FIBER OPTICS IN INDUSTRIAL ENVIRONMENTS
Industrial environments can be extremely harsh settings when it comes to cabling infrastructure. Operators need to meet the high-speed transmission needs of the latest industrial devices without losing any connectivity through interference from temperature, moisture, dust, and increasing distances between endpoints.
Most chemical plants, oil and gas rigs, and power facilities have installed fiber optic cabling to meet those demands, but many of those cabling choices have now become antiquated and can no longer provide the speed and bandwidth requirements placed upon them by the industrial Internet of Things (IoT)-enabled devices.
In that regard, what does the future hold for fiber optic cabling in industrial environments, and how can NCS help you futureproof your connectivity infrastructure?
The Basics of Fiber Optics
Before delving into the specifics of fiber optic cabling in industrial environments, it’s useful to explain the fundamental differences between different types of fiber optic cables. There are two principal types of fiber optic cable: multimode (MM) or single-mode (SM).
At the basic level, the single-mode fiber core size is much smaller and carries light directly down the fiber. As a result, light reflection created during light transmission decreases, lowering attenuation and allowing the signal to travel over longer distances successfully.
By contrast, multimode fiber’s core is five to six times larger in diameter, which allows for much larger light-carrying capacity and has, up until recently, facilitated the use of much cheaper accompanying electro-optic devices and systems (more on this later). The critical difference is that multimode fiber allows multiple light paths to travel down the fiber at once, which tends to limit transmission distance and bandwidth.
Differences Between Multimode Fiber Optic Standards (OM)
When it comes to multimode fiber, there are several designations or standards you need to be aware of. Multimode fiber started with 62.5 µm (OM1) and 50 µm (OM2) multimode cable standards, which were widely deployed using LED transmitters for on-site applications for many years. These cables supported applications ranging from 10 MB/s to 1 GB/s.
However, over time, users, systems, and facilities all required higher network speeds. Enter the laser-optimized 50-µm OM3 and OM4 cable standards, which have been used for over a decade to provide bandwidth supporting speeds of above 10 GB/s. These standards marked the move to laser-optimized multimode fiber, which uses vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers (VCSEL) to transmit light at wavelengths of 850 nm.
Today, the latest multimode standard is OM5, which is designed to be used at wavelengths beyond 850 nm, specifically, 880 nm, 910 nm, and 940 nm. OM2 is now obsolete, and OM1 works for low-bandwidth applications such as process control networks (PCNs).
Differences Between Optical Single-Mode Fiber (OS) Standards
Single-mode fiber optic cabling is designed explicitly for long-distance data and signal transfer over moderate to extended-haul networks (e.g., from onshore platforms to land-based infrastructure) with a core measurement of just 9 µm.
Regardless of designation, OS fiber cables operate mainly at 1310 or 1550 nm wavelengths, requiring traditionally more expensive laser sources. However, these sources have come down in price to the point where the cost differential between multimode and single-mode fiber optic cabling installations is minimal when factoring in the better long-term prospects of single-mode fiber.
Most Industrial Companies Have Already Made the Switch to Fiber
In the past, many industrial plants and facilitates relied on copper cabling. However, industrial companies have long recognized the benefits of using fiber optics to carry data and signals between all types of interconnected devices, control systems, and IT networks.
The advantages of fiber optic cabling are clear. Fiber can support vastly superior bandwidths, can be run just about anywhere, and has better water resistance and enhanced protection against temperature fluctuations. Not to mention the fact that these cables neither emit electromagnetic interference (EMI) nor suffer from performance issues associated with it.
However, organizations that have made the transition to early multimode (MM) fiber standards, such as OM1, in the past have found that they are now unable to keep up with the current demands for speed and bandwidth placed on them by IoT-led technology (such as sensor systems), IT/business networks, and process control networks (PCNs).
