Introduction to Fiber Optic Design

Designing a fiber optic system is not a trivial task. There are numerous decisions that have to be made in an orderly fashion so that the communication needs of the client are satisfied.

“I have to design a working fiber optic system for this gas plant expansion project but I don’t know how to do that!

Can you help me?”A Concerned Client

The risk in teaching you a fiber design course is either I explode your mind with too much knowledge or I starve your mind with only enough knowledge for you to get yourself in trouble.

Design is a balancing act between competing requirements.

Fiber optic system design must be constrained by the customer’s context if it is to produce meaningful results. When the context is left wide open the results are vague and directionless. When the context is constrained to the physical realities of the customer’s site then the design process will produce a result that can be implemented immediately by any CFOT trained personnel.

Fiber Optic System Design is like an umbrella. It is an all encompassing group of activities performed in a specific sequence that produces an actionable plan to imagine, create, compose, install, test and commission a fiber optic system.

What is the system used for?

The first action any designer must take is capture the communication needs of the client. Why is he wanting a fiber optic system? What does he need to ultimately do with the system? How does he define success?

Where is the system installed?

The next action is understanding where the system will be installed. How long do the cables need to be? Will the cables suffer outside? Will the cables be at risk from the environment? Buried? Wet? Sun soaked? This will require a site walk through.

What equipment and materials are already specified and what decisions still need to be made?

Then, all of the specialized equipment that has already been chosen must all be accounted for. Capture all of the operation details of each component. For example, MM vs SM media converters or SFP modules in the network switches. Take note of all the connectors on the electronics. What are they? ST, SC or LC?

Take note of the housings or racks that the equipment must be mounted in. Are they indoors or outdoors? Heated or unheated? Intrinsically safe or not? 19″ racks or JBs?

How many redundant strands are needed or desired? How about future expansion? How about future system repairs? Resiliency? Reliability? Repeatability?

As you do this walk through, look for things that are not present and accounted for. For example, are all the fiber optic termination panels selected? Are all of the patch cords selected? Has the location been selected for each connector housing? Have all of the SFP modules been selected for all of the routers? Take note of decisions that have not yet been made. It may fall to you to make these decisions.

Were the previous Fiber Optic System Design decisions made wisely?

Now if someone has already made component or cable selections then you may have to review those decisions. That person may be Einstein when it comes to electrical power systems design but they may know just enough about fiber optic design to get themselves into trouble. Don’t be surprised because this has happened!

Go ahead! Review those decisions:
Figure out if the selected cable is the correct mode for the length and bandwidth requirements.
Figure out if the pigtails match the mode of the home run cables.
Figure out if you have to fusion splice or quick terminate.
Figure out what tests need to be run.
Figure out what needs to be included in the final report. What is expected by the client’s commissioning team.

Is your team ready, willing and able to take on this design?

Now, review your team’s capabilities and preparation:
Do you have all the right tools and equipment to install this?
Are you designing a system that can be installed?
What happens if you are expanding a Brownfield plant that has high LELs? Can you fusion splice in such an environment? FYI, you can’t unless there’s a production shutdown. BOOM!

Can you draw prints? I mean, can you drive Autocad or similar? MS paint won’t cut the mustard here.
Do you have a set of prints for the existing system? Can you read them? Do you understand what you are reading?

A Fiber Optics System Designer is an Artist working in the medium of Fiber Optics.

The act of designing a fiber optic system is just like the act of an artist creating a painting. You have to see the vision of what you want to create long before you will see it first hand.

This takes discipline, knowledge and hard work in order to design successfully. You have to have your toolbox full of the right kinds of tools that you can wield effortlessly during this process. You have to constantly check your work to verify that you are still on track towards your system design goals (The Requirements).

You will make hundreds of decisions between bad, good enough and excellent during this process. The good news is that you can do this. You can succeed. You can learn how to design fully functioning fiber optic systems. I will show you how.

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