Hybrid connector solution developed for harsh environments

Applied Optical Systems (AOS; appliedopticalsystems.com) has developed a long-distance hybrid cabling system...

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Applied Optical Systems (AOS; appliedopticalsystems.com) has developed a long-distance hybrid cabling system built to carry electrical and multi-channel fiber optics for LAN and wireless LAN (WLAN) in harsh environments.

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Applied Optical Systems’ F-Link long-distance hybrid connector system carries both electrical and multi-channel fiber optics for LAN and WLAN applications.
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The F-Link family of products is equipped with up to 34 fiber-optic channels and a fiber-optic backshell, plus plug-and-play connectors and terminals. While comparable opto-electrical systems have connectors that can withstand 20 to 30 pounds of strain, the F-Link connectors are designed with a strain resistance of 250 to 400 pounds (depending on quality of fiber or composite cable), making it suitable where high winds or rough handling may occur.

In addition to many industrial applications, F-Link is also being used in portable classrooms for school districts, where frequent handling and vandalism are issues. The Albuquerque, NM Public School District, for example, owns more than 1,300 portable buildings, and each year, 150 or more of them are relocated. Substantial costs result from hiring a contractor to disconnect and re-connect the data communication lines that integrate the classroom with the school.

“It costs tens of thousands of dollars every time we have to cable a group of portables,” explains Doug Ahlgrim, RCDD/NTS, of Albuquerque-based Sound & Signal Systems. “That was much too wasteful, so we developed a ‘quick disconnect’ plug-and-play design that would facilitate hooking up or unhooking a hybrid plug-and-play design that would facilitate connection or disconnecting all low-voltage systems.”

To ensure lasting performance and durability, Ahlgrim’s team had to address New Mexico’s seasonal temperature extremes, rough treatment of the connections, and vandalism. Researching a supplier of plug-and-play opto-electrical technology led Ahlgrim to AOS, whose products include ‘tactical’ fiber-optic connectors conforming to military specifications.

“AOS tailored their F-Link platform to keep the cost down while also providing a system that is robust and rugged enough for the environments we’re putting it in,” Ahlgrim says. “Continuous vandalism of the previous ‘quick disconnect’ product led the school district to resolve the issue with the first installation of the F-Link interconnect system. When used with Optical Cable Corp.’s (www.occ.com) MX-Series Messenger Cable, the pull strength on the F-Link solution exceeds 250 pounds, and functions well in an outdoor environment.

Sound & Signal Systems replaced the previous broken connections with F-Link products on approximately 40 portable buildings and, according to Ahlgrim, there has not been a single breakage problem since. He adds that the system has reduced overall costs from tens of thousands of dollars to just hundreds of dollars per relocation.

“We now have about 400 to 500 F-Link systems deployed within the district, and it’s growing every day,” says Ahlgrim. “Though the district is not really seeing the huge savings yet, they’ll start seeing it as they move from area to area and experience the savings based on the ease and simplicity of un-plug and re-plug, saving on labor, repair, and replacement costs. Plus, connector inventory is greatly simplified, and maintenance personnel can be trained on a single, easy system.”

As a result of the success of the F-Link connector in the portable classrooms, the Albuquerque school district has decided to use it for its intercom, fire alarm, security, and phone systems throughout all of its facilities.

(Freelance technical writer Ed Sullivan of Hermosa Beach, CA contributed to this article.-Ed.)

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