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The growing demand for Fibre Optics

In an increasingly digital age where computers are capable of more than we could previously imagine, one trend has become clear. Businesses and consumers now need to process more data than ever before - at lightning speeds. For over 20 years, fibre optic technology has catered for this need - providing lighting fast communication and data transfer for everyday applications. The reasons for Fibre’s dominance in everyday life are abundant; unlike its predecessor, copper, it’s light, EMI resistant and can transfer data at (almost) the speed of light.

However, there’s one Industry where the power of this technology hasn’t been harnessed to its full potential. Fibre is ideal for communication and sensing applications in hazardous areas, but it has taken time to truly understand how this technology could be safely integrated utilising existing protection concepts.

Hazardous Areas and Fibre Optics: The Risks

A common industry belief is that if you use fibre optics in Hazardous Areas then you're playing it safe. Due to its low spark hazard and high durability it has been assumed that fibre could be implemented without additional protection in Ex environments. This is not true. By installing Fibre, users could potentially introduce an ignition source into their hazardous application. In fact, there are four ways that the light beams can be turned into an ignition source:

1. Optical radiation can be absorbed by surfaces which are heated by light and reach the ignition temperature of the surrounding atmosphere.

2. If the wavelength of the optic radiation matches the absorption band of the explosive gas then thermal ignition can occur.

3. Light emissions come in many different wavelengths from infrared to UV). These waves can react with oxygen molecules in the area to generate an ‘oxidant’ that could ignite.

4. If a ‘laser beam’ of optical radiation hits a potentially explosive gas it can generate plasma or a shock wave – both of these are ignition sources.

Harnessing Fibre Technology for Ex Environments

In order to prevent these ignition sources from developing, 3 protection concepts were developed as part of the IEC 60079-28 standard for optical radiation in hazardous areas in 2006. This standard was updated in 2015. The use of these protection concepts when installing Fibre Optic cabling will allow the technology to be harnessed safely in hazardous areas. They are as follows:

1.Ex op is or ‘inherently safe optical radiation’ – this is similar to the concept of ‘Intrinsically safe’ protection in copper cable and centres on limiting the energy of the light beam to prevent it from creating an ignition source.

2.Ex op pr or ‘protected optical radition’ – this method contains the light beam by mechanical means so that it can’t escape and do any harm. This is similar to the Exd and Exe protection concepts.

3. Ex op sh or ‘optical systems with interlock’ – prevents ignition by quickly interrupting the optical transmission in case of failure.

The Fibre Ex Connector range

Despite the finalisation of these concepts for Hazardous areas in 2015 there has been a limited amount of products available that incorporate these protection methods. That’s why Hawke International has launched their range of Fibre Optic Connectors, engineered specifically for Ex Environments.

The Hawke Fibre Ex range of connectors combines Hawke's extensive experience in Exe products with Fibre Technology. The multi-core connector offers an alternative to hard-wiring methods, allowing users to safely make and break fibre optic cables in the field with minimal downtime. Customers can also choose between Ex op pr and Ex op is protection methods dependent on their unique needs. This allows them to safely harness the advantages of Fibre Technology in Hazardous Areas.

To find out more about the Fibre Ex range, click here or email Matt Ogden via mogden@ehawke.com

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