802-379-1130 wkachmar@focenter.com

As more colleagues from my generation move toward retirement, I am concerned that the collected knowledge we gained empirically is not fully being preserved for the next generation of fiber optic engineering professionals.

 

Why do I say this? If you look at the demographics, there is a missing generation of fiber optic engineers, or at least a dearth of them. If you’re old enough to remember, the 2001-2003 period in our industry suffered a significant recession. Prior to this, there was a build-up of expectations about what fiber would do and expected demand for bandwidth. Many companies had spin-offs to exploit new fiber optic ventures – in some cases, with nothing more than a patent application. While bandwidth demand increased so did copper’s capabilities. Fiber solutions (expensive at the time) were put on hold. Since everyone assumed the same volume but disputed how much market share they would take, huge overcapacity existed, and expensive new technologies did not realize their cost targets. So that generation of fiber optic engineers started to be laid off in large numbers, many with only a few years’ experience in the industry. As a result, many new technologies came into wide-spread development: areas such as electro-mechanical interfaces, remote vision systems, laser-based manufacturing, and so forth.

 

Needing a solid industry to base their future careers on, many young engineers moved out of the optical fiber/cable industry to these newer, more promising areas. Since most of these areas offered excellent opportunities, these engineers did not return to the optical fiber industry. Plus, engineering schools deemphasized fiber optics as a major development area. By the time the industry started to recover, many companies decided to work toward standard products and processes. While this was good in helping the industry mature, it did not offer the best opportunities for young engineers to concentrate their careers on.

 

With the advent of mass deployment of broadband to the home and workplace, the fiber optics industry started a new round of development – and started attracting young and returning talent. During this time, the industry went through a technological maturing process and many things learned empirically were assumed to be “common sense,” which became “tribal knowledge.” Don’t misunderstand me here, big things were learned and reported, and they found their way into texts, process design books, and technical papers.

 

However, some of the smaller things – such as design for existing installation methods, pre-bend insensitive fiber design, and red flag tests – seem to be a lost art. By way of example, I have noticed that methods of pulling cables, especially small interoffice cables, miss the concept of using a capstan type device. Another item I notice is that, as new manufacturers enter the market, making a cable (especially an indoor cable) clearly strippable is becoming a lost art.

 

Does this mean we are likely to repeat some (or most) of the design faults that plagued early fiber optic cable designs? I hope not. Several of the groups that teach installers how to handle fiber optic cable are acting as conduits between generations of installers.

But I wonder if we need a similar type of “conduit” for cable designers, especially before all of us who started in this industry when it was “rocket science” fade away into retirement.

 

 

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Wayne Kachmar

About Wayne Kachmar

Wayne Kachmar has been in the optical cable industry for over 37 years. He has participated in many innovations and seen the maturing of the industry. Over the years, Wayne has been involved in many unique projects to provide optical cable in diverse environments such as the underwater ROV that penetrated the Titanic, as well as cable that is in service sensing sub-atomic particles in the Antarctic ice. Wayne developed a number of unique concepts and products using optical fibers as both information carriers and sensors where the cable became the sensor. These have included fiber laser ring gyroscope components and distributed acoustic sensors for terrestrial and underwater applications. As a principal investigator for many government sponsored projects, he has developed methods that push the state of the art in optical cable design and manufacture. Over his career, Wayne has been able to fuse this state of the art knowledge with conventional fiber cable design to significantly cost reduce both materials and processes. With over 50 granted patents in fiber optic cables, connectors and tools and over 60 patents published or in process, Wayne’s path to TE Connectivity started when he founded and ran Northern Lights Cable, Inc. in 1988. He sold the company to Prestolite Wire in late 1997 continuing as division CEO until 2000. In 2000, Prestolite Wire was packaged with other holdings of the owner to become GenTek (a publicly held company), which also acquired Krone that year. Wayne’s position transitioned to Director of R&D, managing the RD&E center. In 2004, all Krone divisions were acquired by ADC who itself was acquired by TE in December 2010. In 2012, Wayne was named a TE Fellow in electro-optic engineering based on the length and depth of his technical knowledge and accomplishments. This is the highest technical title within the TE structure with less than 20 persons worldwide out of 8000 scientists and engineers within TE. In 2015, Wayne incorporated his consulting company Technical Horsepower Consulting, LLC. and joined Fiber Optic Center, Inc. as their Optical Cable Technical Expert.