Where Innovation Meets Simplicity: OptiSnap® Connectors
Before the radical idea, there was the problem.
For years, the field installation of connectors in a cable network was a time-consuming process. To ensure the seamless flow of data-forming light, each hair-thin strand of glass fiber had to be glued into a connector. To accomplish this, technicians toted along portable ovens to heat-cure a special epoxy. After waiting for the connector to finish curing, the technician still had to clean and polish the components by hand to ensure a pristine surface required for optical transmission.
On average, it took six to eight minutes to terminate a single connector. Results varied widely, based on the skill and experience of the technician.
But as carriers everywhere began to embrace the fast transmission capabilities of optical networks, Corning engineers were already looking for a better way.On average, it took six to eight minutes to terminate a single connector. Results varied widely, based on the skill and experience of the technician. As recently as the mid-1990s, that’s just how it was.
But as carriers everywhere began to embrace the fast transmission capabilities of optical fiber networks, Corning engineers knew they had to find a better way.
Instead of spending all that time and effort in the field, what if we supplied customers with a connector that already had a near-perfect end-face, courtesy of a factory-polished fiber stub inside? What if that connector only required the technician to quickly cleave and clean the field fiber, then insert it into the connector?
The result was our OptiSnap® connector, the world’s first no-epoxy, no-polish (NENP) connector. With it, technicians could perform that 8-minute process in under a minute, and with far more accurate results.
Transmitting light through…gel?
Offering such great efficiency, why was this new idea so controversial?
Instead of the light transmitting “uninterrupted” through the field fiber, the OptiSnap connector would route the light to a new fiber stub inside of a connector. No matter how precise the cleave of the field fiber, there would inevitably be a small gap between the field fiber and the fiber stub. This, naturally, would impact optical transmission.
Fortunately, Corning scientists know plenty about optimizing materials for the transmission of light. (We invented the world’s first low-loss optical fiber for communication networks by doing just that.) They created a specialized gel that bridged the gap within the connector body and precisely matched the transmission properties of the glass fiber.
It was a complex technological breakthrough, but for field technicians, it made things simple. They’d slide the field fiber into the connector, getting it as close to the fiber stub as possible, then let the gel do the work in the tiny gap in between.
This index-matching gel -- so named because it matches the refractive index of fiber, which allows it to propagate light – raised plenty of eyebrows. Did it really work? Wouldn’t it dry out, become unstable, or lose effectiveness over time? Could it possibly work as well as a traditional, “uninterrupted” fiber connection?
The performance of our OptiSnap connector speaks for itself. Over the past 20 years, doubts about the technology have faded as more than 50 million connectors have been deployed in optical networks worldwide. The gel is consistently reliable, provides superior optical performance, and has a shelf life far longer than the networks it serves.
But we didn’t stop there.
From children’s drinking cups to scientists’ brains
While others were trying to imitate our NENP technology, we were working with our customers to put the revolutionary new technology to use in the field. And while doing so, we kept looking for ways make it even easier.
Technicians initially cammed, or locked, the field fiber into the connector using a small tabletop tool. While the device was far smaller and more portable than the equipment required for traditional connector installation, it required a stable, flat surface. In the field, that isn’t always easy to come by.
We evaluated designs for a handheld tool that technicians could easily carry while climbing above ceilings, crawling under floors, or sitting beside a cabinet next to an 8-lane highway. That portability meant it had to be tough, because a handheld tool that can go anywhere can also get dropped from anywhere.
Our engineers, many of whom had young children at home, started noticing the remarkable durability of their toddlers’ sippy cups. Whether hurled in mid-tantrum, dropped down concrete stairs, or flung across the room in a burst of exuberance, these cups appeared virtually indestructible.
Inspired by the tough material, we created a similar robust outer shell for the handheld tool. The prototype held up handsomely in field testing. And in one informal – but memorable – test, a development engineer launched the tool 20 feet down a hallway to prove a point to a skeptical product line manager. While we don’t recommend the practice, it did prove a point. The tool still worked perfectly.
After all the testing and tweaking, we delivered a tool that technicians could easily grip and operate with a single hand, that was durable enough to weather extreme environments, and that featured a stop/go light to signal when the connector was properly terminated.
Who could ask for anything more? Only Corning.
So we evaluated designs for a handheld tool that technicians could easily carry while climbing above ceilings, crawling under floors, or sitting beside a traffic system cabinet next to an eight-lane highway. But that portability meant it would have to be tough. After all, a handheld tool that can go anywhere can get dropped from just about anywhere too.
Our engineers, many of whom had young children at home, started noticing the remarkable durability of their toddlers’ “sippy cups.” Whether hurled in mid-tantrum, dropped down concrete stairs, or flung across the room in burst of exuberance, standard cups appeared virtually indestructible.
Inspired by the tough material, the engineers created a similar robust outer shell for the handheld tool. The prototype held up handsomely in field testing. And in one informal – but memorable – test, a development engineer launched the tool 20 feet down a hallway to prove a point to a skeptical product line manager. While we don’t recommend the practice, it did prove a point – because the tool still worked perfectly.
After all the testing and tweaking, here was the result: A tool that that technicians can easily grip and operate with a single hand, durable enough to risk some extreme environments - and even a stop/go light to signal when the connector is properly terminated.
Who could ask for anything more? Well…we can.
The engineering of easy
Customers were enthusiastic about how we’d made fiber termination easier, from the connector technology itself to the simple tools required to install it. But for some, fiber termination is something they do only occasionally. When new technicians need to learn quickly, a steep learning curve just isn’t practical.
We leveraged our customer relationships and immersed ourselves in their user experience. We sat in labs and went out to busy highways and dark basements, watching technicians – new and experienced alike – as they used our product, over and over and over again. We asked them questions, and they asked us questions too. We used that information to create an innovative toolkit that made using OptiSnap connectors even more convenient.
The result? The OptiSnap connector high-performance toolkit, which can hang by a hook from a ladder, a doorknob, or any other spot where technicians might find themselves. Each tool snaps into its own customized spot in the toolkit, keeping everything secure even if the case is open and dangling. The tools are also laid out in exactly the order you use them, with clear pictographs above each. Whether it’s been weeks or months since you last installed an OptiSnap connector, the process is easy to remember and follow from the moment you open the toolkit.
A connector that performs flawlessly and saves time, combined with a toolkit that can go nearly anywhere and be used by nearly anyone, right out of the box. It’s the optical innovation and customer understanding that reflects the very best of Corning.
And it’s another reason why Corning is making the world better-connected than ever before.