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AR-Coated Single Mode Fiber Optic Patch Cables
Coated End Labeled with
AR-Coated FC/APC Connector
Thorlabs offers patch cables with a single, antireflection-coated FC/PC or FC/APC connector on one side and an uncoated FC/PC or FC/APC connector on the other. The AR coating is designed to minimize reflections when either launching a free-space beam out of a fiber or coupling a free-space beam into a fiber. Depending on the cable selected, the coated connector provides an average reflectivity of <1%, <0.75% or <0.5% over the designated AR coating ranges (click on the AR Coating Reflectivity graphs in the tables below for more information). Each of these cables features Ø3 mm Kevlar reinforced furcation tubing. Each section of patch cables below is grouped by their best performance range, which is achieved where the specified operating wavelength ranges of the bare fiber and the AR coating overlap.
Fiber-to-Free Space Coupling
Note: The AR-coated end is meant for free-space applications (e.g., collimation) and will be damaged if it comes into contact with another connector tip. Mating two AR-coated connectors can increase back reflections, causing a greater loss of transmission than when just using two uncoated connectors.
There are several methods for cleaning an AR-coated connector end without damaging the coating. Gently spraying compressed air over the connector tip is ideal. Other methods include gently wiping using a lint-free optical cloth or FCC-7020 Fiber Connector Cleaner soaked with isopropanol or methanol. Dry wipes should not be used as this can damage the AR coating.
Custom-coated patch cables are also available. Contact Tech Support for more details. For shorter wavelengths, Thorlabs also offers Low-Insertion-Loss Patch Cables, which feature handpicked single mode fiber with tighter core concentricity specifications for lower insertion loss and higher transmission. If you cannot find the appropriate stock patch cable your application requires, Thorlabs also offers custom-connectorized patch cables with same-day shipping.
Figure 1: Measuring the Incident Optical Power
Figure 2: Measuring the Reflected Optical Power
Thorlabs Lab Fact: Fiber to Free Space Return Loss Comparison Test Data
In fiber-to-free-space and free-space-to-fiber applications, Fresnel reflections typically occur at the glass to air interface because of the index of refraction discontinuity. These reflections are specified as the return loss, or signals reflected back to the light source instead of exiting the fiber. For a standard, uncoated fiber, the reflectivity (or return loss expressed as a decimal) can be calculated using the following formula, assuming normal incidence:
where R is the reflectivity, n0 is the index of refraction of air (~1), and ns is the index of refraction of the fiber's silica core (~1.5). Using these typical values, an uncoated fiber will experience a typical reflectivity of approximately 4%. AR-coated cables use a dielectric stack antireflective coating on the fiber tip to minimize back reflections, thus lowering return loss and increasing transmission.
Where RL is the return loss in dB or percent, Pi is the incident optical power measured in Figure 1, Pr is the reflected optical power measured in Figure 1, and ILc is the insertion loss of the coupler. Return loss in percent (reflectivity) can also be calculated:
Laser-Induced Damage in Silica Optical Fibers
The following tutorial details damage mechanisms relevant to unterminated (bare) fiber, terminated optical fiber, and other fiber components from laser light sources. These mechanisms include damage that occurs at the air / glass interface (when free-space coupling or when using connectors) and in the optical fiber itself. A fiber component, such as a bare fiber, patch cable, or fused coupler, may have multiple potential avenues for damage (e.g., connectors, fiber end faces, and the device itself). The maximum power that a fiber can handle will always be limited by the lowest limit of any of these damage mechanisms.
While the damage threshold can be estimated using scaling relations and general rules, absolute damage thresholds in optical fibers are very application dependent and user specific. Users can use this guide to estimate a safe power level that minimizes the risk of damage. Following all appropriate preparation and handling guidelines, users should be able to operate a fiber component up to the specified maximum power level; if no maximum is specified for a component, users should abide by the "practical safe level" described below for safe operation of the component. Factors that can reduce power handling and cause damage to a fiber component include, but are not limited to, misalignment during fiber coupling, contamination of the fiber end face, or imperfections in the fiber itself. For further discussion about an optical fiber’s power handling abilities for a specific application, please contact Thorlabs’ Tech Support.
