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.
THC ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:
- Fiber optic cable specifications: With so many specs, which ones should you qualify to?
- Optical cable measurements: Why don’t OTDR and jacket length markings agree?
- Cablers: Advice to efficiently reconfigure fiber optic process lines for add-on products – without resulting in suboptimized products
- Cablers: Are you looking to work with specialty cables or furcation tubes? If so, here are key points to consider.
- Advice for raw material suppliers planning to sell to the optical cable industry: 4 points to consider – and pitfalls to avoid
- Advice for Cable Manufacturers Looking to Enter the US Fiber Optic Market
- Buying used vs. new equipment: challenges in optical cable manufacture and new extrusion line business
- So You Want To Start a Cable Company or Add a Cable Making Division?
- Braiders, optical cables and the common ground of restorations
- Are we ready for change???
- Technical Article: Loose Tight Buffer, Time to Define What We Mean
- Wayne Kachmar answers, “Are all cable lines alike?”
- Defining type and semi tight buffers as opposed to loose tubes in optical cables
- Test Methods for Cables Incorporating Reduced Bend Radius Fibers: As Published in Wire and Cable Asia March 2013; Reprinted in Proceedings of the 59th IWCS/IICIT; International Wire & Cable Symposium
- From Optical Cable to Optical Wire – An Evolutionary Approach: As Published in Euro Wire May 2013, Wire Journal International July 2013 and Wire Asia July 2013; Reprinted in Proceedings of the 61st IWCS Conference; International Wire & Cable Symposium
- Loose Tight Buffer, Time to Define What We Mean: Published 10.6.15 in the IWCS Proceedings from the 64th International Cable & Connectivity Symposium (2015) by Wayne Kachmar, President Technical Horsepower Consulting LLC. with Fiber Optic Center, Inc.
- FOC technical solution content: http://bit.ly/29WTvgn
- Glossary, Acronyms, Military Specifications for Connectors: http://bit.ly/2a2EFn8
- Q&A Resource: email technical questions to AskFOC@focenter.com
- How small is too small…. the fiber optic cable industry over the decades - January 16, 2019
- What we do vs. what we wish to do – thoughts on the realistic integration of next-generation fiber optic technologies - October 16, 2018
- Are we doomed to repeat the past? Not letting our industry’s critical “tribal knowledge” become a lost art - October 1, 2018
- Fiber optic cable specifications: With so many specs, which ones should you qualify to? - May 26, 2017
- Optical cable measurements: Why don’t OTDR and jacket length markings agree? - May 16, 2017
- Cablers: Advice to efficiently reconfigure fiber optic process lines for add-on products – without resulting in suboptimized products - February 8, 2017
- Cablers: Are you looking to work with specialty cables or furcation tubes? If so, here are key points to consider. - January 25, 2017
- Advice for raw material suppliers planning to sell to the optical cable industry: 4 points to consider – and pitfalls to avoid - January 17, 2017
- Advice for Cable Manufacturers Looking to Enter the US Fiber Optic Market - December 8, 2016
- Buying used vs. new equipment: challenges in optical cable manufacture and new extrusion line business - November 17, 2016