Researchers at the University of Southampton are developing a new 3D printed optical fiber that will speed up your internet connection.
The article you are reading opened in your browser in less than a second, and one of the technologies that allow you to enjoy this speed are the optical fiber networks. This technology has been utilized for decades while the evolution of the manufacturing processes remained limited.
That is about to change. Researchers at the University of Southampton have figured out new methods to produce 3D printed optical fibers efficiently by using additive manufacturing. The researchers have announced with confidence that expensive and voluminous equipment, such as the silica drawing towers that are required for the current manufacturing processes, will soon be rendered obsolete.
3D printed optical fiber makes new shapes possible
Besides the cost of acquisition, operation and maintenance, the old methods of optical fiber production are also limited in their ability to allow shape and material density control. This element is critical for engineers that want to develop fibers of higher efficiency and especially in particular configurations and special applications. 3D printing optical fiber can solve this problem as shape and density control can be easily achieved through the subsequent control of the material flow rate on the nozzle.
The shapes that can be realized through additive manufacturing are also much more complex than anything possible by existing fabrication methods.
The printing material in its raw form is ultra-pure glass powder that is heated, melted and printed in 2000 Celsius. This extremely high temperature calls for extra-durable printer parts that will still be able to deliver high precision movement and positioning. The resulting product will hopefully be of high quality and with super-smooth transitions between the printed layers that won’t mess with the transiting data. The application possibilities that will open up from this development concern the sectors of communications, high-power lasers and sensing technologies.
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