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Undamaged Fiber End
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Damaged Fiber End
There are several potential damage mechanisms that can occur at the air / glass interface. Light is incident on this interface when free-space coupling or when two fibers are mated using optical connectors. High-intensity light can damage the end face leading to reduced power handling and permanent damage to the fiber. For fibers terminated with optical connectors where the connectors are fixed to the fiber ends using epoxy, the heat generated by high-intensity light can burn the epoxy and leave residues on the fiber facet directly in the beam path.
Damage Mechanisms on the Bare Fiber End Face
Damage mechanisms on a fiber end face can be modeled similarly to bulk optics, and industry-standard damage thresholds for UV Fused Silica substrates can be applied to silica-based fiber. However, unlike bulk optics, the relevant surface areas and beam diameters involved at the air / glass interface of an optical fiber are very small, particularly for coupling into single mode (SM) fiber. therefore, for a given power density, the power incident on the fiber needs to be lower for a smaller beam diameter.
The table to the right lists two thresholds for optical power densities: a theoretical damage threshold and a "practical safe level". In general, the theoretical damage threshold represents the estimated maximum power density that can be incident on the fiber end face without risking damage with very good fiber end face and coupling conditions. The "practical safe level" power density represents minimal risk of fiber damage. Operating a fiber or component beyond the practical safe level is possible, but users must follow the appropriate handling instructions and verify performance at low powers prior to use.
Calculating the Effective Area for Single Mode and Multimode Fibers
As an example, SM400 single mode fiber has a mode field diameter (MFD) of ~Ø3 µm operating at 400 nm, while the MFD for SMF-28 Ultra single mode fiber operating at 1550 nm is Ø10.5 µm. The effective area for these fibers can be calculated as follows:
SM400 Fiber: Area = Pi x (MFD/2)2 = Pi x (1.5 µm)2 = 7.07 µm2 = 7.07 x 10-8 cm2
To estimate the power level that a fiber facet can handle, the power density is multiplied by the effective area. Please note that this calculation assumes a uniform intensity profile, but most laser beams exhibit a Gaussian-like shape within single mode fiber, resulting in a higher power density at the center of the beam compared to the edges. Therefore, these calculations will slightly overestimate the power corresponding to the damage threshold or the practical safe level. Using the estimated power densities assuming a CW light source, we can determine the corresponding power levels as:
SM400 Fiber: 7.07 x 10-8 cm2 x 1 MW/cm2 = 7.1 x 10-8 MW = 71 mW (Theoretical Damage Threshold)
SMF-28 Ultra Fiber: 8.66 x 10-7 cm2 x 1 MW/cm2 = 8.7 x 10-7 MW = 870 mW (Theoretical Damage Threshold)
The effective area of a multimode (MM) fiber is defined by the core diameter, which is typically far larger than the MFD of an SM fiber. For optimal coupling, Thorlabs recommends focusing a beam to a spot roughly 70 - 80% of the core diameter. The larger effective area of MM fibers lowers the power density on the fiber end face, allowing higher optical powers (typically on the order of kilowatts) to be coupled into multimode fiber without damage.
Damage Mechanisms Related to Ferrule / Connector Termination
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Plot showing approximate input power that can be incident on a single mode silica optical fiber with a termination. Each line shows the estimated power level due to a specific damage mechanism. The maximum power handling is limited by the lowest power level from all relevant damage mechanisms (indicated by a solid line).
Fibers terminated with optical connectors have additional power handling considerations. Fiber is typically terminated using epoxy to bond the fiber to a ceramic or steel ferrule. When light is coupled into the fiber through a connector, light that does not enter the core and propagate down the fiber is scattered into the outer layers of the fiber, into the ferrule, and the epoxy used to hold the fiber in the ferrule. If the light is intense enough, it can burn the epoxy, causing it to vaporize and deposit a residue on the face of the connector. This results in localized absorption sites on the fiber end face that reduce coupling efficiency and increase scattering, causing further damage.
For several reasons, epoxy-related damage is dependent on the wavelength. In general, light scatters more strongly at short wavelengths than at longer wavelengths. Misalignment when coupling is also more likely due to the small MFD of short-wavelength SM fiber that also produces more scattered light.
To minimize the risk of burning the epoxy, fiber connectors can be constructed to have an epoxy-free air gap between the optical fiber and ferrule near the fiber end face. Our high-power multimode fiber patch cables use connectors with this design feature.
