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Machine Design

Strong-as-steel optical fiber -- at bargain prices

Copper wire is commonly used to transfer data over plant-wide networks. However, single conductors carry a limited amount of data over relatively short distances. Also, EMI and RFI generated by electrical equipment may couple with the data signals. To improve signal-to-noise ratios, engineers often install shields, insulators, and harmonics reducers. An alternative to copper is glass optical fiber. Fiber transmits more data over greater distances than copper wire and is immune to electrical noise. But it has earned a reputation as being too costly, fragile, and difficult to work with. That is, however, until the recent introduction of FiberWire from Lucent Technologies, Minneapolis.

FiberWire is claimed to be twice as strong as steel and as strong as any copper cable currently available. It has a large, durable 200-u glass core surrounded by polymer cladding. It can be twisted, knotted, bent, pulled, and coiled without breaking the fiber or signal path. The polymer cladding lets an array of connectors be clamped directly to the cable for plug-and-play terminations (in less than 2 min), without adhesives.

Another advantage is cost. Low-cost transceivers and receivers make these fiber-based systems as cost effective as copper-based versions. For example, a transceiver set that typically costs about $13 in the past now goes for about $6, according to the company.

FiberWire operates in temperatures ranging from -40 to 85° while maintaining a bandwidth of 10 MHz at distances to1 km. Because FiberWire carries longer wavelengths over a given distance than copper, and with less attenuation, signal loss is no longer a concern, says Lucent.

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