Industrial Automation

Cable for Harsh Environments – When is Fiber Optic the Right Choice?


There are many factors that contribute to production uptime, but one that may not be top of mind during network design or upgrades is the importance of cabling. Research shows that the majority of industrial network failures are due to signal transmission issues, which makes selecting the right type of cable for the job critical.

If you need high-speed, high-bandwidth data solutions in demanding environments, then fiber optic cable is an excellent choice. It is ideal in situations where long distances are involved, where safety from spark hazard is a concern and when immunity to electrical noise is required. They also have the advantage of being lightweight.


For example, facilities with multiple buildings or outdoor production equipment, such as oil refineries and wastewater treatment plants, can be assured of high-network reliability when industrial fiber optic cable is used. Ruggedized jackets around such cable protect it from temperature extremes, UV / sunlight, solvents and crushing.


Fiber optic cable is also great whenever you need a lightweight cable that is immune to electrical noise and is not a spark hazard. Let’s take a look at the advantages of fiber optic cable in more detail.


Fiber optic Ethernet cable is ideal when your need to connect multiple buildings or outdoor production equipment. Ruggedized jackets protect the cable and the use of light for signal transmission is effective over long distances.


The Benefits of Industrial Fiber Optic Cable

There are many benefits to using fiber optic cable. First, they are smaller and lighter than copper cables. Fiber optic cable is extremely durable and intrinsically safe, with no risk of spark hazards because data is transferred via light and not electricity.


Another benefit is its high bandwidth, low attenuation and complete electrical noise immunity. This allows more information to be carried across the network, without interruption.


Different Types of Fiber Optic Cables

While the benefits of using fiber optic cables are significant, it’s important to note there are different types of fiber optic cables, based on design criteria and installation environment:

  • Loose tube cables: Use these when you’re running cables outdoors or you need to run cables from outdoors to indoors. Loose tube cables lay fiber strands into unitized thermoplastic tubes, giving the fiber strands flexibility to move within the tubes. This cable has the ability to stand up to outdoor temperatures and harsh environments.
  • Tight buffered cables: Use these when you’re running cables indoors, such as for in-building data backbones that anchor an operation’s Ethernet network. Tight buffered cables contain an individual buffer on each fiber strand, allowing for easy handling and quick termination. For common small fiber counts, this design delivers a smaller cable diameter than loose tube cables.

Single-mode fiber strands are designed to interface with laser optic light sources for distances beyond 300 meters. Multi-mode strands are designed to interface with LED and vertical-cavity surface emitting laser (VCSEL) light sources for short-distance cabling runs.


Select Fiber Optic Cables with the Right Jacket

Whenever you install fiber optic cable, you need to consider the environment. For example, perhaps the fiber optic cable is running alongside 600V power, control or instrumentation cabling in a cable tray. In this situation you should use a double-jacketed, heavy duty, all dielectric cable.


If extra physical protection is required, or if the cable is slated for direct burial, you can use steel corrugated or aluminum interlock armor to protect the cable from elements, such as jagged rock or rodent chew-through.


The Key to Specifying Fiber Optic Cable for Industrial Applications

In summary, select industrial fiber optic cable when you need:

  • High-speed, high-bandwidth data solutions in demanding environments. For outdoor environments or for indoor situations.
  • A lightweight cable that is immune to electrical noise and is not a spark hazard.

Jacket selection is important, make sure you understand the environment the cable will operate in and then select the appropriate jacket. Finally, for outdoor or indoor to outdoor environments select loose tube cables, for indoor environments select tight buffered cables.


Editor’s Note: This article was developed with expertise from Kyle Mrkva, a product line manager in Belden's cable group.