Determining Power Handling with Multiple Damage Mechanisms
When fiber cables or components have multiple avenues for damage (e.g., fiber patch cables), the maximum power handling is always limited by the lowest damage threshold that is relevant to the fiber component. In general, this represents the highest input power that can be incident on the patch cable end face and not the coupled output power.
As an illustrative example, the graph to the right shows an estimate of the power handling limitations of a single mode fiber patch cable due to damage to the fiber end face and damage via an optical connector. The total input power handling of a terminated fiber at a given wavelength is limited by the lower of the two limitations at any given wavelength (indicated by the solid lines). A single mode fiber operating at around 488 nm is primarily limited by damage to the fiber end face (blue solid line), but fibers operating at 1550 nm are limited by damage to the optical connector (red solid line).
In the case of a multimode fiber, the effective mode area is defined by the core diameter, which is larger than the effective mode area for SM fiber. This results in a lower power density on the fiber end face and allows higher optical powers (on the order of kilowatts) to be coupled into the fiber without damage (not shown in graph). However, the damage limit of the ferrule / connector termination remains unchanged and as a result, the maximum power handling for a multimode fiber is limited by the ferrule and connector termination.
Please note that these are rough estimates of power levels where damage is very unlikely with proper handling and alignment procedures. It is worth noting that optical fibers are frequently used at power levels above those described here. However, these applications typically require expert users and testing at lower powers first to minimize risk of damage. Even still, optical fiber components should be considered a consumable lab supply if used at high power levels.
In addition to damage mechanisms at the air / glass interface, optical fibers also display power handling limitations due to damage mechanisms within the optical fiber itself. These limitations will affect all fiber components as they are intrinsic to the fiber itself. Two categories of damage within the fiber are damage from bend losses and damage from photodarkening.
A special category of optical fiber, called double-clad fiber, can reduce the risk of bend-loss damage by allowing the fiber’s cladding (2nd layer) to also function as a waveguide in addition to the core. By making the critical angle of the cladding/coating interface higher than the critical angle of the core/clad interface, light that escapes the core is loosely confined within the cladding. It will then leak out over a distance of centimeters or meters instead of at one localized spot within the fiber, minimizing the risk of damage. Thorlabs manufactures and sells 0.22 NA double-clad multimode fiber, which boasts very high, megawatt range power handling.
Even with the above strategies in place, all fibers eventually experience photodarkening when used with UV or short-wavelength light, and thus, fibers used at these wavelengths should be considered consumables.
General Cleaning and Operation Guidelines
Tips for Using Fiber at Higher Optical Power
Insights into Optical Fiber
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Click here for more insights into lab practices and equipment.
When does NA provide a good estimate of the fiber's acceptance angle?
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Figure 1: Rays incident at angles ≤θmax will be captured by the cores of multimode fiber, since these rays experience total internal reflection at the interface between core and cladding.
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Figure 2: The behavior of the ray at the boundary between the core and cladding, which depends on their refractive indices, determines whether the ray incident on the end face is coupled into the core. The equation for NA can be found using geometry and the two equations noted at the top of this figure.
Numerical aperture (NA) provides a good estimate of the maximum acceptance angle for most multimode fibers, as shown in Figure 1. This relationship should not be used for single mode fibers.
NA and Acceptance Angle
Rays with an angle of incidence ≤θmax are totally internally reflected (TIR) at the boundary between the fiber's core and cladding. As these rays propagate down the fiber, they remain trapped in the core.
Rays with angles of incidence larger than θmax refract at the interface between core and cladding, and this light is eventually lost from the fiber.
Geometry Defines the Relationship
The equations at the top of Figure 2 are expressions of Snell's law and describe the rays' behavior at both interfaces. Note that the simplification sin(90°) = 1 has been used. Only the indices of the core and cladding limit the value of θmax .
Angles of Incidence and Fiber Modes
Single Mode Fibers are Different
Single mode fibers have only one guided mode, the lowest order mode, which is excited by rays with 0° angles of incidence. However, calculating the NA results in a nonzero value. The ray model also does not accurately predict the divergence angles of the light beams successfully coupled into and emitted from single mode fibers. The beam divergence occurs due to diffraction effects, which are not taken into account by the ray model but can be described using the wave optics model. The Gaussian beam propagation model can be used to calculate beam divergence with high accuracy.
