If you are in the market for a fusion splicer, this
article will help you decide which type of fusion
splicer is best suited to your needs.
If you are new to fusion splicing, here’s a quick overview: A fusion splicer is a precision machine used by fiber optic technicians to weld or “fuse” two fibers together. Fusion splicing is used for repairing broken fiber, attaching connectorized pigtails, adding fiber-to-fiber extensions for long hauls, and terminating fiber with Splice-On Connectors (SOC’s).
A fusion splicer produces an electric arc that is hotter than the surface of the sun. Fusing at such high temperatures produces a splice that is so precise that optical signals travel through them with negligible signal loss.
Fiber alignment is a key consideration when choosing
a fusion splicer. Precision alignment must be achieved
in order to obtain a quality splice. This is especially
true when splicing singlemode fiber, which has a very
small core diameter.
In the earliest fusion splicers, fiber alignment was done only along the Z axis of the fiber and it was a manual process. Today, more accurate alignment is achieved by aligning fibers along multiple axes, and some fusion splicers align along all three (X Y and Z axes).
For the most part, alignment has become fully automated through the use of internal cameras, motors and microprocessors that work in unison to align the fibers. These features are the result of years of development by Corning, AFL, Sumitomo, Fitel and other leading manufacturers.
Fiber alignment is so important that fusion splicers
are often characterized by the type of fiber alignment
mechanisms they employ.
Core Alignment Splicers
This type of splicer
is ideal for fusing
because it provides
very precise fiber
alignment, which is
necessary for smallcore
splice loss is only 0.02dB. Core alignment splicers are essential if you are
splicing new fiber to older legacy fiber, which tends to
have inconsistent core geometry.
Clad Alignment Splicers (fixed V-groove, single-axis alignment) Commonly used for ribbon splicing, this splicer aligns fiber along a single axis. Internal cameras and a fixed V-groove aid in the alignment of the fibers. This type of splicer has a typical splice loss of 0.05dB and is best suited for shorter fiber links.
Active V-Groove Splicers (movable V-groove) This type of clad alignment splicer has an active (movable) V-groove. This mechanism provides more precise fiber alignment than a “fixed” V-groove clad alignment splicer. The accuracy of this type of splicer makes it well suited for singlemode fiber splicing, including splicing done in the manufacture of optical components. Another important distinction when choosing a fusion splicer is whether you want a full size model or a lighter, more compact handheld model.
Full Size Vs. Handheld
Full size fusion splicers are typically larger than
handheld models and have a flat bottom that provides
a stable platform for fusion splicing, especially for production environments. Full size models can be
powered through AC current, and DC battery models
are also available. Full size fusion splicers may
incorporate more features than handheld devices,
although this is not necessarily the case.
Handheld models are very compact and portable, and they are usually powered by a rechargeable battery. They are ideal for aerial applications, working in confined spaces, or anywhere AC power is not available. Hand held splicers are popular for FTTx, LAN, backbone and long haul installations. Some hand held units have a wide flat base, enabling them to be used as benchtop units as well. Performance of a good handheld fusion splicer can be on a par with full size models.
Full Size Vs. Handheld
Until recently, the relatively high cost of a $17,000 to
$23,000 core alignment fusion splicer had precluded
the adoption of splicing as a preferred termination
option in much of the enterprise network, as well as
in many FTTx applications. Manufacturers responded
to the needs of the marketplace by developing
lower cost splicers with application-specific features,
minus unnecessary bells and whistles. The industry
also witnessed the introduction of new carrier-class
handheld splicers, developed for the lower fiber count
FTTP/FTTH network initiatives, restoration, and the
specific needs of the evolving local area network
Depending upon the model, today’s handheld fusion splicers may feature Dual Camera Splice Screening (DCSS) technology, Adjustable Position Monitors, Splice Estimation and more.
Most of the new handheld units are easy to use and can produce impressive results. For example, handheld fusion splicers have a typical splice time of < 13 seconds for singlemode and multimode fiber.
Fusion splicing has become the preferred splicing and termination method among a growing number of network contractors and technicians. Fusion splicing yields the best insertion and return losses among various field connectorization techniques and it is a skill that is relatively easy to learn. In terms of minimizing optical loss, fusion splicing is far superior to “mechanical” splicing and “quick-term” connectors, which rely on grippers and other mechanical means to attach fibers together.
