Nowhere does the adage “the right tool for the job” make more sense than in fiber optic installation. The right tools can make installation easier, quicker, better and less expensive. This includes cable installation tools, termination and splice tools, and test equipment for both outside plant and premise applications.
Perhaps the most important point is this: no tool or piece of test equipment is any good unless the user has been properly trained in its use. The number of users who buy tools and test equipment, take them into the field, then call wanting to know how to use them is amazing. Never go to an installation unless you know your toolkit is complete with the proper tools for the job and you know exactly how to use every tool properly.
We highly recommend buying tools in kits, as they are usually chosen by someone experienced, so they will work well for their assigned purpose and good instructions are provided. Plus, toolkits have specified locations for each tool, so a quick glance will show if anything is missing.
For fiber optic installation, you need tools for cable installation, termination (connectorization and/or splicing), and testing.
The heart of any toolkit will be connectorization tools. If you are dealing with standard adhesive-type connectors such as the ST or SC, you can buy generic toolkits that will work with practically any manufacturer’s connectors. The difference between connectors is usually limited to crimp size. Crimpers with universal die sets will work with 95 percent of all connectors and offer special dies for the other 5 percent. If you are using a specialized connector, such as one of the crimp/polish or prepolished/splice types, you will need to acquire the specific manufacturer’s kit for that connector.
One termination tool that every installer argues about is the fiber stripper. The most common stripper—the “Miller”—looks like a wire stripper and is very rugged, but is nearly impossible for left-handed workers to use. The “No-Nik” and “Micro-Strip” strippers work in either hand, but must be purchased for the buffer size of the fiber type being stripped. Since the stripper is a big factor in productivity, it is good for the installer to try them all and use the one that he or she likes best.
Most of the tools will last a long time if properly used and cleaned regularly. The scissors used to cut the aramid fiber strength members (Kevlar is the duPont trademark name for such material) in cable do wear out. Installers should not cut anything but these members with the scissors, and replace them when they no longer cut cleanly. Ceramic scissors wear longer than metal ones, but cost quite a bit more.
Termination kits for the prepolished/ splice connectors include an inexpensive cleaver. With training and some practice, the installer can achieve acceptable results with this cleaver, but buying an expensive clever such as those used for fusion splicing will greatly increase termination yield. Since higher yield directly translates into cost savings, it doesn’t take many $15 connectors to pay back the cost of a $1,000 cleaver.
Another piece of equipment you probably want to upgrade is the inspection microscope supplied in termination tool kits. The inexpensive plastic microscopes work well, but for less than $200 you can now get a rugged metal-bodied scope that is also easier to use. Remember to order adapters for the types of connectors you are installing when you order the scope.
When it comes to test equipment, making the decision is not easy. You can choose a basic fiber optic test kit for $1,000, a fancy pair of testers for $10,000 or any number of choices in between. Both will make measurements to the same level of accuracy, so the real decision points are budget and/or how much automation you want. If you need data storage for printing reports for customer acceptance, check out the software available, too. As with any complicated electronic instrument, make sure you have a good warranty and service availability.
If you deal with outside plant (OSP) installations, you will need cable pullers, which provide automated pulling of cables as long as 5km (about 3 miles) and equipment for lubricating the cable when pulled in conduit.
In some areas of the country, you can direct-bury cables using plows. You will probably need fusion splicers and long-haul OTDRs, too. These specialized tools are expensive and require frequent use to justify ownership. You can rent them for occasional use, but unless you have the experience to use them properly, you may be better off subcontracting to an experienced company that owns them and knows how to use them.
A final note: many of these tools are delicate and expensive—they should be handled carefully. Installers must not only learn how to use them, but how to take care of them. EC
HAYES is a VDV writer and trainer and the president of The Fiber Optic Association. Find him at www.JimHayes.com.