Raising the standard
CENELEC's new Product Specification System provides, in one document, all the information needed for an optical product to be completely specified.
Talk to anyone about standards and they will probably say they would rather watch paint dry, but in reality European standards in fibre optics are now coming of age.
Today, there is a totally new approach to writing European standard within CENELEC, the basis for which started some nine years ago in IEC SC86B with the creation of Interface, Performance, Reliability, and Test & Measurement Standards.
This initial set of standards is being augmented by a new document series of optical interface standards that address the outstanding issue of optical performance between products from different manufacturers. Both the IEC Standards and the CENELEC Product Specification approaches have been nurtured over the years and are finally bearing fruit. This fruit is workable, usable standards, available to all, written by technical experts in the field, that give both customers and manufacturers what they want.
So what's new?
The answer lies in the approach. Hitherto, all fibre optic component standards were written within a quality assurance system which made them difficult to use, modify or improve. Moreover these documents were being used incorrectly and in the majority of cases the quality assurance testing schedules were being completely ignored. People were trying to use the documents for a purpose for which they were not intended.
So in 1993 IEC SC86B took a major step forward for standardisation when it decided to restructure its whole documentation system into a set of standards documents that could be used individually or together to define, measure and evaluate whether a product complied with a set of internationally accepted criteria.
CENELEC TC86BXA also took up the challenge and is now (and has been for the past five years) writing Euro-Norm Product Specifications. These utilise and combine the information contained in the IEC standards, including that contained in the new series of optical interface documents, and then add in additional information where necessary, to ensure multi-vendor product compatibility. The net result is a single document that is product specific.
Previously, the only document which came anywhere near providing this was the detail specification, a quality assurance document designed to ensure that the manufactured product was consistent i.e. the 10th 100th, 1000th, etc were all the same. However only if two manufacturer's products were physically proven to work together and if they both met the requirements of the same detail specification and they were both monitored by the same quality assurance system, could any level of performance between them be assured.
Let standards work for you
The key change today is that the CENELEC Product Specification System provides, in one document, all the information needed to allow a product to be completely specified. It provides details of the optical and mechanical interfaces, the materials and design performance criteria that the product must pass and identifies them with a unique variant number. This provides assurance that any two products (in the case of connectors) bought from different sources that meet the requirements of the same specification, are completely interchangeable and any will work together to a known level of optical performance. So in a few words, users, let standards do the work for you. Specify the Euro-Norm Product, via the CENELEC variant number, check that manufacturers you wish to purchase from comply with the specification and then purchase at the best price and delivery you can, knowing that you have truly interchangeable, compatible product.
Philip Longhurst is Corporate Fibre Optics R&D Manager at Lemo's Fibre Optics Unit of Research
Philip C Longhurst Chairman, CENELEC TC86BXA