You’ve probably heard the term fusion splicer before, but in case you haven’t – an optical fiber fusion splicer is used to “splice” or fuse two separate pieces of glass optical fibers together – whether the optical fiber type is single mode fiber or multimode fiber. The goal is to join the two pieces of bare fiber seamlessly. They are connected to each other by an electric arc. You may need to fusion splice for a variety of reasons – the fiber may have been broken or damaged, or you could be performing a termination of the fiber using a pigtail or a splice on connector (SOC), or you may need to extend the length of a fiber optic cable run to reach an end point in your long haul network. Fusion splicing ensures that the light will pass from one end of the fiber to the other without interruption, making sure there is the least amount of back reflection from the splice. Fusion splicing can be used instead of mechanical splices, and it is actually usually preferred because of its benefits, which we will talk about in the passages below.
Fusion splicing ensures optimal performance, the lowest loss, and the lowest amount of reflectance when compared to a mechanical splice. The price of fusion splicers varies depending on the type you choose, core alignment and ribbon or mass fusion splicers are more expensive than cladding alignment fusion splicers. Most standard fusion splicer features include a large color screen, built-in splice sleeve ovens, and many come with high precision cleavers when purchased as a kit. As technology progresses we are seeing Bluetooth options, fully automated processes, and Wi-Fi capabilities being developed.
Typical applications where fusion splicers are used include fiber to the home applications, applications where splice on connectors are being used, maintenance in data center locations, and in research and development facilities. When you have a fusion splicer you can do repairs on the fly, whether it is a broken fiber or a bad connector, a fusion splicer can be used to make the repair and get your system back up and running in no time. There are many manufacturers of fusion splicers in the marketplace, and each has its own perks, features, and benefits, but there are two main types of splicers that you could potentially purchase.
Core Alignment Splicer
In core alignment units, the cores of the fiber are aligned prior to the splice being performed, not the cladding of the fiber that you are trying to splice. These units work using a system of magnifiers, cameras, and motorized movable fiber holders or clamps to see the fiber. These parts will move the fiber in any way necessary to achieve the proper alignment of the cores of the fiber. After the alignment is achieved according to the parameters set in the software, it will then perform the splice. The operator of the splicer does not have to worry about manually moving the fiber to get the proper alignment.
These splices are performed in mere seconds after alignment is achieved. In the case of core alignment units, specific splice recipes or parameters can be set to achieve the specific results for your application. These attributes contribute to making core alignment splicers more expensive than cladding alignment units, but they are also what make core alignment units so easy to use.
Something to consider if you are working on or doing maintenance in older, established networks is that when you are splicing legacy fibers, core alignment splicers are preferred because the concentricity of the core within the fiber was not as consistent as it is in new fibers, and in this case, you will want to be sure the fiber cores are aligned, not just the claddings.
A ribbon splicer or mass fusion splicer is exactly what it sounds like; it is a splicer that is made to splice ribbon fiber together. In this case, instead of splicing a single fiber in a splicing cycle, the machine splices up to 12 fibers together, all at the same time. These units are typically more expensive than their single fiber counterparts. They use a cladding alignment system to line up the fibers prior to performing the splice. Almost all ribbon splicers can accommodate up to 12 fiber ribbons in their holders, but many can accommodate as few as 2 fibers. Specific ribbon fiber holders are used to splice fiber ribbons of various fiber counts. Ribbon splicers can splice single fibers with the proper holders, but it would not be cost effective to purchase a ribbon splicer if ribbon fiber is not something that you work with on a regular basis.
Cladding Alignment Splicers
Cladding alignment units are different than a core alignment fusion splicer as they only use a fixed V-Groove to align the fibers based on the claddings of the fibers being spliced. These types of splicers are more basic units and they lack some of the bells and whistles that are commonly seen on the core alignment units. In cladding alignment splicers, the alignment of the fibers being spliced is not as perfect as a core alignment, because this type of splicer only matches up the outer cladding of the fiber, and they move only a single axis. After the splice has been performed, the core of the fiber may be slightly offset if the core concentricity of the fibers is not on dead center. These types of splicers are preferred when cost is an issue because they are more affordable, and when higher loss rates are acceptable. These units are usually handheld and normally much smaller than the core alignment units, so if space is an issue, such as in the case of being up in a bucket truck or a tight telecom closet or handhole it may be beneficial to use a smaller cladding alignment splicer.
After each splice is performed on either a cladding or core alignment unit, the splicer will give an estimated loss reading for the splice and, it will also perform a ‘proof test’ to make sure that the tensile strength the splice is stable and that it will not break apart with any minuscule mishandling. Both of these units will splice your fiber, and get the job done. So, in conclusion, whether you are looking for the premium fusion splicer or something a little more affordable, there are many options that are on the market. It all depends on the options you are looking for and the features you need to complete your job. There are super simple units, and then there are fancy high tech units, but each fiber optic technician has his or her own set of preferences and needs.