Brazilian and Australian scientists have created a cheaper, simpler, and faster method for fabricating optical fiber.
The new 3D printed, fabrication process was developed by University of Campinas’s Physics Institute (IFGW-Unicamp) professor Cristiano Cordeiro, and his host at the University of Adelaide, professor Heike Ebendorff-Heidepriem.
Optical fiber remain the cornerstone of today’s internet. Installed worldwide, the amount of data they transport doubles approximately every two years.
Moreover, they are so versatile that apart from telecommunications, they are also used for remote sensing to monitor temperature, mechanical stress, hydrostatic pressure and fluid flow.
Hence finding a cheaper, simpler and more faster way to fabricate them has become the need of the hour.
According to Cordeiro, the new process can be completed with bench-mounted equipment that’s at least 100 times cheaper and takes less than an hour from feedstock to end-product.
The procedure roughly resembles the extrusion method used to produce pasta – albeit with more precision and finesse.
Thanks to 3D printing, pressure is brought to bear on a ductile material so as to force it through a die, producing fiber with the appropriate inner structure.
“The conventional process has several stages and requires highly complex equipment, such as a fiber drawing tower,” explains Cordeiro.
“First a preform is produced, a giant version of the fiber with a diameter of between 2 cm and 10 cm. This structure is heated and drawn in a highly controlled manner by the tower. Mass is conserved and diameter decreases as length increases.”
“Our method simplifies the process at an enormously reduced cost. The device we designed carries out a single continuous process starting with polymer pellets and ending with the finished fiber.”
The new procedure not only simplifies the fabrication of all-solid fiber, but also microstructured fiber containing an array of longitudinal holes, which enhances optical properties control and brings an increase in functionality.
Cordeiro and Ebendorff-Heidepriem used titanium dies with suitable designs to create the microstructures.
“The only machine required is a compact horizontal extruder similar to the device used to produce filament for 3D printers,” notes Cordeiro.
“It’s about the size of a microwave oven and is far less costly than a draw tower. The titanium die with solid parts and holes is coupled to the extruder exit.”
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