19 January 2004 San Mateo, CA Lightwave -- According to ElectroniCast Corp., the use of harsh environment fiber-optic components maintained steady growth during 2001-2002. This contrasts with the global consumption of conventional and commercial fiber-optic components, which dropped drastically.
"Harsh environment components typically are ordered only for committed use, so inventory fluctuations are minor. The shipments value trend of commercial components was discouraging, due to the strong buildup of inventory in years 1999-2000 and the corresponding drastic inventory 'draw-down' in 2001-2002," ElectroniCast Chairman and Founder Jeff D. Montgomery said.
The global consumption of harsh environment fiber-optic components will climb from $508 million in 2000 and $1.19 billion in 2003 to $2.31 billion in 2007. The market value is dominated by military/aerospace-qualified components, with a 76 percent share in 2000, and expanding to 79 percent or $1.82 billion by 2007.
Harsh environment components are used in a wide range of applications. The leading consumption application will be the aircraft/spacecraft segment of military/aerospace applications, with a 34 percent share in 2000 declining to 29 percent or $699 million by 2008. Commercial/industrial fiber-optic component consumption, in turn, is dominated by plastic optical fiber (POF) links.
This ElectroniCast study defines "harsh environment" as an environment beyond the limits normally encountered by commercial telecom, data communication, and intra-equipment fiber data links. They operate in extremes of:
- Temperature; above or below (-40 to +75) degrees C
- Shock and vibration
- Tensile strength (e.g., for fiber-guided missiles, tethered sensors, etc.)
- High electromagnetic or radio-frequency (EMI/RFI/EMP) interference
- Corrosive and/or solvent surroundings
- Atomic and other radiation
- External pressure extremes
- Rough handling during installation/deployment
The specifications of these environments also vary widely, beyond commercial specifications, depending on applications. A high temperature requirement of 85 degrees C for military/aerospace, instead of 75 degrees C commercial, is most common, but there are 1000 degree C environments; 100-G shock, 1500 rem/hour radiation, etc., that can be required of fiber-optic components.
Although military applications, plus non-military/aerospace, dominate the market value of harsh environment fiber-optic communication links, commercial telecom and data communication links sometimes must withstand, and operate during, stress beyond typical specifications. Telecom cable installed in sewers is an example and also RF signal (on optical carrier) links installed on antenna towers.
A significant concern of copper signal cables is the vulnerability of the signals to interference caused by radio signals, sparks of arc welders and motor brushes, and engine cylinder ignition. As fiber signal link costs continue downward, and as transmitted data rates continue to increase, fiber increasingly will displace copper in automotive, factory, and numerous other applications. While conventional glass fiber cable and optoelectronics are immune to EMI and RFI, POF is equally immune and is more resistant to other harsh environments such as shock/vibration and rough handling during installation. POF also permits lower-cost fiber links in high-volume automated production.
To a large extent, harsh environment fiber-optic components are designed to meet specific project specifications, rather than being semi-standard (suitable for a number of different applications). Fiber cable and connectors are exceptions; most harsh environment fiber cable assemblies use connectors and cable that are standardized and available from several vendors. However, transmitter/receiver modules, optical backplanes, WDM modules, and most other components are designed or modified to meet unique system applications.
"They are produced in quantities from a few dozen to a few hundred, per year, resulting in much higher unit prices (including amortization of R&D and tooling costs) compared to similar optoelectronic performance COTS components," Montgomery said.
Available market accelerating
Through the decade 1990-2000, the harsh environment active fiber-optic component consumption was dominated by captive production by and/or for system contractors (such as Boeing, Lockheed, and Raytheon). These components and parts typically were custom-designed for the specific application, starting from purchased commercial units, which were then modified (a substantial design effort) to meet the environmental requirements of a specific missile, spacecraft, aircraft, or other system. Many of these system contractors now are transitioning into supplying these components to other contractors, and some commercial-component vendors are developing harsh environment versions of their commercial components. The global available market share of harsh environment components will expand from only 33 percent, $168 million, in 2000 to 43 percent or $993 million in 2007.
"The Harsh Environment Fiber Optics Components Global Market Forecast" is available, immediately, for a fee of $2,995 at www.electronicast.com.