By: Zack Smith
The value of fiber termination completed by a controls system integrator
Fiber has three main pros that make it the ideal candidate for data-intense, mission critical networks like utility scale solar farms, large university campuses, large hospital campuses, data centers, and high rise buildings.
1. It’s powerful over long distances
Data over fiber optic cable can travel very long distances with very little degradation in signal. In fact, it’s pretty much your only option on distances further than 300 feet (the maximum strength of copper cable). Fiber can run up to 100 kilometers without any sort of repeater (depending on the type of transmitters and transceivers). The fact that fiber is used to run data across the ocean floor speaks for itself.
2. It’s infinite
Unlike serial, Ethernet, and wireless, fiber can float an infinite amount of data because it has infinite bandwidth. Yep, you heard me right. A single fiber optic cable could hold every bit of data in the entire world. The limitation is the technology on either end of the fiber. Even though transceivers are always advancing, we have a long way to go before true limitless data transmission is possible.
The ability for infinite scalability without cable replacement is one of fiber’s biggest strengths. If you hit a bandwidth wall five years after investing in copper, you have to rip it out and start over again. That doesn’t happen with fiber.
3. It’s immune to electricity
Fiber is immune to electromagnetic interference, making it a prime candidate for electrical noise immunity. Even if you run it right next to a high voltage electric cable, the magnetic field would have no effect…unlike Cat5 that picks up oscillation, puts noise in the copper, and makes transmissions slower.
Scheduling fiber termination often brings site communications testing problems
As outlined by fiber’s strengths, many mission critical organizations rely on fiber optic networks for their communications infrastructure, which means proper termination and testing are crucial to ensure performance levels are met.
The problem is, fiber termination and testing is a time-consuming process. This means delays in fiber termination threaten tight project deadlines, especially involving systems communications testing.
Often times, the instrumentation and control subcontractor wastes valuable time waiting on the fiber optic termination subcontractor. Clashing schedules often results in pushed deadlines and increased budget. For example, if fiber isn’t terminated, the I&C vendor can’t complete site communications testing on utility-scale solar sites, and both subcontractors must be rescheduled, pushing the deadline back even further.
Why is the process of fiber optic termination so time consuming?
The way fiber optic is terminated/tested makes the whole installation process a bit challenging. Anyone can plug in an Ethernet cable, but in order to successfully connect a fiber optic cable to a device for data transmission and receiving, a trained professional must individually hook each fiber to a termination connector. Luckily, Affinity Energy has the skillset to perform single and multi-mode fiber termination as part of their field services offering.
Unlike electrical connections that only require conductivity (as long as wires touch, you have a data connection), data is communicated by the passage of light. Because of this, the tiny dot of light at the end of the fiber must line up perfectly. A difficult feat when you’re dealing with a fiber thinner than human hair.
Luckily, the process is a lot less complex than it used to be. Fiber optic technicians used to break off the end of the fiber, polish it until it was completely flat, and use epoxy to hook the fiber up to the connector.
Today, technicians use NENP (no epoxy/ no polish) connectors. These connectors guide the fiber to the termination slot and use a precise tool to cleave the fiber in a near perfect cut. A special gel inside the connector makes up for any slight imperfections.
After termination, the technician must test the connectivity by measuring the light shooting through the connector to identify any optical loss along the cable to the receiver.
It’s an involved training. As a fiber technician trained by Corning, I had to pass a test on important fiber optic knowledge such as:
- How temperature indoors and outdoors plays a part in fiber termination
- Types of fiber to use in underground burial vs aerial runs
- What, where, and when rules concerning fiber safety and reliability
- Different capabilities of fiber, including distances and bandwidth
Save time: Look for an I&C vendor who doubles as a fiber optic tester
Affinity Energy is one of the very few system integrators trained to perform fiber termination and test the integrity of the connectors. Because we offer both, the chronological process of commissioning is faster, and the likelihood of meeting project deadlines is much greater.
Because our engineers can troubleshoot from beginning to end with serial, wireless, Cat 5, and now fiber, it reduces the time and cost our customers spend on scheduling additional fiber optic subcontractors.
No matter if you want to go the fiber route, or if you’d like to stick with wireless, serial, or Ethernet, Affinity Energy is ready to provide thorough testing to ensure the speed and connectivity so vital to mission critical environments.
Zack Smith is an accomplished Field Services Manager at Affinity Energy, and as a Certified Control Systems Technician (CCST) with 20 years of experience, has responsibility for managing our dedicated team of field engineers and field technicians. While Zack spends most of his time developing and building the field services team, he is more than capable of rolling up his sleeves and leading by example.
As a member of the U.S. Navy Submarine force for eight years, Zack began his career by serving as a technician of the submarine-launched Trident ballistic missile. Over the next few years, he gained top secret clearance, made a handful of 4-month deterrent patrols during the Cold War, was decorated repeatedly, earned his associate’s degree in Industrial Electronics, and was selected to be a naval instructor within the submarine fleet.
Upon his honorable discharge, Zack pursued a career in industrial automation at manufacturing companies Sandvik and Delphi Automotive, and became an expert in programming industrial automation machinery and robotics. After spending six years as Head Applications Engineer at an industrial automation supplier, he joined the Affinity Energy team in 2010.
Zack’s contributions include major enhancements to SCADA systems at Carolinas Healthcare System, Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel, and the University of Virginia, along with numerous utility-scale PV integrations.