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Plastic Light Pipes Take the Heat

Photonics Spectra
Jul 2001
Brent D. Johnson, Senior News Editor

Fiber optic data transmission is what many in the industry refer to as "dumb" or passive transmission. All of the system's intelligence is concentrated in very expensive technologies that are managed by network carriers. What if the fiber could do some of the work? That is what some component manufacturers are investigating. They are looking at traditionally passive technologies and pressing them into service by giving them a brain.

Engineers designing light pipes in a "smart" connector for data transmission systems needed an optical-quality material that could withstand soldering temperatures.

Stewart Connector Systems has built an active RJ45 connector that brings limited intelligence to high-speed data connection devices. The MagJack, which is similar to a phone jack, integrates electronics that protect the connector from heat and noise. This results in cleaner transmission from the signal source.

The connector features a light pipe that transmits red, yellow or green light from LEDs in the back of the connector to the face of the jack. The light shows the status of the inner components of the magnetic connector, indicating when it is working.

Stewart's Bob Colantuono said that when the company was developing the connector, designers experimented with polycarbonate materials. However, because the connector's electronics are similar to printed circuit boards, soldering temperature became a problem that standard polycarbonates could not overcome.

The company needed a more heat-resistant material and found it in Topas, a cyclic olefin copolymer from Ticona Inc. It showed heat deflection temperatures up to 240 °C, where polycarbonate begins to sag.

The material does not require a trade-off in optical efficiency, with the maximum transmittance of the Topas light pipes being as much as 92 percent.

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