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Dirt spells death for fibre optic contacts

The golden rules of cleanliness for plug connectors

R&M, the global Swiss developer and provider of cabling systems for high-quality network infrastructures, has taken a look at the golden rules of cleanliness for fibre optic plug connectors in a recently published specialist article. “If you are not careful with fibre optic connections, you are not just risking signal and performance loss, but in certain circumstances total destruction,” warns the fibre optic specialist. A reliable data network is in everyone’s best interests in order to keep on top of the growing demand for data transfer.

Even small dirt particles on the contact surface of an optical fibre can negatively impact the transmission properties and could potentially even destroy the fibre optic connection. “If the connector is plugged in during installation work without first being checked, it could well be too late. The high pressure in the connection means that particles are immediately pressed in and this can cause irreversible damage,” explains R&M Product Manager Daniel Eigenmann. Various market studies have shown that up to 85% of faults in fiber optic connections occur at the place where they are being used, as the surfaces of the fibers become contaminated with dirt during installation.

How optical fibre contact surfaces look in different states. From left to right: cleaned connection, water residue, dust and dirt particles, fingerprint. Swiss fibre optic specialist R&M recommends that, before pairing, you should always first check fibre optic connections and then clean if necessary. Image source: R&M

However, it is an erroneous belief that every new connector should always be cleaned before being plugged in. “Most connectors actually arrive at their place of deployment in the pristine state in which they left the production facility of conscientious manufacturers. In such cases, the installer can actually only make the quality worse by cleaning the connector,” says the fiber optic expert. R&M’s recommended rule of thumb for installation work is “check first, then clean.” A microscope or some other inspection tool should always be on hand at the installation site so that plugs and adapters can be checked before pairing.

A recent whitepaper by R&M explains why the purity of the fiber stubs is of such great importance for signal transmission. It lists typical causes of faults, as well as providing information on test criteria and cleaning methods according to the IEC 62627-01/TR standard.

Cleaning Fibre Optic Connector