Updated: May 12, 2022
After years of training and working with fiber optic technicians, I have learned that a few practices can help technicians and teams be more effective at implementing and maintaining their optical networks. Many of these require little effort, and can make significant improvements in the quality and performance of your network. Some of these practices will help to keep you safe and be more effective at the job, while promoting professionalism and high standards among fiber professionals. I find that some of these practices might have greater impact than others. The following ones, I consider like the "7 Commandments for Fiber Optic Technicians".
Inspect Connectors and Keep Them Clean
The number one cause of fiber optic network problems is dirty connectors. Dirt can cause problems like damage to a connector’s end face, misalignment, and attenuation. Grease, like the one from your fingers, can cause future problems in networks as high output lasers can end up burning it, causing charring and clouding to connector end faces. Make sure to inspect all connectors before plugging them in. Whenever possible, include an end face inspection probe image for each connector with your test and characterization records. Protect your eyes by testing with a power meter for verifying that fibers are not active before testing with microscopes.
Be Careful with The Fiber Scraps
The number one cause of injuries when working with fibers are mishandled fiber scraps and shards. Tiny fragments of glass shards will find the way into your skin and clothes if you are not careful. Even worse, if you fail to catch these in time and end up touching your eyes, you could end up self inflicting a painful eye wound. Protect yourselves by always wearing safety glasses. You could also take fiber shards home on your clothes, so make sure to get them all and dispose of properly to avoid creating unwanted situations for you and others. Use appropriate sharps dispensing containers, handle and collect with tweezers or black electrical tape, and dispose of appropriately. Working on black surfaces will help you spot these fragments more easily due to the color contrast.
Treat Your Splicing Machine Like a Baby
Your fusion splicer is akin to a soldier’s rifle. Without a good working splicing-set is hard to be effective in the field. The last thing that you want is that after spending days on a job, finding high attenuations and bad splices due to faulty equipment. Safeguard and protect your splice-set from bumps, dirt, and humidity. Keep it clean, dry, and isolated from dust. Frequently clean the v-grooves with non abrasive materials or tools. Clean the electrodes and change them as needed, according to manufacturer recommendations. Keep the batteries charged. Avoid connecting directly to power plants and use power conditioners to protect from current peaks that could potentially damage circuit boards; instead, opt for using the equipment battery whenever possible.
Use Appropriate Tools for The Job
Today, there are many tools and gadgets for making field work easier and safer. Avoid losing your hands to a poorly handled box cutter. Instead, use appropriate cable prep tools. There are arrays of specialized tools for tasks like prepping mid-entries, distribution breakouts, opening flat drop cables, etc., which could save you time, keep you safe, and protect the fibers (and your fingers). I have seen, more than once, punctured or cut loose tubes, cut fibers, and damaged cables due to technicians not using appropriate tools and instead using their pocket knives. Use the best quality cleavers available to ensure good splices and connections. While there are excellent options in the market today, I happen to like Jonard Tools, not only for practical, but also affordable, and are Made For Life® with lifetime warranty.
Don’t “Guesstimate”… Test it
I see many guys using VFLs for checking short distance links. That is not the right practice. Every link, regardless of its length, should be tested with an OLTS for optical loss/attenuation. When verifying continuity, identifying fibers, checking polarity, or looking for faults close to the source you can use VFLs, and when checking for distance, specific events such as splices, and when troubleshooting, you can use an OTDR; nevertheless, when conducting acceptance tests, for any link of any type, use a light source and power meter for verifying that the cable plant is working within specified optical budgets. This will ensure that your optical equipment will have a clean and useful optical path. VFLs are a good start, but do not tell you the appropriate information you need for link verification.
Use and Produce Useful Documentation
Nothing as bad than completing an installation and not finding your fiber paths as expected, due to wrong fiber mapping and crossed splices. In order to avoid this, network design and planning documentation must be developed accurately and shared effectively from the start. After installation, appropriate “as built” documentation must be created, shared, and applied in order to maintain accurate records. These will be your best friends when conducting maintenance operations, such as troubleshooting and restoration.
You will be surprised of how much there is to know about designing, installing, and maintaining optimal fiber networks. Often some make the time for learning once they find that their networks do not work. I field savvy customer reached out to me recently and wrote: "we got a bunch of new guys, so we better get you here quickly and get them trained before they start learning all the wrong ways to do it." Appropriate network design and planning are foundational for implementing fast, future proof, and reliable networks that help with gaining and maintaining happy customers, securing company’s investment, and keeping people's jobs.
Cheers and splice on!!
This article was first published in Jul 2016 on LinkedIn and in Feb 2017 by the ISE Magazine.
About the author: Jerry Morla is an FOA Master Instructor, member of the FOA’s Board of Directors, and Expert in Fiber Optic Networks & Telecom Projects. Jerry has over 25 years of experience in telecommunications, and was first introduced to fiber optics by his Father in the 80s.