Glass fiber optics are very important in many industries today and accuracy plays a critical role in their production. Precision Electronic Glass (PEG) uses state-of-the-art inspection equipment to perform nondestructive measurements of complex shapes. These highly accurate measurements are critical to meeting stringent specifications and assure consistency in glass parts used in fiber optics for medical, scientific, analytical and industrial instruments.
An optical fiber is a single, hair-fine filament drawn from molten silica glass. These fibers replace metal wire as the transmission medium in high-speed, high-capacity communications systems. They convert information into light and transmit it via fiber optic cable. Telephone companies are the largest deployers of fiber optic cables. However, the technology is also in power distribution systems, local access computer networks, and video transmission.
Communicating with Light is Not Such a New Idea
Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor best known for developing the telephone, attempts to communicate using light around 1880. However, lightwave communication does not become feasible until the mid-twentieth century, when advanced technology provides a transmission source, the laser, and an efficient medium, the optical fiber. The field of applied science and engineering handles the design and application of optical fibers or fiber optics.
The term is coined by Indian-American physicist Narinder Singh Kapany, who is widely acknowledged as the father of fiber optics. Science introduces the laser in 1960. Six years later, researchers in England discover that silica glass fibers will carry light waves without significant attenuation, or loss of signal. In 1970, a new type of laser appears on the market with the first commercial production of optical fibers.
Tracing the Development of Fiber Optics
The following timelines is given for the development of fiber optics by Explain that Stuff:
- 1840s: Swiss physicist Daniel Colladon (1802–1893) discovers that light shines along a water pipe. The water carries the light by internal reflection.
- 1870: An Irish physicist called John Tyndall (1820–1893) demonstrates internal reflection at London’s Royal Society. He shines light into a jug of water. When he pours some of the water out, the light curves around following the water’s path. This idea of “bending light” is exactly what happens in fiber optics. Although Colladon is the true grandfather of fiber-optics, Tyndall often earns the credit.
- 1930s: Heinrich Lamm and Walter Gerlach, two German students, try to use light pipes to make a gastroscope — an instrument for looking inside someone’s stomach.
- 1950s: In London, England, Indian physicist Narinder Kapany (1926–) and British physicist Harold Hopkins (1918–1994) manage to send a simple picture down a light pipe made from thousands of glass fibers. After publishing many scientific papers, Kapany earns the reputation as the “father of fiber optics.”
- 1957: Three American scientists at the University of Michigan, Lawrence Curtiss, Basil Hirschowitz, and Wilbur Peters, successfully use fiber-optic technology to make the world’s first gastroscope.
- 1960s: Chinese-born US physicist Charles Kao (1933–2018) and his colleague George Hockham realize that impure glass is no good for long-range fiber optics. Kao suggests that a fiber-optic cable made from very pure glass would carry telephone signals over longer distances. As a result, he receives the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physics for this ground-breaking discovery.
- 1960s: Researchers at the Corning Glass Company make the first fiber-optic cable capable of carrying telephone signals.
- ~1970: Donald Keck and colleagues at Corning find ways to send signals much further (with less loss) prompting the development of the first low-loss optical fibers.
- 1977: Installers lay the first fiber-optic telephone cable between Long Beach and Artesia, California.
- 1988: Special ships lay the first transatlantic fiber-optic telephone cable, TAT8, between the United States, France, and the UK.
- 2019: According to TeleGeography, there are currently around 378 fiber-optic submarine cables (carrying communications under the world’s oceans), stretching a total of 1.2 million km (0.7 million miles).
In a fiber-optic communications system, cables made of optical fibers connect datalinks that contain lasers and light detectors. To transmit information, a datalink converts an analog electronic signal—a telephone conversation or the output of a video camera—into digital pulses of laser light. These travel through the optical fiber to another datalink, where a light detector reconverts them into an electronic signal.
Optimizing Transmission in Glass Fiber Optics
An optical fiber is a flexible, transparent fiber made by drawing glass (silica) or plastic to a diameter slightly thicker than that of a human hair. Optical fibers are used most often as a means to transmit light between the two ends of the fiber and find wide usage in fiber-optic communications. That is because they permit transmission over longer distances and at higher bandwidths (data rates) than electrical cables.
Fibers are used instead of metal wires because signals travel along them with less loss. In addition, fibers don’t suffer from the electromagnetic interference that troubles metal wires. Fibers are also used for illumination and imaging and are often wrapped in bundles. These bundles carry light into, or images out of confined spaces, as in the case of a fiberscope. Specially designed fibers are also used for a variety of other applications, some of them being fiber optic sensors and fiber lasers.
Glass Fiber Optics in Single and Multi Modes
Optical fibers typically include a core surrounded by a transparent cladding material with a lower index of refraction. Light is kept in the core by total internal reflection which causes the fiber to act as a waveguide. Fibers that support many paths or transverse modes are called multi-mode fibers, while those that support a single mode are called single-mode fibers (SMF). Multi-mode fibers generally have a wider core diameter and are used for short-distance communication links and for applications where high power must be transmitted. Single-mode fibers are used for most communication links longer than 1,000 meters (3,300 ft).
Being able to join optical fibers with low loss is important in fiber optic communication. This is more complex than joining electrical wire or cable and involves careful cleaving of the fibers, precise alignment of the fiber cores, and the coupling of these aligned cores. For applications that demand a permanent connection, a fusion splice, is common. In this technique, an electric arc melts the ends of the fibers together. Another common technique is a mechanical splice, where the ends of the fibers are held in contact by mechanical force. Temporary or semi-permanent connections are with specialized optical fiber connectors.
