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2 Fiber Fabrication

There are two basic techniques used in the fabrication of optical fibers:

1) Fibers can be drawn directly from melts of silica in crucibles.

2) Vapor phase oxidation.

1.2.1 Double crucible method

The double crucible method can be used to make both silica and halide glass fibers. The
technique is simple and straightforward. One glass rod is made from silica powders for
the core and one for the cladding. The rods are then used as feedstock for each of two
concentric crucibles. The inner contains the molten core, while the outer contains the
cladding. In a continuous process, the fiber is drawn from the molten state. The
disadvantage of this method is the possibility of introducing contaminants during the
melting process. Figure 2 illustrates the double-crucible drawing process.

1.2.2 Vapor phase oxidation

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With direct drawing, it is difficult to get pure and homogeneous fibers; therefore this
method is not commonly used. The vapor phase oxidation processes have proven to be
more successful. These processes are usually done in two steps:

1) The first being the preparation of the preform.

2) The second being the drawing of the fiber.

1.2.3 Preparation of the preform

a perform is a cylinder of silica composition 10 to 25 mm in diameter and about 60 to


120 cm long. This preform consists of a core surrounded by a cladding with a desired
refractive-index profile, a given attenuation, and other characteristics; in other words, this
is a desired optical fiber, but on a much larger scale.

The main reason a preform is prepared is to have a "drawable" material that is clean, low
in OH concentration, low in metallic-ion contaminants, and inexpensive. Many
techniques have been developed to prepare these preforms. Some common commercially
used methods are Outside Vapor-Deposition, Modified Chemical Vapor Deposition,
Vapor Phase Axial Deposition, and Plasma Chemical Vapor Deposition. They differ
mainly by the way the soot is deposited.

The preform is made by vapor-phase oxidation, in which two gases, SiCl4 and O2, are
mixed at a high temperature to produce silicon dioxide (SiO2):

Silicon dioxide, or pure silica, is usually obtained in the form of small particles (about 0.1
µm) called "soot." This soot is deposited on the target rod or tube. The depositing of the
silica soot, layer upon layer, forms a homogeneous transparent cladding material. To
change the value of a cladding's refractive index, some dopants are used. For example,

fluorine (F) is used to decrease the cladding's refractive index in a depressed-cladding


configuration.

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The soot for the core material is made by mixing three gases: SiCl4, GeCl4, and O2 which
results in a mixture of SiO2 and GeO2. The degree of doping is controlled by simply
changing the amount of GeCl4 gas added to the mixture. The same principle is used for
doping other materials.

Since deposition is made by the application of silica layers top one another, the
manufacturer can control the exact amount of dopants added to each layer, thus
controlling the refractive-index profile. Figure1 explains the role of several widely used
dopants.

The vapor-phase oxidation process produces extremely pure material whose


characteristics are under the absolute control of the manufacturer.

1.2.4 Outside Vapor-Deposition

Outside Vapor Deposition (OVD), also called the "soot process", was first developed by
Corning Incorporated. This fiber was the first to have a loss of less then 20dB/km. The
three main steps involved are laydown (Figure4-a), consolidation (Figure4-b), and
drawing. In the laydown process, several materials such as SiCl4, GeCl4, BCl3 and O2 are
allowed to react in a hot flame to produce soot (Figure 5). The soot is in turn deposited
into a rotating ceramic rod known as a mandrel. Initially the core material is deposited,
followed by the cladding. The soot builds up on the rod, and layer-by-layer, a cylindrical
preform is built up. In preparing the preform, many characteristics like glass composition,
refractive index, and the dimensions of the core and cladding can be controlled. Next, the
deposited preform is removed from the rod and placed in a consolidation furnace. This
high temperature furnace removes any water vapor that may be in the preform. The
resulting product is a solid, dense, glass blank. Now the blank is ready to be placed in a
draw tower where a continuous fiber is made into a strand. It is during the draw process,
discussed in more detail below, that the hole in the tube collapses and a perfectly
symmetrical fiber is formed.

Either step or graded index performs can be made.

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Figure 4: Two phases of the OVD process: (a) Laydown; (b) consolidation.