Date of Last Edit: Jan. 20, 2020
Why is MFD an important coupling parameter for single mode fibers?
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Figure 3 For maximum coupling efficiency into single mode fibers, the light should be an on-axis Gaussian beam with its waist located at the fiber's end face, and the waist diameter should equal the MFD. The beam output by the fiber also resembles a Gaussian with these characteristics. In the case of single mode fibers, the ray optics model and NA are inadequate for determining coupling conditions. The mode intensity (I ) profile across the radius ( ρ ) is illustrated.
As light propagates down a single mode fiber, the beam maintains a cross sectional profile that is nearly Gaussian in shape. The mode field diameter (MFD) describes the width of this intensity profile. The better an incident beam matches this intensity profile, the larger the fraction of light coupled into the fiber. An incident Gaussian beam with a beam waist equal to the MFD can achieve particularly high coupling efficiency.
Using the MFD as the beam waist in the Gaussian beam propagation model can provide highly accurate incident beam parameters, as well as the output beam's divergence.
Determining Coupling Requirements
Single mode fibers have one guided mode, and wave optics analysis reveals the mode to be described by a Bessel function. The amplitude profiles of Gaussian and Bessel functions closely resemble one another, which is convenient since using a Gaussian function as a substitute simplifies the modeling the fiber's mode while providing accurate results (Kowalevicz).
Figure 3 illustrates the single mode fiber's mode intensity cross section, which the incident light must match in order to couple into the guided mode. The intensity (I ) profile is a near-Gaussian function of radial distance ( ρ ). The MFD, which is constant along the fiber's length, is the width measured at an intensity equal to the product of e-2 and the peak intensity. The MFD encloses ~86% of the beam's power.
Since lasers emitting only the lowest-order transverse mode provide Gaussian beams, this laser light can be efficiently coupled into single mode fibers.
Coupling Light into the Single Mode Fiber
The coupling efficiency will be reduced if the beam waist is a different diameter than the MFD, the cross-sectional profile of the beam is distorted or shifted with respect to the modal spot at the end face, and / or if the light is not directed along the fiber's axis.
Date of Last Edit: Feb. 28, 2020
Why is MFD an important coupling parameter for single mode fibers?
Significant error can result when the numerical aperture (NA) is used to estimate the cone of light emitted from, or that can be coupled into, a single mode fiber. A better estimate is obtained using the Gaussian beam propagation model to calculate the divergence angle. This model allows the divergence angle to be calculated for whatever beam spot size best suits the application.
Since the mode field diameter (MFD) specified for single mode optical fibers encloses ~86% of the beam power, this definition of spot size is often appropriate when collimating light from and focusing light into a single mode fiber. In this case, to a first approximation and when measured in the far field,
is the divergence or acceptance angle (θSM ), in radians. This is half the full angular extent of the beam, it is wavelength
Gaussian Beam Approach
Instead, this light resembles and can be modeled as a single Gaussian beam. The emitted light propagates similarly to a Gaussian beam since the guided fiber mode that carried the light has near-Gaussian characteristics.
The divergence angle of a Gaussian beam can differ substantially from the angle calculated by assuming the light behaves as rays. Using the ray model, the divergence angle would equal sin-1(NA). However, the relationship between NA and divergence angle is only valid for highly multimode fibers.
Figure 4 illustrates that using the NA to estimate the divergence angle can result in significant error. In this case, the divergence angle was needed for a point on the circle enclosing 86% of the beam's optical power. The intensity of a point on this circle is a factor of 1/e2 lower than the peak intensity.
The equations to the right of the plot in Figure 4 were used to accurately model the divergence of the beam emitted from the single mode fiber's end face. The values used to complete the calculations, including the fiber's MFD, NA, and operating wavelength are given in the figure's caption. This rate of beam divergence assumes a beam size defined by the 1/e2 radius, is nonlinear for distances z < zR, and is approximately linear in the far field (z >> zR).
The angles noted on the plot were calculated from each curve's respective slope. When the far field approximation given by Equation (1) is used, the calculated divergence angle is 0.098 radians (5.61°).
Date of Last Edit: Feb. 28, 2020