials with overmolded ferrules. They tested insertion loss by wrapping test cables around a mandrel of the prescribed size for the fiber. The test involved cycles of mating, unmating, cleaning and measuring optical power for each of the materials.
Their results indicated that polymer has an average insertion loss of 0.13 dB, generously exceeding the TIA/EIA-568A specifications of 0.75 dB and nearly matching those of the popular ceramic connector at 0.12 dB. According to AMP project manager Bryan T. Edwards, "This difference does not affect network performance in any application."
Negligible differences were also detected in variables such as temperature cycling, cable retention, humidity, cable flex, twist and durability. Polymers outperformed the other two materials in coupling mechanism strength, the engineers said.
Edwards attributed these enhancements to material and manufacturing improvements in the fiber optics industry over the last five years. AMP has devised a precise molding technique that joins the ferrule and connector body without adhesives or ultrasonic welds. The strength of this seal protects the connector from delamination and alignment inconsistencies.
AMP offers epoxy and epoxy-free versions of connectors in all three materials. Currently, the company is selling more ceramic connectors than those made of other materials. But, Edwards said, polymer composites are quickly gaining ground.