Figure 5: Outside Vapor-Deposition

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1.2.5 Vapor phase axial deposition

Another similar method of producing preforms is vapor phase axial deposition (VAD). In
VAD, the SiO2 particles are formed in the same manner as in OVD. The particles are
deposited onto the end of a glass rod, which is in turn attached in the upright position to a
motor. A porous preform is grown axially as a pulling machine rotates the rod upward.
The preform is then made into a solid rod by zone melting. The preform is ready to be
drawn into a fiber. This method is done completely inside a closed deposition chamber. It
therefore has the advantage of a clean environment. Also, there is no central hole created,
as is the case for OVD. Finally, VAD has proven to be cost effective because the preform
can be made in continuous lengths. This method is shown in Figure 6.

1.2.6 Modified Chemical Vapor Deposition

Modified Chemical Vapor Deposition, or MCVD, is a process that was developed at


AT&T Bell Laboratories in the 1970's. It was so successful that AT&T used it to mass-
produce optical fiber in the 1980's. It provided a simple and straightforward means of
manufacturing high-quality optical fibers. MCVD differs from OVD in that the
deposition occurs inside of a fuse-quartz tube instead of on the outside, hence the term
modified. The process works as follows: Reactants (SiCl4+ O2) are introduced at one end
of the rotating tube while an exhaust is located on the other end. A burner that traverses
back and forth along the length of the tube sinters the deposited SiO2 particles to a clear
glass layer. When the desired thickness is achieved, a valve is closed to stop the flow of
reactants. As one might expect, the flow of reactants and the speed of the traversing oxy-
hydrogen burner have to be closely monitored using a video camera. Finally, the
temperature of the burner is increased so that the rod collapses onto itself resulting in a
solid preform. An advantage of this method is that it is an inherently clean process since
the reaction occurs inside of the tube. According to The Journal of Lightwave
Technology, this method produces the highest quality product under factory conditions.
Other advantage this method has is the ability to mass-produce the fiber quickly under
various design requirements while using the same equipment. This method is shown in
Figure 7.

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Figure 7: Modified Chemical Vapor Deposition

1.2.7 Plasma Chemical Vapor Deposition

Scientists at Phillips Research invented plasma Chemical Vapor Deposition, or PCVD.


Clear glass instead of soot is also deposited inside a silica tube as is done in the MCVD
process. Non-isothermal plasma in the microwave frequency range (2.45GHz) is used
instead of a torch or flame. The plasma makes the reaction proceed at about 1000 to
1200°C. This results in very thin layers being deposited inside the tube. Although this
method allows us to grow layers at relatively low temperatures, the deposition rate is
rather slow in comparison to other methods. This method is shown in Figure 8.

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1.2.8 Fiber Drawing

Figure 9: Schematic of a typical drawing process.

The major steps of a typical drawing process are shown in Figure 9. The preform is put
into a draw furnace, where the bottom tip is heated to melting. This molten piece now

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starts to fall, forming a fiber with a 125-µm outer diameter. Diameter-monitoring
equipment controls the actual fiber diameter by changing, if necessary, the rate of
drawing that is executed by a tractor assembly. A coating applicator applies a coating
over the cladding. Concentricity-monitoring equipment controls this parameter. The
coating is cured by ultraviolet lamps or some other heat source. The coated fiber is then
wound onto ready-to-ship reels.

From this oversimplified description you might get the impression that drawing a fiber is
very simple. It is not. It took many years of intensive, costly research and development
efforts and the brainpower of thousands of scientists and engineers to make this process
commercially possible. Critical to the process, of course, is the rate of drawing. And
herein lies a dilemma. On the one hand, the slower the drawing, the better the
manufacturer can control fiber quality. On the other hand, the faster the drawing, the
more fiber one can produce in a given amount of time. It's clear, then, that there can be no
"best" rate in an industrial operation, where both quality and productivity are demanded.
So one has to find an acceptable compromise. Each of the processes described here has
its own advantages and drawbacks associated with the drawing rate at which it runs. To
give you some sense of how widely the numbers vary, the draw rate can run from 200
m/min to 2,000 m/min. To reach such a speed, all rotating parts of the drawing
mechanism must be manufactured to extremely tight tolerances and the tension level to
which the optical fiber is subjected must be controlled with a high degree of accuracy.

Even though Figure 9 shows only diameter-measuring equipment, the manufacturer


actually measures and controls many of the fiber's characteristics during the fiber-draw
stage, when some serious problems can crop up. Among them are internal problems, such
as bubbles, contamination, and discontinuity, and external problems, like neck-downs,
lumps, and flaws. Control of the external problems is very important because they can
weaken a fiber. This is why manufacturers not only detect them constantly but also
compare their size with threshold values.

