Published In January 2002
The fiber optic installers’ life can get complicated. While fiber is not difficult to work with, it does require a lot of attention to details. The typical installer may have to deal with as many as a half dozen types of cables and connectors, not to mention three or four termination and splice methods. Installation requires a number of tools, and testing may involve three types of testers (tracers, test kits, and optical time domain reflectometers [OTDRs]). Keeping track of all this detail is a challenge. But it’s no different than it is for the rest of your job, or life. As with everything else, some organization and planning can simplify everything. First, organize tools and supplies. Set aside a shelf at the office for all your fiber equipment. Label the shelves, indicating what goes where. As much as possible, consolidate tools and testers into easy-to-carry kits and put them in rugged carrying cases. In our Fiber U and Cable U training courses, we learned quickly that keeping track of tools was important. We created toolboxes that contained all the tools we used in our classes and the test equipment too. Each tool had its unique place in the kit so we could tell with a quick glance if anything was missing. Our students immediately grasped the importance of this concept and many bought our toolboxes for use in the field. It is also vitally important to replace any tool that wears out or is damaged immediately. Nothing is more frustrating and costly than arriving at a job site to find that a critical tool is unusable. After tools, the next most critical issue is the components being used in the installation. I’ve said it many times, but I’ll keep repeating it—Never try to install a component unless you are thoroughly familiar with its installation. In the middle of an installation is no time to learn how to terminate with a new connector, prep a new cable type, or use a new piece of test gear. Sitting on a cell phone at a job site (assuming it works there) trying to get application help costs you money and makes you look pretty dumb in your customer’s eyes. Always use some downtime at the office to learn new techniques. Get the local representative to come and give you a quick lesson so that when you hit the job site, you’ll look like the pro that you are. And you’ll get the job done quickly and efficiently. You can simplify the installation process too. Start with the design stage. Walk the job site, thoroughly inspecting every part of the installation. If someone else in the company did the bidding, take them along to show you the job site and examine the drawings, photos and notes they should have taken during the bid process. Know where you will need special setups, such as ladders, what will be necessary to install cable and hardware, and where you can put your tools for termination and splicing. Make your own notes. Look at how to most efficiently pull and terminate cables, trying to do as much work from one location as possible to avoid losing time on setting up equipment. Before installation, work with the customer on component selection. If he or she prefers a type of cable or connector that you think may have a better (especially more reliable) alternative, suggest it. The customer may be amenable to your suggestion if it offers advantages—you are probably more familiar with the technology than the customer and the local salesman that sold him or her on the alternative component are. Create a checklist. Just like a pilot who has a list of things to check before every takeoff or landing, you should have a checklist that can be customized for each individual job. It should include: • Tools needed (with a note to check that all the tools are in good condition). • Test equipment (ensure that all the batteries are charged and reference cables are in good condition). • Components (cables, connectors, hardware, and supplies such as adhesives and polishing films). • Work site notes (which can call out special needs for tools or components). • Report forms (to document what is installed from where to where and test reports—many customers will require this before accepting a job) and time sheets. When you are ready to head to the job site to do the installation, use the checklist to make sure everything is loaded in the truck or van (and even think about loading supplies in reverse order, so you can get to what you need first most easily). Every worker should already know what part of the job they will be doing and be ready to begin work immediately. A few minutes of preplanning can save hours of inefficiency on a job, making the difference between profit and loss. HAYES is the founder of Fotec, the fiber optic test equipment company, and the Cable U training programs. He can be contacted at Jh@jimhayes.com.