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Manufacturers design fiber optic cables for specific applications. Is the cable buried underground or hung from telephone poles? Is the cable snaked through cableways, submerged in water, or just laid on the ground? Is the cable used in industrial, telecommunication, utility, or military applications? Each different application may require a slightly different cable design.

Agreement on standard cable designs is difficult. Cable design choices include jacket materials, water blocking techniques, and the number of fibers to place within the cable. The cable design chosen depends on the cable's intended application. There are presently many types of fiber optic cables. Some fiber optic cables are used in commercial applications, while others are used in military applications. Standard commercial cable designs will develop over time as fiber optic technology becomes more established. However, this chapter provides only a short discussion on cable designs considered for Navy applications.

Navy systems require that fiber optic cables meet stringent environmental conditions. The types of cable designs considered by the Navy include the optical fiber cable component (OFCC), stranded, and ribbon cable designs.

The cable must meet minimal levels of performance in safety (low smoke, low toxicity, low halogen content, etc.), durability (able to withstand shock, vibration, fluids, etc.), and optical performance. The cable must also be easy to install and repair. These factors greatly influence the design of the cables.

Optical Fiber Cable Component (OFCC) Cable

An OFCC cable consists of individual single fiber cables, called optical fiber cable components (OFCCs). OFCCs are a tight-buffered fiber surrounded by arimid yarn and a low-halogen outer jacket. The OFCC outer diameter is typically 2 millimeters (mm). The fiber is typically buffered with a polyester elastomer to a total diameter of 900 μm. Figure 3-14 illustrates the design of the OFCCs. The size of the OFCCs limits the amount of fibers contained within an OFCC cable. An OFCC cable generally contains less than 36 fibers (OFCCs). An OFCC cable of 0.5-inch cable outer diameter can accommodate about 12 fibers.

Figure 3-14. - The design of optical fiber cable components (OFCCs). 

Figure 3-15 shows an isometric view of a four-fiber shipboard OFCC cable. In this multifiber cable design, the OFCCs surround a flexible central member in a helical manner. The central member may add to cable strength or only support the OFCCs. For additional protection, two layers of arimid yarn strength members encase the OFCC units. These strength members are stranded in opposing lays to minimize microbending of the fibers.

The arimid yarn strength members may be treated with polymers that are water absorbing, blocking, and sealing. This treatment eliminates the need for additional water blocking protection. Finally, a low-halogen, flame-resistant outer jacket is extruded over the strength members.

Figure 3-15. - An isometric view of a four-fiber shipboard OFCC cable. 

OFCC cables are easy to handle because each cable contains its own subcable, the OFCC. These OFCC subcables make it easy to reconfigure systems and handle individual fibers. Rugged OFCC cable design permits cable use in harsh environments, including Navy applications. OFCC-type cable is recommended for use in low-density (less than 24 fibers) Navy applications. OFCC-type cable is also being evaluated for use in Navy applications with fiber counts up to 36 fibers.

Stranded Cable

A stranded cable is a fiber optic cable consisting of buffered fibers stranded down the center of the cable surrounded by strength members and a protective jacket. Figure 3-16 shows a cross-sectional view of the stranded cable. The fiber is typically buffered with a polyester elastomer to a total diameter of 900 μm. The recommended use of stranded cables is in medium-density (24 to 72 fibers) Navy applications. However, this recommendation is preliminary. Further test and evaluation of prototype stranded cable designs is continuing. Final approval of the stranded cable will occur only after prototype cables have passed all tests.

Figure 3-16. - Stranded cable design. 

Stranded cable designs increase fiber counts without greatly increasing cable size. Stranded cables are used when fiber counts exceed the limits of OFCC-type cables. For example, the stranded cable design can accommodate about 48 fibers in a O.5-inch cable. The OFCC cable design can accommodate around 12 fibers. The individual fiber is not protected as well in the stranded design as in the OFCC design. For this reason more care is required in handling the individual fibers in the stranded design. The primary problem of the stranded cable design is in meeting the waterblocking requirements. Once manufacturers correct this design problem, the Navy expects that the stranded cable design will meet Navy performance requirements.

Ribbon Cable

A ribbon cable consists of optical fiber ribbons stranded down the center of the cable surrounded by a protective tube, strength members, and an outer jacket. The fiber optic ribbon consists of multiple-coated, 250 μm diameter fibers sandwiched in a plastic material. Figure 3-17 shows a cross-sectional view of a 12-fiber ribbon. Cable manufacturers stack these ribbons to form a rectangular cross-sectional array of fibers. Stacked ribbons are the basic building blocks of the ribbon cable. Figure 3-18 illustrates this cross-sectional array of ribbons. Manufacturers introduce a controlled twist to the stacked ribbons to minimize fiber stress when the cable is bent. An inner plastic tube, strength members, and an outer protective jacket surround the stacked ribbons, providing environmental protection.

Figure 3-17. - Cross section of a fiber optic ribbon. 

Figure 3-18. - Ribbon cable cross-sectional array of fibers. 

The ribbon cable design has the highest fiber capacity. Ribbon cables can hold 204 fibers in a 0.5-inch cable. However, ribbon cables have worse bend performance than OFCC and stranded cables. Ribbon cables also have the poorest waterblocking capabilities of the three cable designs. The bend performance is expected to worsen if manufacturers add appropriate compounds to increase waterblocking capabilities.

Ribbon cables are also hard to handle. Individual fibers are highly susceptible to damage when separated from the ribbon. This susceptibility to fiber damage during fiber breakout makes it necessary to perform multifiber connections. Multifiber connections can introduce single points of failure in multiple systems. The use of multifiber terminations also introduces maintenance, reconfiguration, and repair problems. Currently, the Navy does not recommend the use of ribbon cables in shipboard systems.

Q.30 List the three types of cable designs being considered by the Navy.
Q.31 Describe an optical fiber cable component (OFCC).
Q.32 Two layers of arimid yarn strength members encase the OFCC units. Why are these strength members stranded in opposing directions?
Q.33 Why do cable manufacturers introduce a controlled twist to the stacked ribbons during the cabling process?
Q.34 OFCC, stranded, and ribbon cables have different fiber capacities. What is the approximate number of fibers that each cable can accommodate in a 0.5-inch cable?
Q.35 Which fiber optic cable (OFCC, stranded, or ribbon) has the worst bend performance?

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