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The European Commission's goal of providing each European household with at least a 30 Mb s(-1) Internet connection by 2020 would be facilitated by a widespread deployment of fibre-to-the-home, which would in turn be sped up by the development of connector essential components, such as high-precision alignment features. Currently, the performance of state-of-the-art physical contact optical fiber connectors is limited by the tolerance on the cladding of standard telecom-grade single-mode fiber (SMF), which is typically smaller than +/- 1 mu m. We propose to overcome this limit by developing micro-spring-based self-centering alignment structures (SCAS) for SMF-connectors. We design these alignment structures with robustness and low-cost replication in mind, allowing for large-scale deployment. Both theoretical and finite element analysis (FEA) models are used to determine the optimal dimensions of the beams of which the micro-springs of the SCAS are comprised. Two topologies of the SCAS, consisting of three and four micro-springs respectively, are investigated for two materials: polysulfone (PSU) and polyetherimide (PEI). These materials hold great potential for high-performance fiber connectors while being compatible with low-cost production and with the harsh environmental operation conditions of those connectors. The theory and FEA agree well (<3% difference) for a simple micro-spring. When including a pedestal on the micro-spring (to bring it further away from the fiber) and for shorter spring lengths the agreement worsens. This is due to spring compression effects not being taken into account in our theoretical model. Prototypes are successfully fabricated using deep proton writing and subsequently characterized. The controlled insertion of an SMF in the SCAS is investigated and we determine that a force of 0.11 N is required. The fiber insertion also causes an out-of-plane deformation of the micro-springs in the SCAS of about 7 mu m, which is no problem for robustness according to the FEA model. Finally connector-assemblies are made with the alignment system and we show that an insertion loss down to 0.1 dB is achievable. The prototypes are subsequently used as a sacrificial master for mould fabrication through electroplating with the goal of low-cost replication through hot embossing.
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- 1 Actief
1/01/09 → 31/12/24