Sensing light at fibre end

A number of components bring light to the end of the fibre, allowing multiple applications

By Morand Fachot

Fibre optic systems can be found in a number of applications including communications and sensors. IEC Subcommittee (SC) 86C prepares International Standards for fibre optic systems and active devices embracing all types of communications and sensor applications. The importance of this work is increasing as the range of these applications keeps expanding.

Baumer series 66 Series 66 fibre optic sensor (Photo: Baumer)

The optic fibre revolution – some 40 years on

Ever since the first commercial fibre optic communications systems were developed in 1975, they have revolutionized the way information (data, image and voice) is transmitted over long distances and have proven a reliable and more efficient alternative to traditional copper cables.

Fibre optic systems are now installed in domains far beyond their initial use in communication networks, where their unique characteristics have made them particularly valuable. IEC Technical Committee (TC) 86: Fibre optics, and its three SCs covering different areas, develop International Standards for fibre optic fibres and cables, fibre optic interconnecting devices and passive components and fibre optic systems and active devices.

Multifaceted work

The standardization activities of IEC SC 86C: Fibre optic systems and active devices, cover "terminology, characteristics, test and measurement methods and functional interfaces including all mechanical, environmental, optical, and electrical requirements to ensure interoperability and reliable system performance". These multiple activities are covered by five Working Groups (WGs).

Structure reflects domains of activity

Responsibility for the different SC 86C standardization activities is shared between five WGs.

WG 1: Fibre optic communications systems and sub-systems, defines specification parameters, test procedures and the design methodology for the physical layer of fibre optic communications systems and sub-systems. It also prepares generic, sectional and blank detail specifications for fibre optic communications sub-systems and test procedures measuring the parameters associated with the specification of fibre optic communications sub-systems.

WG 2: Fibre optic sensors, prepares International Standards and specifications for optical sensors based on fibre optics, covering performance and interface characteristics as well as other standardization aspects including terminology, test methods, reliability and environmental attributes. Optical sensors play an ever growing role in a very broad range of domains (see "Sensing with optical fibres" article in e-tech, November 2014).

WG 3: Optical amplifiers, develops International Standards and specifications for optical amplifiers to be used in communication systems. Optical amplifiers are required to "regenerate" optical signals through optical fibre networks without having to resort to the multiple procedure of optical to electrical to optical conversion. The WG work consists of defining relevant parameters for optical amplifiers, preparing specifications for optical amplifiers and related test procedures.

WG 4: Fibre optic active components and devices, works on standardization in the field of optical active components, devices and hybrid modules, in particular for telecommunications applications and for trade and commerce.

WG 5: Dynamic Modules and devices, ensures the coordination and harmonization of documents relating to dynamic modules and devices of all relevant TC 86 SCs and WGs. It is also responsible for the creation and maintenance of the standard documents and technical reports for such modules.

High-value of global fibre optic market

The fibre optic market is dynamic and in constant expansion, driven by a growing demand for high bandwidth which is particularly important for applications such as online gaming, video calling, file downloading and others.

The actual value of the global fibre optics market is difficult to assess as it is divided between a wide range of devices and systems including fibres and cables, interconnecting devices, active and passive components, fibre optic sensors, optical amplifiers and dynamic modules and devices.

However, its rapid overall expansion points to a continuous workload for SC 86C, which now incorporates members from 23 Participating and 17 Observer countries and 133 experts. As of May 2015 it had issued 109 publications and is developing and updating more standards.

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Baumer series 66 Series 66 fibre optic sensor (Photo: Baumer)
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