Technical and Application Notes

A Reference Guide to Optical Fibers and Light Guides

Fiber Optics Applications and Benefits

Although optical fibers have been available since the 1920's practical applications were not developed until the late fifties and early sixties.

The first commercial applications for fiber optics were medical. Bundled fibers can deliver illumination light to remote regions of the body, and carry coherent (understandable) images back out to the doctor. As a replacement for the rigid EndoScope, this became an in-valuable diagnostic tool.

More recently, medical fibers have been used as a remote delivery system for high-powered laser energy. Using small fiber optic bundles, the powerful self-cauterizing properties of the laser could be delivered to the patient without having to manipulate the bulk of the laser itself. Single fibers can be inserted into blocked arteries and the laser light used to burn away the blockage.

Optical fibers are insensitive to Electro-Magnetism Interference and Radio-Frequency Interference (EMI\RFI). Because of this, and some recent developments in the manufacture of Radiation Resistant Fiber, fiber optics are highly suitable for many military and communications applications where high signal quality, secure data transmission, and survivability are essential.

It’s in communications where fibers have made the most significant advances. Long distance telephone cables, sometimes several inches in diameter and containing hundreds or even thousands of paired wires, have been replaced by a single-fiber cable. Because the light transmitting fiber is immune to electronic noise the fiber can carry thousands more conversations with better sound quality.

The list of industrial and commercial applications for fiber optic technology grows daily. Multiple fibers laid side by side and bonded together at the ends form fiber optic bundles. The end of a fiber bundle can be formed into virtually any two-dimensional shape or outline. Because of this morphological flexibility, fiber bundles are being used for level sensing, part inspection, and process control applications. There are a number of illumination techniques that also take advantage of this unique property.

Of course, the field of optics itself has also benefited from the unique properties of optical fibers. Individual components of an optical system, like lamp housings, monochromators, sample compartments, and detectors can be tied together with fiber optic bundles. This coupling eliminates the need for alignment, and allows quicker interchangeability between the components. The system is also more flexible. One lamp, or laser, can be coupled to any number of experiments by simply disconnecting a fiber optic bundle from one device and plugging it into another. As an example, fiber bundles are already being used to illuminate vibration sensitive microscopes with light generated in an automated spectrometer located several feet (or even rooms) away, without transmitting any of the heat, vibration, or electronic noise to the microscope.

 

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