Single Step Polishing After Laser Cleaving

With the standardization of 4G wireless, the increase in cloud storage and computing, and the push for faster network data rates, the highest quality passive interconnect systems must be used. While the robustness and size of these interconnections, fiber types, and cable management all play major roles in the backbone, what happens at the tip of the connector also greatly affects the optical performance of the system.

Technician cleaving fiber on a laser cleaver prior to polishing.
To start, high-quality connectors with tight tolerance ferrule holes, both in size and concentricity, must be used. Connector termination involves several processing steps. Each of these steps has its own processing concerns.

With cable preparation, it’s important that the fiber is not damaged during stripping. Fiber chips will cause optical loss. While the connector is installed, the proper amount of epoxy and the correct cure schedule is critical. Too much epoxy and the spring will lock up; too little and voids will form. If the correct temperature isn’t met for the proper amount of time, the epoxy will not fully cure. In both cases, the longevity of the connector will be marginalized.

After cable preparation, connector installation and crimping, and epoxy curing, the end face needs to be processed. The steps include cleaving (also called scribe and break) and polishing. Cleaving and polishing bring the connector to the required specifications. A flaw in any of these steps may cause a yield problem. These steps also have an impact on the steps that follow, and may contribute to problems further down the termination process.

Standard polishing for single fiber connectors typically consists of three to five polishing steps, starting with relatively rough epoxy removal grit and gradually going to a final lapping film, which can be .02 um. Some of the middle steps use relatively costly diamond films, which are used multiple times to minimize the CoC (“Cost of Consumables”) per connector.

The Challenge

The industry is continually looking for ways to increase yield, decrease CoC and labor expense. Reducing the number of polishing steps helps. CoC goes down, yield goes up, labor cost goes down, and less equipment and equipment maintenance are required. There is a clear way to get there.

Traditionally, cleaving is done using a scribe tool with a sapphire, ruby or carbide tip. A careful operator has to scribe the fiber just above the cured epoxy and gently pull the tip of the fiber parallel to the fiber axis without producing a crack. When not done properly, this resulting crack often makes the termination. This operator has to be one of the more careful and conscientious people in the factory, and does the same repetitive job all shift. If a crack does result from the scribing procedure, the connector needs to be cut off and the entire process needs to be redone. On breakout cables with many fibers, this creates other problems. If breakouts are at precise lengths, all ends would need to be redone.

Side view of a ferrule end-face and fiber stinger after laser cleaving.
After the cleave, a manual denubbing process takes place to take the fiber stub down to the epoxy, so it doesn’t crack during the epoxy removal step. This is time consuming and very operator dependent. The connector end face can also be deformed if it isn’t done properly and it won’t be detected until testing. With the manual cleave, traditional machine polishing requires four to five steps using silicon carbide, diamond and silicon dioxide lapping films with rubber pads after the denubbing – epoxy removal, multiple geometry end face forming, and the final – to reform the geometry of the connector.

Before connectors are terminated, when they are purchased, they come in with the correct geometry, radius of curvature, and apex offset. With traditional manual cleaving, the connector end face is being destroyed during the epoxy removal step and has to be reformed.

The Solution

A new cleaving technique, using a CO2 laser, largely automates the process. The operator simply places the connector into the laser cleaver, the laser scans across the fiber and epoxy bead, and it cleaves both together. The human factor is eliminated from the cleaving and denubbing steps.

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