A new technique of 3D printing application has been developed to produce optical fiber preforms that are commonly used as the backbone of the global telecommunications network. It is planned that this fiber optic technology allows not only making the optical fiber production easier but also open up new designs and applications that were impossible before.
The thing is that the traditional creation of silica optical fibers is based on “the labor-intensive process of spinning tubes on a lathe, which requires the fiber’s core or cores to be precisely centered”. Nevertheless, modern fiber optic technology does not require to center the fiber geometry resulting in the overcome of some optical fiber limitations in design and the reduction of manufacture cost.
A group of researchers from Australia has succeeded to make the first silica optical fibers by 3D printing. It should be noted that the 3D printing technique for optical fiber manufacturing may change the entire approach to fiber optic design and goal. For instance, it is possible to enlarge the applications of fiber optic sensors that significantly overpass their electronic equivalents relatively to longevity, calibration, and maintenance, however, fiber sensors haven’t been widely employed because of their expensive fabrication.
Herewith, the developed fiber optic technology is based on the previous work in which polymer material was applied to show the first optical fiber produced from a 3D printed preform. Nevertheless, this research faced several material problems including the high temperatures (higher than 1900 °C) required to 3D print optical fibers.
New optical fibers are produced by unique heating step (debinding) to take away the polymer and leave behind only the silica nanoparticles, which are put together by intermolecular forces. Then the nanoparticles transform into a solid structure by raising the temperature, therefore, it could be installed into a draw tower where it is heated and pulled to produce the optical fiber.
Finally, the new technique enables the researchers to create a preform equivalent of a traditional optical fiber that could be employed to produce multi- or single-mode fibers, depending on drawing conditions. The researchers confirm that this fiber optic technology demonstrates great results and can be used for a large variety of fiber optic material processing. Additionally, the production of optical fiber preforms by 3D printings is regarded to be a possible opportunity to replace the traditional methods of making optical fibers. Thus, not only fabrication and material costs of fiber optics but also labor costs will be reduced.
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