Doug Wilson, Founder, and CTO
In the fiber optic inspection space, the major players in the market that offer fiber inspection tools focus primarily on single ferrule at a time with either one or multiple fibers in the ferrule. “Their focus is on low cost equipment, with operators controlling critical tasks such as position and focus that affect image quality. Most offer automated software to process the fibers to a pass-fail state based on industry-standard or client specified inspection criteria,” begins Doug Wilson, founder and CTO of FiberQA. He continues, “Our approach, on the other hand, is highly automated. We have a robotic system that can be used in both factory environment, and essentially in a field environment for performing a multi-fiber, multi-ferrule, multi-part fully unattended and automated inspection and cleaning.” The firm has created, developed, and manufactured robotic fiber optic inspection and integrated cleaning systems for more than a decade and continues to be at the forefront of fiber optic end-face quality control. The company has patented robotic test equipment for use in aerospace, defense, telecom, and datacom companies worldwide.
In the current prevailing manual processes, the inspector is usually wholly occupied during the entire operation. FiberQA’s systems allow reducing the wall clock time, labor, and associated costs to perform a given operation by having the system operate in an unattended manner. While manual inspection means humans are making decisions, the company enhances the quality of the results by automating essential functions such as image collection, objective measurements, and data storage among others. “There is no direct competitor to our equipment,” adds Wilson.
In the Mil-Aero applications, FiberQA eliminates the high risk to the fragile connectors due to the current manual processes. In the most confined spaces, it is physically challenging for an operator to use the manual tool; the firm provides mechanical ease of use by replacing the operator and holding the instrument in such places.
The current systems use the operator as a robot to move the inspection or the cleaner from part to part. “We replace that robotic function of the operator with the actual robotics. Our systems use X, Y, Z-motion to move from part-to-part without the operator having to be involved,” adds Wilson.
FiberQA provides two flagship product families: AVIT (Automated Visual Inspection Tool) and FastMT single-ferrule desktop fiberscope, both of which perform end face inspection. Both product lines enable users to automatically inspect fiber optic end faces at the press of a button. FiberQA’s inspection software, common to AVIT and FastMT, determines if a fiber will pass or fail based on customizable, rules-based criteria that meet or exceed IEC standards.
All AVIT systems share with a common imaging and processing software and patented integrated inspection and cleaning technology for multi-ferrule inspection of cables and parts. AVIT systems are patented, and apart from inspection, they include built-in, integrated cleaning as well that eliminates additional part handling, which can cause damage. There are types of AVITs that are the same technology packaged for specific use cases; AVIT-2020 for large parts and large numbers of cables in a 20”x20” inspection area, AVIT-DT, a desktop version for cables or parts with multiple connectors such as D38999, MPO and discretes in a 5”x5” inspection area, AVIT-CH for inspection and cleaning of blind-mateconnectors with MT ferrules, such as VITA66.x and HBMT on the backplane of a chassis, across all slots before installation of cards/modules. The AVIT-BP automatically inspects and cleans the same blind-mate connectors, without having to remove any modules other than the slot being tested. The AVIT-RH is a small remote head version that can inspect MT and discrete ferrules in D38999 and other circular connectors (both cable and chassis) in very tight spaces.
From manufacturing to installation to depot and field maintenance, these models can be used in different settings while maintaining the same criteria reliably. In many cases, end users will employ multiple types of AVITs for their products, which is made much easier since all models use the same software, significantly reducing training costs. The software uses an ultra-simple standard display format called 50K View that reaches across all the products for excellent user experience. “We’ve made it very flexible for the supervisory level or the engineering level staff to create new tests and new test configurations for the inspection criteria and produce behind the scenes configurations to make operator experiences as simple and as elegant as possible,” adds Wilson. For instance, a major aircraft manufacturer has implemented FiberQA’s equipment to reduce labor costs. In the assembly of the aircraft, some of their vendors are utilizing FiberQA’s tools to improve and automate the manufacturing process at the OEM level. Use of common inspection equipment has been demonstrated to virtually eliminate supply chain friction; that is disagreement over shipped and received end face quality, due to high reproducibility using FiberQA’s automated systems.
Forging ahead, FiberQA will continue to improve its equipment and broaden its acceptance into the government and defense (GAD) sector, while being open to opportunities in commercial cable and systems assembly in the commercial sector. In GAD, the company intends to innovate and develop refined versions of its “remote head” style AVIT systems for use in sustainment environments to offload workload from aircraft and ship’s systems maintainers and technicians. The organization is developing versions of the AVIT-BP, for example, to inspect and clean Open-VPX chassis and modules in 6U, and 3U sizes, which is the future of chassis and plug-in module designs for all military avionics. “We primarily provide solutions where the level of automation required is beyond the capabilities or outside the business interests of other fiber inspection companies,” concludes Wilson.