Fusion Splicing

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Fusion splicing is the act of joining two optical fibers end-to-end using heat. The goal is to fuse the two fibers together in such a way that light passing through the fibers is not scattered or reflected back by the splice, and so that the splice and the region surrounding it are almost as strong as the virgin fiber itself. The source of heat is usually an electric arc, but can also be a laser, or a gas flame, or a tungsten filament through which current is passed.

The process of fusion splicing involves using localized heat to melt or fuse the ends of two optical fibers together. The splicing process begins by preparing each fiber end for fusion. Fusion splicing requires that all protective coatings be removed from the ends of each fiber, a process called stripping. The fiber is then cleaved using the score-and-break method so that its endface is perfectly flat and perpendicular to the axis of the fiber. The quality of each fiber end is inspected using a microscope. In fusion splicing, splice loss is a direct function of the angles and quality of the two fiber-end faces. The two endfaces of the fibers are aligned, then are fused together. The bare fiber area is protected either by recoating or with a splice protector. It is often desirable to perform a proof-test to ensure that the splice is strong enough to survive handling, packaging and extended use.

The basic fusion splicing apparatus consists of two fixtures on which the fibers are mounted and two electrodes. Inspection microscope assists in the placement of the prepared fiber ends into a fusion-splicing apparatus. The fibers are placed into the apparatus, aligned, and then fused together. Initially, fusion splicing used nichrome wire as the heating element to melt or fuse fibers together. New fusion-splicing techniques have replaced the nichrome wire with carbon dioxide (CO2) lasers, electric arcs, or gas flames to heat the fiber ends, causing them to fuse together. The small size of the fusion splice and the development of automated fusion-splicing machines have made electric arc fusion (arc fusion) one of the most popular splicing techniques in commercial applications.

Alternatives to fusion splicing include using optical fiber connectors or mechanical splices both of which have higher insertion losses, lower reliability and higher return losses than fusion splicing.

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