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Importance of Fiber Optic Cleaning

What is Fiber Optic Cleaning?

Installing fiber optic systems is not easy. It requires multiple levels of expertise in design and application, and its why fiber optics experts are always in high demand. While installations will vary heavily depending on the components and applications at play, there is one thing that is necessary for every installation, and it’s easy to overlook. Every system needs fiber optic cleaning to ensure that it will work properly.

As the name implies, fiber optic cleaning is the process of cleaning fiber connector end faces and components that are prone to contamination. Contamination can hurt fiber optic performance and even lead to test failures. Cleaning resolves one of the leading causes of these failures and produces a pristine fiber optic network that performs as expected.

To put it in simple terms, fiber optic cleaning is necessary to allow the components to perform as intended.

What Does Fiber Cleaning Accomplish?

Sure, cleaning the end faces makes everything run better, but what is that worth from a business perspective?

By and large, cleaning has a major impact on an IT department’s loss budget. Any contaminated fiber at any point in the system can hurt the total data throughput across the system. As the saying goes, a network is only as fast as its slowest link. With data centers and enterprise-level networking, a single contaminated point in the system can produce network problems that chew through the loss budget.

Let’s put some numbers on it. A survey by NTT-Advanced Technology showed that 98% of cable installers and 80% of network owners have seen contamination as the root cause of a network failure. They aren’t referencing networking inefficiency but total network failure. It’s easy to see how the costs of these failures can compound very quickly. Removing this issue prevents a massive cause of network failure and the costs incurred from such failure.

Best Practices for Fiber Optic Cleaning

Fiber optic cleaning is essential for avoiding major network problems. Its cost-benefit is pretty clear — especially since a small amount of cleaning can completely prevent total network failure. That’s why learning some cleaning best practices really is invaluable.

The full technique for cleaning takes time to learn and master. There are even IEC standards that help installers and technicians understand exactly what to look for and how to certify that end faces are properly clean. All of that is large in scope. These best practices are instead intended to provide a quick read with high-value ideas that can be applied to cleaning efforts.

New Fiber Doesn’t Mean Clean Fiber

This is probably the most important thing to learn. In many industries, we think of new devices or objects as being pristine. This is not the case with fiber optics. Every endpoint of every fiber in the system is prone to contamination, and even a microscopic amount of contamination is enough to cause problems.

Manufacturing, packaging and shipping are all processes that are just as prone to contaminating the fiber ends as installation. You should never assume that cables are clean because they are new.

Clean Systems Stay Clean

Fiber optics are meant to be left alone. Without interference, they can run for decades without being touched. If you install properly cleaned fibers, you don't need to do regular cleaning maintenance. Instead, leave them alone until and unless a problem arises.

The thought behind this is pretty simple. Any activity that exposes the fiber ends risks contamination. If you’re exposing them just to clean fibers that are already performing as desired, you are incurring costs and risks for no reason.

That said, cables that see frequent reconfiguration or handling will likely need cleaning efforts on a regular basis. For such cables or endpoints, regular cleaning becomes valuable.

Common Fiber Contaminants:

  • Debris generated from normal wear in mating and un-mating
  • Drywall dust
  • Saw dust
  • Residues from end caps (outgassing)
  • Skin oil
  • Alcohol residue
  • Water residue
  • Hand lotion
  • Dryer lint
  • Saltwater residue
  • Graphite

Inspect Every Fiber End Face

It goes without saying that you might have to clean every end face. That’s not good enough. Every point of potential contamination has to be inspected. Inspection is the only way to be sure that the cleaning was successful. Since contamination occurs at such a small scale, assuming that a cleaning effort was successful is never sufficient. If every end face passes a cleaning inspection during installation, you can guarantee that you have a pristine system that is primed to stay clean.

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