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Fiber Optics Cleaning Hints

Using Wipes 1: Advantages and disadvantages of using "single use" wipes.

Single use wipes are wipes that are either single packaged or in a dispenser. There are both advantages and disadvantages to using single use wipes. Advantages: Most often they are used for convenience. They easy to carry between work stations and maintenance calls. They are pre-moistened or pre-saturated to avoid the need for an additional item or operation involving wetting with alcohol or other cleaning fluid. Another advantage is for cleanliness. The wipe is packaged clean and has no chance of contamination before opening or being dispensed. Disadvantages: Some wipes have a smaller percentage alcohol content than desired for some optical cleaning. They may be supplied with 40%-65% concentration. It is desirable to use 99% isopropyl alcohol in most cases. Another disadvantage is that the wipes dry out quickly upon opening or dispensing. They are indeed a single use wipe. Also, single use wipes cost more. However, adding to the advantages, some wipes are of a material suitable for rewetting from an alcohol dispenser. Choose the best wipe for your individual application. See "Know Your Wipes" below.

Using Wipes 2: Choosing the best wipe for optical connector cleaning.

Basically, there are two ways to use a wipe or swab: wet or dry. Some wipes and swabs are designed for both wet and dry use while others are generally always used dry. Your application will determine which will be best for you. What is it you need to clean off of the connector, tip, endface, or sleeve? Is it abrasive or non-abbrasive? An example of an abrasive contaminant is some type of particulate. When cleaning, it could scratch the surface of the fiber connector and thus cause damage. It would be best to try to "float" the contamination from the surface using a wipe generously soaked with your choice of cleaning fluid. Some particulate contamination stubbornly aheres to the surface. In these cases the particulate must be loosened through a soak or a ultrasound bath, then wiped. One example of a possible non-abrasive contaminant is a fibrous contamination. Under a microscope it would look like a piece thin hair or string. This can be cleaned successfully with both a dry (woven film) wipe or a wetted wipe. Another example of a non-abrasive contaminant is oil, such as that from your finger. Moving an oil across the surface of a fiber connector will not scratch it, but could distribute it to other areas. Oils can be dissolved using an alcohol wetted wipe. It would be important to wipe not just the surface, but the edges around to the sides to remove all of the oil and keep it from propagating back to the surface being cleaned. Some wipes, such as a tight woven synthetic, are designed for removing oils, fibrous, and particulate contaminants by dry wiping. Again, the edges must be done or oils may work their way back to the surface being cleaned. Scratching is generally not a concern when cleaning sleeves, but all particles and oils must be cleaned or it will transfer to the connector and endface.

Check the specifications of the products you are using. Use wipes that are low-lint, low-fiber, or tight woven, whether natural or synthetic based.

Using Wipes 3: Know your wipes.

Check the specifications of the products you are using. Use wipes that are low-lint, non scratching, whether natural or synthetic based. Know whether they were designed for dry only or both wet and dry use. Read the specs or the sales brochures. Follow the instructions and guidelines given with the product. Consider clean room designed wipes that are low shedding or low particle generating along with anti-static characteristics. Added cost (more expensive wipes) most likely are better quality and, in the case of pre-wetted wipes, will reduce time and labor costs.

Using Wipes 4: Cleanliness is the key.

Use clean wipes. I know this sounds unnecessary to say, but it is often overlooked. Why? Maybe because a used wipe is not discarded after using and is left at a workstation. Maybe because the last wipe was used and nobody replaced them with a new package. Or many other reasons, but... it cannot be stressed enough, especially by manufacturing who has to deal with a problem at the end of the line, or engineering who has to find the loss in an entire system of 32, 64, and more fiber connections. Yes, in some instances a wipe can be used multiple times when cross contamination is definitely not a possiblility and when a wipe is large enough to use another known clean section. In those cases, use clean areas of the wipes - or you will just be passing the contaminants to another surface.

eaning Procedures: Have some flexibility.

Remember, machines can be repeatable, but each operator or technician can get different results using the same procedure. That is why procedures must be written with some options and each person cleaning will find the best repeatable procedure for him or her. Procedures must be written with specific steps, yet the human factor must be kept in mind at all times. That is why there are so many inspection products on the market today, including automatic analysis units that will fail a visual inspection by comparing to previously programmed data. Cleaning and inspection, consistently done without variance (NO shortcuts!), will yield repeatable results.