July 3, 2015 | By Simon

As we continue to see more developments being made towards advancing additive manufacturing technologies, we’re naturally also starting to see what those new developments are capable of producing.

Among others, researchers at the University of Southampton have been exploring ways of using additive manufacturing to produce optical fibers.

Currently, the majority of existing fibers are made using a labor intensive “stack and draw” process that involves stacking small glass capillaries by hand to create a preform, which is a piece of glass from which an optical fiber is drawn.  Although this method produces consistent results, the inability to control the shape and composition of a fiber limits the degree of flexibility that engineers can use to design a fiber’s function.

Using their new technique however, the University of Southampton researchers have been able to form complex fibre structures by layering ultra-pure glass powder and gradually building up a shape to create a preform.  

The new fabrication technique, which is currently being developed by Professor Jayanta Sahu along with his colleagues from the University of Southampton's Zepler Institute and co-investigator Dr Shoufeng Yang from the Faculty of Engineering and Environment, will ultimately allow engineers to manufacture new preform designs that are significantly more complex than existing fibers.     

This new way of producing the fibers not only has the potential to dramatically change how existing fibers are produced, but also pave the way for more complex optical fiber structures that are able to host a variety of applications for industries ranging from telecommunications and aerospace to biotechnologies and more.

"We will design, fabricate and employ novel Multiple Materials Additive Manufacturing (MMAM) equipment to enable us to make optical fibre preforms (both in conventional and microstructured fibre geometries) in silica and other host glass materials," says Professor Sahu.

"Our proposed process can be utilised to produce complex preforms, which are otherwise too difficult, too time-consuming or currently impossible to be achieved by existing fabrication techniques."

Unsurprisingly, fabricating the preform is one of the most challenging stages of optical fiber manufacturing and this new process has the potential to revolutionize multiple industries that use fiber optics - particularly telecom and datacom industries. 

"We hope our work will open up a route to manufacture novel fibre structures in silica and other glasses for a wide range of applications, covering telecommunications, sensing, lab-in-a-fibre, metamaterial fibre, and high-power lasers," added Professor Sahu. "This is something that has never been tried before and we are excited about starting this project."


Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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