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New Procedure Claims to Make Optical Fibre Cable 100x Cheaper

Monday, September 14th, 2020 (8:02 am) - Score 3,672
Fiber optical cable detail isolated on white background

A small team of Brazilian and Australian researchers have come up with a new way of fabricating optical fibre cable, which borrows some technology from modern 3D printers and could be both significantly faster and “at least 100 times cheaper” than existing methods.

Admittedly the price of optical fibre cable isn’t a particularly big issue for Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) broadband ISPs, which are far more concerned about the much larger civil engineering and admin (wayleaves, planning etc.) costs of actually installing that cable into the ground or overhead. On the other hand, once you’re building hundreds or even thousands of kilometres of this stuff, even a small cost soon mounts up, so any extra saving is welcome.

NOTE: The two other members of the team were Alson K. L. Ng and Heike Ebendorff-Heidepriem – both from the University of Adelaide in Australia.

The good news is that Professor Cristiano Cordeiro, of Brazil’s University of Campinas, has come up with a new simplified single-step fabrication process for Micro-structured Optical Fibre (MOF) cable that harnesses a low-cost off-the-shelf pellet-based filament extruder, which is about the size of a Microwave oven (existing approaches tend to require room-size machinery).

Essentially this device can make a variety of different fibre optic cables and is only limited by the number of pellets that are available to be fed into the extruder.

pellet-based-filament-extruder

No preform fabrication is needed, meaning that drilling, capillary stacking, billet extrusion, or casting are “not necessary to make the preform for fibre drawing.

Extract from Research Paper (Nature)

Our fiber fabrication procedure is time-efficient, and a MOF can be produced in less than 30 minutes. The process is also highly efficient in terms of electrical power and used floor-space, making straight-forward fabricating fibers in confined places and small laboratories with limited resources.

The produced fiber total length is no longer restricted by the preform or billet dimensions but just on how long the extruder can run continuously. As the pellets could potentially be fed to the extruder hopper continuously, the limitation is just related to how long the extruder could run uninterruptedly. At an average feeding rate (0.06 g/s), for example, one kilometer of 500 µm diameter fiber could be produced in an hour.

Apart from the virtually unlimited fiber length, the process is also versatile, allowing the quick production of a variety of different fiber geometries by merely changing the nozzle. The developed process opens the possibility to produce customized fibers on-demand, and with fast structural optimization to a specific target application.

3D printed titanium nozzles were used to fabricate three different types of specially designed MOFs. This demonstrates the flexibility of our new technique to manufacture different fiber designs.

The team’s current work only focused upon polymer optical fibres, although future plans for their research include the possibility to fabricate glass MOFs, following recent developments with 3D printing glassy materials. For a little context, here’s a short video on how existing glass preforms are turned into optical fibre (sadly we couldn’t find a more up-to-date video with modern systems):

Leave a Comment
6 Responses
  1. Avatar A_Builder says:

    “ one kilometer of 500 µm diameter fiber could be produced in an hour”

    That strikes me as quite a slow fab rate?

    I was thinking that this could be used for in field fab but that isn’t a good idea as the Fibre need to be QA’d before they are blown in.

  2. Avatar John H says:

    100X cheaper would mean the current materials costs are really low, so count me sceptical this 100X applies to the total cost, much more likely to be only one element of the total cost.

    1. Avatar Marek says:

      Fiber isn’t really expensive, burying it down or placing on poles, plus splicing gets expensive plus all other active electronic on top of it (OLTs for ISP and ONTs for customers).

  3. Avatar chris conder says:

    we worked out that the current fibre cost is the same price per metre as toilet roll.

    1. Avatar Marek says:

      Yea material isnt expensive compared to utp cable, all work around is so digging or pulling on poles, splicing, splitters and active equpiment.

  4. Avatar Packet Switched says:

    Seems to indicate that fibre should be less likely to get more expensive.

    As it is it seems obvious to make any newly installed lines fibre if you at all reasonably can & crazy not to put a duct in if the run
    is more than a foot so that optical fibre could be readily drawn in – unless you are Openreach/BT and others could use your ducts.

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