As life moves on I often require assistance in taking care of my training business. Products, tools and techniques are often updated, and part of my responsibility to my clients is to teach them the most current methods of working with fiber optics and IP networking.
A few years ago I was preparing to teach a large hands-on fiber class and realized that I did not have enough fiber “stripper” tools for each student to use one. Fiber strippers can appear to look like standard wire strippers but are manufactured with precisely sized openings so that the outer jacket and plastic buffer coating is removed but the vital glass core/cladding remains. Fiber strippers are absolutely required when splicing or putting connectors on fiber strands; a pocketknife won’t do it. The outer jacket and buffer coating must be removed from the fiber or it will not fit into any typical fiber splices or crimp-on connectors.
I live in Chicago, certainly a large city with many distributors of low-voltage and fiber optic products. So with Internet and telephone in hand, I let my fingers do the walking and started calling around to various distributor locations with a simple request: I wanted five sets of fiber optic strippers and I needed to pick them up today. To my surprise, not one of the low-voltage distributors could fill my order.
Then I remembered an independent distributor named Mercommbe Inc., which is located near O’Hare Airport. I called their location and had my first communication with Herb Eberle, the man in charge. Did Herb have the strippers? Of course he did, and I was able to pick them up that day and go about preparing for my fiber training class that was rapidly approaching.
Since then Herb has been “my guy” who I call with all my fiber optic product and tool needs. His company Mercommbe has been in business since 1987 and is a major supplier of passive copper and fiber optic connectivity cable, hardware, tools and testers. I like that Herb is a straight shooter and extremely knowledgeable about the products he sells. He will tell you not to buy something you’ve asked for if it won’t do the job.
The other very important point is that Herb actually stocks more than $3 million in fiber optic and copper connectivity cables, connectors, tools, testers and installation aids. He has every kind of fiber cable in stock, and he cuts cables to requested lengths for dealers. While other distributors can take orders and then place them with the factory for drop-shipping because they don’t invest in stocking products, Mercommbe can deliver orders the same day straight out of their warehouse in Elk Grove Village, Illinois.
Recently I had a meeting with Herb to check out the latest in fiber optic field technician tools. First he showed me the Greenlee “Fiver” fiber strippers (Catalog# PA1171 Item # 769328122251), which have five individual cutting slots for different diameters and types of fiber strands. I have used these tools and consider them the best fiber strippers because they are quick and easy to use.
After a fiber strand is stripped and cleaned with an alcohol wipe, the next step toward either a fiber splice or connector installing is called “cleaving.” Using a special tool, the fiber strand is “cleaved,” leaving a flat end that is 90 degrees plus or minus two degrees. One of the problems when working with fiber is that once the fiber strand is stripped, the outer diameter of the remaining core/cladding glass is 125 microns, with a micron measuring one-millionth of a meter. This is way too small for any person to be able to see the fiber end, so technicians must use a proper fiber cleaving tool to achieve the needed 90 degree flat end. Because the results can’t be verified with your eyes, it is critical that proper techniques are used. It is imperative to achieve a proper cleave on every fiber end that is prepared; a bad cleave will result in a bad splice or connector and the work will have to be redone.
There are two broad categories of fiber cleavers: inexpensive and precision. An inexpensive cleaver, which is often the type provided in a fiber connector installation kit, will yield approximately 80 to 85 percent “good” cleaves, while a precision cleaver’s yield of good cleaves is usually more than 95 percent. Because the quality of the cleave cannot be seen, technicians should invest in precision cleavers so that every connector and splice is functional the first time they are installed.
At our meeting Herb showed me the AFL CT-06A precision cleaver and demonstrated its use.
I was quite impressed, purchased the cleaver, and took it home to perform some kitchen-table testing.
There are two types of splicing methods used to permanently join two fiber strands together. These two methods are termed “mechanical” and “fusion” splices. What is used by telephone, cable and long-haul data companies is in most cases fusion splicing, in which the two cleaved fiber ends are basically welded together by a highly specialized and expensive machine that shoots an electrical arc across the fiber ends and pushes them together. Properly done fusion splices are typically very low loss, with most providing less than 0.1 of a dB loss when tested.
The problem for our industry is that while we often need the ability to perform fiber splicing, the high cost of fusion splicers, normally $4,000 or more, prohibits electronic security dealers from making this investment and sometimes results in the subcontracting of needed fiber work to a properly equipped company. It’s hard to justify a multi-thousand dollar purchase to be able to splice six or 12 fibers on a single job; it just doesn’t make economic sense.
The subcontracting of fiber optic work can leave security dealers exposed if there is a problem with a fiber connection after the job is completed. If a fiber-based system fails, the end user doesn’t know or care who performed the fiber work originally. They are going to call their electronic security contractor to fix the problem, and the dealer must be able to get the system up and functional in a short timeframe. If the security dealer doesn’t have the necessary equipment or technician knowledge, they may need to call the fiber subcontractor to get a technician on site who is equipped and prepared to handle the necessary tasks. The result is additional downtime, end-user dissatisfaction and increased servicing costs.
Mechanical fiber splices can be quickly and easily installed using an inexpensive fiber stripper, precision cleaver and the splices themselves which normally sell for less than $10 each. The problem in the past has been that mechanical splices normally produce high optical loss that may impede system performance.
However, the use of the AFL CT-06a precision cleaver along with 3M Fiberlok splices can produce very low loss mechanical splices that are easy and inexpensive to perform.
I found that using the AFL cleaver with the 3M splices yielded tremendous performance at very low loss.
Security dealers can now perform high-quality fiber splicing without the need for an expensive fusion splicer. All a technician needs for working on fiber is a proper stripper, the AFL precision cleaver, the 3M Fiberlok setup and an assortment of AFL “cleave and leave” connectors in ST, SC and LC. Simple testing of multimode (indoor) fiber can be performed with a flashlight, while an optical loss test set (OLTS) such as the Ideal FiberMaster can provide precise measurements of the quality of a completed fiber optic link.
Herb had said at our meeting that “the tools make all the difference.” Once again he was right, and that’s why he’s my fiber guy. Call him at 847-290-0368 ext. 101 or visit www.mercommbe.com, and Herb can be your fiber guy too.