The Benefits of Glass Fiber Optics
The following are the advantages of glass optical fiber:
- Glass optical fibers are durable and withstand low to high temperatures in the range -40oF to +900oF. For that reason, they are useful for high-temperature appliances such as ovens, furnaces, condensers and more as well as low-temperature areas such as cold storage warehouses.
- Due to lower loss per kilometer, glass fibers are best for long-distance communication.
- Glass fiber optics can support high bandwidth signal transmission. As a result, it is ideal for home networking.
- Glass optical fiber cable is immune to electromagnetic interference (EMI) and radio magnetic interference (RMI).
- Glass optical fibers are thin and light in weight. Therefore, they are optimal for small spaces and small targets.
The Types of Glass Used for Glass Fiber Optics
Custom glass fiber optics use a variety of glass types. For example, these include silica, fluoride, phosphate, and chalcogenide glass.
Silica glass is the most commonly used in manufacturing because it exhibits fairly good optical transmission over a wide range of wavelengths. Silica can be drawn into fibers at reasonably high temperatures and has a fairly broad glass transformation range. One other advantage is that fusion splicing and cleaving of silica fibers are relatively effective.
Silica fiber also has high mechanical strength against pulling and bending. Of course, this depends on the thickness of the fiber as well as the proper preparation of the surfaces during processing. Even simple cleaving (breaking) of the ends of the fiber can provide nicely flat surfaces with acceptable optical quality.
Silica fiber also exhibits a high threshold for optical damage. This property ensures a low tendency for the laser-induced breakdown. This is important for fiber amplifiers when utilized for the amplification of short pulses. Because of these properties, silica fibers are the material of choice in many optical applications, such as communications, fiber lasers, fiber amplifiers, and fiber-optic sensors. Large efforts put forth in the development of various types of silica fibers have further increased the performance of such fibers over other materials.
A look at Glass Fiber Optics in Medicine
Many industries benefit from custom glass fiber optic components provided by Precision Electronic Glass. These include the military, space, medical, communications, automotive, lighting, entertainment, decor, inspection, transportation, and navigation.
You rely on the internet and computer networking each day for fiber optic transmission of large amounts of data at very high speeds across the ocean and around the globe using internet transmission cables. Traditional cables were made of copper but today’s fiber optic cables are less bulky, lighter, more flexible and carry more data. These also allow you to network between computers in a single building or between structures. For example, you may use fiber optic cables on a university or government campus. Users see a marked decrease in the time it takes to transfer files and information across these networks.
In the world of medicine and dentistry, fiber optics allows for immediate consultation and the transfer of medical records between hospitals and offices and therefore provides life-saving options for patients. Fiber optics are also common in research and discovery for testing with non-intrusive surgical methods such as endoscopy. In such applications, a tiny, bright light illuminates the surgery area within the body. This makes it possible to reduce the number and size of incisions made. Fiber optics are also important in microscopy, laser, and biomedical research.
More Industry Applications for Glass Fiber Optics
Fiber optics play an important role in the lighting and safety features of automotive, navigation, transportation, and shipping. Fiber optics are common in lighting, both in the interior and exterior of most transport vehicles ranging from cars to trains, planes, and ships. Because of its ability to conserve space and provide superior lighting, fiber optics are active in more vehicles than ever before. Also, fiber optic cables can transmit signals between different parts of vehicles at lightning speeds. This makes them invaluable in the use of safety applications such as traction control, airbags, navigation tools, hand-free driving tools, guidance systems, and much more.
Mechanical inspections get a helping hand from fiber optics when robotics deploy with fiber optics to look inside pipelines such as water pipes, sewer pipes, gas pipes, drilling pipes, and cable transmission pipes. Fiber optic cables are critical in the inspection of hard-to-reach places. Also, applications for on-site inspections for civil, electrical, geological, and maintenance engineers rely on fiber optics to transmit data. Oil wells and gas plants also transmit data via fiber optics.
The requirement for compact, lightweight, low-power electronics — along with the growing demand for greater data throughput and bandwidth — is driving the use of optical technologies in military and aerospace applications. Aerospace and defense engineers investigate and adopt optical components and systems on an increasing basis for a wealth of land, sea, air, and space applications. These range from night vision and bunker-to-bunker communications to guidance systems for ROVs and drones on earth, at sea, and in space. Technology firms intend to bring rapid optical advancements to endless applications in aerospace and defense environments.
Fiber Optics at Work in Our Personal Lives
Telephones and even cell phones and satellites depend on integration with fiber optics due to the need to transfer video. With the use of fiber optic communication, you connect faster and have clear video conversations without any lag.
The use of fiber optics in the area of lighting for safety and decorative illumination has grown tremendously. Fiber optic cables provide an easy, economical and attractive solution for lighting projects. They even replace regular lighting in major events for theme parks and help us illuminate holidays.
And let’s not forget, if you watch television, you use fiber optic cables for high definition TV. That is because fiber optics provides greater bandwidth and speed. Fiber optic cables have an array of uses that go well beyond what most people are even aware. In fact, it is likely you use them regularly without even knowing.
PEG’s mission is to provide customized glass and quartz products and related services to OEMs and distributors. We work globally in all countries where our customers operate. Our objective is to fabricate the finest precision glass and quartz components and assemblies to customers’ specifications. Working together with customers, PEG manufactures prototypes; handles small to large production runs; performs value-added assembly, and provides cleanroom processing when specifications dictate the need for it.
Utilizing standard or computer-controlled glass lathe fabrication; glass-to-glass and glass-to-metal graded seals; cutting and end finishing; and precision grinding/polishing. PEG produces components and value-added assemblies, including medical, dental, or industrial glass X-ray tubes, CO2 or HeNe lasers. We produce all glass and quartz fabrications in facilities certified to ISO 9001:2015 standards of quality. Our commitment to quality and integrity in everything we do is reflected in our mission statement, corporate values, and quality policy.