The Shift in Fiber-Optic Cabling Is Helping to Meet the Demands of Modern Equipment
As previously mentioned, the OM1 standard has now reached the stage where it can no longer keep up with most systems’ demands. Not only does OM1 experience signal-loss issues even over short distances, but it also is unable to reliably carry speeds north of 10GB/s over distances as short as 33 meters, rendering it obsolete for most high-bandwidth networks and long-haul installations.
Even though OM1 is being phased out of production by manufacturers, many industrial plants still use OM1 for process control and for supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems. Leading fiber-optic brands have reacted by increasing the price of OM1 to push customers towards the more modern fiber standards of OM3 and OM4. The industry has moved on to predominately OM3 and OM4 cables thanks to their increased performance capabilities and lower electronics- and laser-associated costs compared with the installation of single-mode fiber.
However, as highlighted above, over the last few years, the costs of single-mode fiber laser sources have dropped considerably. The difference in associated electronics costs is now negligible. Not only does single-mode fiber cabling cost less, but it doesn’t suffer from the bandwidth or distance restrictions suffered by OM3, OM4, and OM5 standards, giving single-mode fiber the advantage given its better longevity prospects.
That’s not to say that OM3, OM4, or even OM5 aren’t valid solutions. For instance, OM4 provides industrial plants in desperate need of fiber infrastructure upgrades a solution for high-density systems with a minimum reach of 150m for the 40 GB/s and 100 GB/s specifications.
If you have the increasingly outmoded OM1 standard fiber optic cables installed, it makes sense to upgrade and futureproof your fiber networks. Future IoT-enabled industrial equipment and network-driven devices will continue to increase bandwidth and speed demands. Thus, you need to upgrade to the latest standards to meet those future requirements.
While single-mode fiber presents the best solution for futureproofing your networks, your industrial plant’s specific constraints, combined with your budget allocation, will determine the best option for upgrading your facility. That’s why you need a great partner to assist you in selecting the right solution as the industry transitions over to the 40GB/s and 100GB/s parallel optics of the future.
Why Choose NCS to Be Your Fiber Optics Contractor?
With decades of operating in the fiber arena under our belt, NCS offers unrivaled experience in the design, installation, and maintenance of industrial fiber optic cabling. We have dedicated fiber experts and have invested heavily in the necessary training, termination tools, and testing equipment to deliver reliable fiber-related services.
NCS has top-tier status with leading manufacturers including but not limited to Corning, Commscope, and Panduit. Our credentials include:
- Corning Fiber Installation (CFI)
- Panduit Certified Technician (PCT)
- CommScope Broadband OSP Fiber
- CommScope OSP Fiber D&E
- CommScope Fiber Optic Infrastructure Specialist
Having worked extensively in the industry, we have intimate knowledge of an industrial plant’s fiber network pathways and infrastructure, and our long-standing safety record speaks for itself. Our memberships in both ISNetworld and Avetta demonstrate our commitment to maintaining a safe environment that minimizes risk and organizational liability.
ISNetworld is an independent reviewer of contractors and suppliers. Potential clients go to ISN to find verified information on contractors’ safety programs, incident records, audits, training documents, insurance certificates, employee background checks, and more. ISN, as well as third-party data providers, reviews and confirms self-reported information and collects it in the ISNetworld database, where it is available to clients who can search for exactly the contractor or supplier that fits their needs. Learn more: https://www.isnetworld.com/.
Avetta helps enterprises assess and mitigate risk by handling the vendor pre-qualification process. They ensure that service providers conform to all health, safety, environmental, and other relevant legislation. Avetta asks questions and creates profiles that are tailored to the vendor’s specific services, risk profile, and industry. Vendors are individually assessed to ensure that they have adequate coverage, documented procedures, and qualified workers, and they meet compliance standards. Learn more: https://www.avetta.com/.
If you would like to learn more about our fiber capabilities, don’t hesitate to contact a member of our expert fiber team to inquire about an installation quote.