Other Splicer Considerations
Heat Shrink Speed – The speed at which different splicers fuse fibers together doesn’t vary by very much. What tends to slow down splicing work is the time required for heat-shrinking the splice protection sleeve. If you do a lot of fusion splices, you’ll probably want a splicer that offers a dual heat shrink oven, or a fast single heat oven. You may even consider a standalone heat sleeve oven to increase efficiency.
Can it Accommodate Splice-On Connectors? – If you are purchasing a new fusion splicer, you may want to make sure it can accommodate SOC’s. However, you don’t – A good fusion splicer will provide you with important splicer information such as system status, splice loss values, diagnostics, maintenance information, arc test results, help menus and more. Choose a fusion splicer that has a display screen that is easy to read under various lighting conditions.
Software Upgrades – New optical fibers sometimes come along that require that you to change the settings on your fusion splicer to accommodate them. Some fusion splicers offer software upgrades that will do this for you.
Can it Accommodate Splice-On Connectors? – If you are purchasing a new fusion splicer, you may want to make sure it can accommodate SOC’s. However, you don’t necessarily have to buy a new fusion splicer just to use SOC’s. Many splicer manufacturers offer removable splice holders that enable SOC’s to be used with some of their earlier models.
Fusion Splicing Tips
Keep It Clean - Keeping your fusion splicer clean,
calibrated and otherwise in good repair is vital to
achieving a good splice. Electrodes, camera lenses
and mirrors deserve special attention. Clean the
mirrors and camera lenses with cleaning solution and
a foam swab. Do not use a cotton swab because that
will leave cotton fibers behind. Refer to your owner’s
manual for cleaning and maintenance instructions
specific to your machine.
Be Gentle - Prior to fusion splicing, fiber coatings must be stripped away. To reduce the chance of damaging the fiber when stripping, strip off coatings in a series of short segments. This will reduce the force required to remove these coatings.
Perform “Arc Tests” – Do this prior to every splicing session and when changing work environments. Replace Splicer Electrodes – Do this at the scheduled time, according to the manufacturer’s recommendation. The fusion splicer will keep track of the number of splices and alert you when the electrodes should be replaced.
Troubleshooting – When problems occur when fusion splicing, the last thing that you should do is change the parameters of your fusion splicer. First, look for more obvious causes, such as sooty or worn electrodes, poor cleaves, dirt on the fiber or tools, etc. Fusing two fibers from different manufacturers can sometimes be a challenge due to slight differences in glass composition.
If the process of elimination doesn’t identify your problem, you can then try adjusting settings on your fusion splicer. Record your existing settings so that you can return to them if necessary.
Stay Sharp – Consider replacing the blades on your cleaver sooner than recommended by the manufacturer. This will help ensure that you are achieving the best cleaves possible from your unit.
Anatomy of a Fusion Splicer
A fusion splicer contains two electrodes, each of which is tapered to a point. The tapered ends allow for precise placement of the electric arc that fuses the two fibers together. To ensure quality splices, keep electrodes clean and replace them as necessary.
V-Groove Vs. Core Alignment
The phrase “v-groove” can be confusing when describing different types of fusion splicers. The following will set the record straight:
V-Groove Fusion Splicer - Uses a v-groove mechanism to hold fibers and to align the fibers for fusion splicing.
Core Alignment Fusion Splicer - Uses a v-groove mechanism, but as a fiber holder only. Actual fiber alignment is achieved by the more accurate “core alignment” process.
Today’s “intelligent” splicers provide a wealth of on-screen information, which can include system status, splice loss values, diagnostics, maintenance information, arc test results, help menus and more.
Most fusion splicers today use video technology to automatically align fibers prior to fusing them. Typically, two cameras are used to image the fibers from different angles. The alignment mechanism within the fusion splicer uses these images to adjust the two fibers until they are in precise alignment. Splice Sleeve Oven
Many fusion splicers include handy built-in ovens that enable you to quickly apply heat-shrink splice sleeves to your completed splices. Some units feature a dual-tube heat oven that speeds the shrinking process.
A fusion splicer is a considerable investment that should be protected. It should have a sturdy case with anti-shock features such as foam inserts. Also, the case should have a lock to prevent tampering.
See What’s ‘Hot’ in Fusion Splicing.