Monday, January 16, 2017

Fiber Splicing: Fusion Vs. Mechanical - The Rematch

As a means of keeping touch with our sales force, we adopted what is known at Comstar as the Brice Box. That box is chock full of good information on our products and suppliers. This blog is the first in a series of topics that are born from material in our Brice Box.

The cost of fiber optic fusion splicing machines dropped over 50% in the last five years. That leaves me wondering, why would anyone still use mechanical fiber splices? With factory polished connectors and low cost fusion splicing, there are more high quality, affordable options than ever for mating two pieces of fiber.

It’s no secret that fusion splicing has a higher up front cost, but a lower cost per splice when
compared to mechanical splicing. What you may not know is the new prices of fusion splicers have significantly reduced the upfront cost of fusion splicing. By the time you have used 300-500 mechanical splices at $10 apiece, you could have purchased a handheld fusion splicer kit. Below are examples of the upfront cost for the various methods of joining fiber.

Mechanical Splice Kit
Mechanical Fiber Connector Kit w/ Cleaver
Mechanical Splice Kit w/ Cleaver
Fixed V-Groove Splicer w/ Cleaver
Core Alignment Splicer Kit
Mechanical Fiber Splice

You might say, "I doubt I will do more than 100 splices this year. Why should I pay $3500 for fusion equipment I will hardly use?" I could spit figures at you about the proliferation of fiber and watch your eyes glaze over. After all, this ever-connected world needs to run on fiber. Feed the fiber monsters! You know them: Big Data, FTTP, LTE and IoT!

However, I will not bore you with statistics ripped from the latest industry infographic. There are far better reasons for justifying the purchase of a $3500 machine for 100 splices in a year. The quality and durability of a fusion splice are far superior to a mechanical splice.

Since a mechanical splice are two fiber ends clamped in a body, mated in index matching gel, the fibers could be pulled out of the splice. In contrast, the fusion splicing machine creates an arc that fuses the two ends of the fiber to make them a single strand. Fusion splices have excellent tensile properties, and are reinforced against lateral forces with steel or ceramic strength members.

A fusion splice touts much higher performance than a mechanical splice. Below are values that compare not only splices, but values from current field-installable mechanical fiber connectors. I’m showing connector values since the skills required to complete a field-installable connector are essentially the same as mechanical splicing. If the loss values of a mechanical splice are acceptable, why not have the added convenience of a point of connectivity if located inside an enclosure? Granted, you will need to terminate both ends of the fiber you are joining in a bulkhead, but there are other benefits to field-installable mechanical connectors.

With simple tools, you can instantly verify the quality of the mechanical connector installation. Whereas validation of a mechanical splice requires an OTDR trace or Optical Power Meter reading on the span to confirm the quality of splice.

Typical Insertion Loss
Typical Back Reflectance
Typical Cost
Mechanical Splice
0.2 dB – 0.75 dB
<-40 dB / <-60 dB Angle Polish
$10 - $30
Fusion Splice
None on a successful splice
$0.35 - $0.50
Factory Polish, Field-Installable Connector
0.35 dB
<-50dB / <-60 Angle Polish
$10 - $15

Modern fusion splicers are also automated with instant verification of the quality of splice performed. It’s not as accurate as a full OTDR trace would be, but it is an excellent indication of how well the machine is operating with the fibers being spliced. Most machines have on board instructions and diagnostics to assist the user with operation and maintenance.

There is yet another feather in the cap of ownership of a fusion splicing machine. The major suppliers of fusion splicers have 24/7, 365 support lines. If something goes wrong with your unit in the middle of a network outage in a snowstorm, they are there to help. They understand that fiber networks are the lifeblood of communications today, so the support they offer is what you wish you had from the DMV or appliance center.

At Comstar Supply, we support all of the major fusion splicer manufacturers, and we are ready to help you with any questions you may have. Before you splice that next fiber, let’s take some time to look at the different options available today. I’m sure you’ll be glad we did.

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