If you analyze Figure 9 closely, you will find many problems that need to be resolved at
each particular step and for the entire process.

Both stages of fiber manufacturing are fully automated and are performed in a clean,
climate-controlled room. Obviously, the manufacturers use high-precision measuring

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equipment to automatically control each step of the fabrication process. For example,
preform analyzers measure the critical characteristics of the optical-fiber preform. Also,
specific measurement systems control fiber geometry, the refractive-index profile, and
the coating geometry.

1.3 Fiber Coating

Requirements

As you know from the previous sections, an optical fiber—a core surrounded by cladding
—has to be coated. Figure 9 shows that manufacturers coat on-line. A liquid polymer is
applied by the coating applicator as a fiber passes through the coating line. This liquid is
solidified by heat or ultraviolet curing.

The main function of the coating is to protect the fiber from any external damage. But a
closer look reveals that the coating has several other major functions:

• Adhesion: The coating, obviously, has to stick firmly to the glass surface of the
fiber.
• Ability to be stripped: To connector a fiber, the coating has to be stripped. The
stripping force has to be very small to facilitate handling of the fiber during
installation. This force has to be stable in any environment—dry or wet. The
range of the stripping force is between 1.4 N and 4.2 N.

If you think that the above two functions seem to conflict, you are right. It's a
manufacturing problem optical fiber producers have to live with today. The
conflict typifies the kinds of problems fiber makers have yet to resolve.

• Toughness: This quality is necessary to provide enhanced abrasion protection and


to enable fiber handling and cabling without loss of strength. Toughness is gauged
by elastic (Young) modulus testing, which determines whether a coating is soft or
hard.
• Moisture resistance: The coating is the line of defense protecting the fiber from
moisture. This characteristic, in a sense, determines a fiber's aging and stability
properties. Moisture resistance is determined by measuring the increase in
attenuation during the fiber's exposure to water.

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Many other parameters characterize coatings but these are the important ones to know.
The point is simply this: The coating is a critical component of an optical fiber. It
determines bending sensitivity, abrasion resistance, static-fatigue protection, and many
other important properties of the fiber.

We've considered the role of the coating from the internal standpoint, in other words,
how the coating protects the fiber. But there is another important consideration: how the
coating works with a fiber cable. From this vantage, a coating should be smooth enough
to be put inside a tight buffer and strong enough to protect the fiber from undergoing
changes in its optical properties.

Solutions

To meet these complex requirements, manufacturers developed many coatings, which


vary in design, materials used, curing processes, and so on. The overall point to bear in
mind is this: The coating, along with its fiber, is designed for a specific application. For
example, a tight buffer and a loose buffer apply different forces to the fiber, thus
requiring different coating characteristics.

There are two main types of design: single-layer and double-layer coatings. In the single-
layer design, the manufacturer tries to satisfy a wide range of requirements by choosing
the proper material and coating thickness, among other characteristics. In the double-
layer design, the inner layer is a soft coating. It provides good adhesion and cushions the
fiber. The hard outer layer protects against an adverse environment, including abrasion.

The outer diameter of a coated optical fiber ranges from 245 µm to 900 µm.

Armed with this new knowledge, you will now have a better understanding of the
manufacturers' data sheets.

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1.4 Cable Design

There are two distinctly different methods used to protect the optic fibers:

1. Loose tube.
2. Tight buffer designs.

Loose tube designs to be used externally. Tight buffer designs to be used within
buildings.

Some important mechanical properties must be considered in cable design:

Maximum allowable load on the cable: since this factor determines the length of cable
that can be reliably installed. In copper cables the wires themselves are generally the
principal loads bearing members of the cable, and elongations of more than 20 percent
are possible without fracture. On the other hand, extremely strong optical fibers tend to
break at 4 percent elongation, fiber elongations during cable manufacture and installation
should be limited to 0.1-0.2 percent.

1. Fiber brittleness: since glass fibers do not deform plastically, they have a low
tolerance for absorbing energy from impact loads. Hence the outer sheath of
optical cable must be designed to protect the glass fibers inside from impact
forces. In addition, the outer sheath should not crush when subjected to side
forces, and it should provide protection corrosive environmental elements. In
underground installations, a heavy-gauge-metal outer sleeve may be required to
protect against potential damage from burrowing rodents, such as gophers.

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