Designing Fiber Optic Testing Labs of the Future

Posted by Kevin Miller on Mon, Jul 4, 2022 @ 15:07 PM

Designing Fiber Optic Testing Labs of the Future


The growing demand for fiber optic communications systems means that the role of fiber optic testing labs will remain critically important. With an expectation that lab space and equipment needs will continue to grow to support the market needs, it’s important to always take this into consideration when planning for the future. Whether you are seeking to modify an existing lab space or are making plans for a brand new facility, this article briefly highlights some considerations when preparing your lab for the future.

What’s driving the demand for fiber?

Optical fiber long ago became the gold standard of wired residential and business internet connections. It’s supports faster connection speeds, provides greater reliability, and is more cost-effective than copper. Despite it’s wide deployment already, fiber demand has grown exponentially in recent years and is expected to continue for the foreseeable future, accelerated moreso due to an unexpected event.

Since the recent COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020, the number of people working remotely has increased significantly in a short period of time. These users both want and need faster internet service speeds, allowing them to send and receive large files, stream videos and audio files, and utilize a plethora of social media and web-based tools. Though a portion of remote workers have returned to the office as the situation has improved, the number working remotely is expected to remain high while the creation and use of web-based applications and technology continue to advance.

The pandemic isn’t the only reason fiber demand has grown. Wireless 5G and the planning of 6G communications play a role, as wireless backhaul is supported by fiber infrastructure. The increased use of streaming entertainment services such as Hulu and Netflix, eGaming, and video-drvien sites like TikTok demand greater bandwidth.  Lastly, artificial intelligence, automation, Internet-of-Things (IoT), and industrial device connectivity is largely fiber-driven  and have all bolstered fiber demand.

Just how big is fiber optic technology? A Research and Markets study says that the compound annual growth rate for the fiber optic market could reach 8.5% by 2025. This growth comes as more industries, including healthcare, public utilities, automotive, and consumer markets embrace the many solutions utilizing fiber optics.

How to prepare your lab for the future

As an organization manufacturing or testing fiber optic equipment, it’s never to early to start thinking and/or preparing your labs to support this expected growth. Below are some suggestions that can help provide lasting benefits.

Establish long-term partnerships with key suppliers 

Identifying and building long-term relationships with suppliers that consistently deliver value and can help you acquire and continue to manage the appropriate equipment for your lab is beneficial. The challenge may be finding the right companies initially depending on your needs, but thinking about this and proactively evaluating your supplier options should ultimately result in finding and connecting with the best partners.

Whether it is suppliers that provide the test equipment hardware, software, tools, lab services, or someone like M2 Optics that can provide the various fiber types and lengths you need in the most efficient manner, establishing these valuable relationships can give you an edge on the competition and stay ahead of the curve. 

Consider various setup approaches

When designing a lab for the future, stakeholders can consider different setup approaches. For example, a modular approach such as the one embraced by the Integrated Engineering Research Center (IERC) at Fermi National Accelerator Lab in Batavia, Illinois.

The IERC team used this approach for space allocation and building systems. The outcome is one where project labs are conceptualized as large workshops where individual project labs are anchored by a central support “spine.” This location delivers critical services across the facility, such as power, laboratory gas, fiber-optic data, and more. In addition, those individual project labs are designed to offer three generations of project support and are ISO clean-class capable.

The newly created labs also offer service distribution trenches to enhance equipment, instrumentation, and workbench delivery. At the same time, the IERC team has eliminated tripping hazards and allowed the end-users to access services on an as-needed basis readily.

As the Lab Manager explained about IERC’s process, “This ability to construct for the known needs of today and in the immediate future controls cost while providing the means to adapt the facility to future requirements.” 

Even when utilizing a different approach for your own fiber optic test lab, taking the proper time for planning and consideration of both future needs and space-efficiency of your lab setup is valuable and can avoid headaches in the future. 

Embrace lab automation when applicable

Test lab automation is another area that labs can and have been embracing with an eye toward the future. Lab and software-driven automation tools used in conjunction with the latest fiber optic gear can provide significantly greater testing flexibility and capabilities. Many larger labs have turned to products that embrace automation, such as Fiber Mountain’s Optical Path Exchange (OPX), which integrates software and hardware innovations to transform network infrastructure.

For example, imagine using one of these OPX devices in a test lab with several multi-spool Fiber Lab network simulators from M2 Optics. In this scenario, a user in another part of the world could remotely switch between the different fiber spools and lengths via software instead of needing to manually change cables and connections inside the lab space where the equipment is located. The enhancement adds greater flexibility and efficiency, while allowing the consolidation of testing and networking equipment to a single physical location that serves multiple users in different location.

It’s important to mention that while automation can pay dividends, using this example, the lab stakeholders would need to plan for this accordingly from a setup perspective in advance. If the stakeholders did not invest in the Fiber Lab network simulation solutions for properly managing, organizing, and connecting to the required fiber spools in advance, attempting to setup automation with numerous spools laying all around the lab would be extremely difficult. 

Consider the basics

Finally, when thinking about the lab, simple things like maintaining a well-lit space and keeping things organized to create a positive work environment is important. Also, periodically taking time to evaluate equipment on-hand while assessing future project initiatives is important and can help ensure the test lab is always prepared ahead of time to support the growing and changing fiber optic communications testing landscape.

Preparing for the future

The future is now when it comes to customizing new or existing labs to support fiber optic testing initiatives. From equipment to the lab environment aesthetics, it’s important to routinely evaluate your needs and future plans.

Modern fiber optic testing labs benefit from establishing solid partner and supplier relationships that truly invest time and effort into helping you achieve your goals.

Lastly, new technology innovations like lab automation solutions are important as they can help improve testing efforts and efficiency, provided the necessary supporting equipment and setup infrastructure is also being planned for at the same time or in advance.

Improve the Way You Use and Manage Optical Fiber in the Test Lab 

To learn how customized Fiber Lab network simulation solutions from M2 Optics improve the way engineering teams use and manage optical fibers at leading Network Equipment Manufacturer, Telecom Service Provider, and Data Center testing labs around the world, visit our website today.

Topics: fiber optic testing, optical fiber, fiber lab