Sep 18 2008

A new tool for managing FBG sensor data.

Published by under General,Instruments

I’ve written about why many applications must use FBG sensors, but how do users deal with the data? Conventional electronic gages deliver an analog signal that’s proportional to the strain or temperature change. Optical gages deliver a digital signal that reports an absolute wavelength value indicative of the strain, temperature, displacement, pressure, etc.

Converting from wavelength to engineering units requires some basic arithmetic. For example, the gage factor for an FBG strain sensor might be 1.2 picometers per microstrain (gage factors are provided by the strain gages manufacturers — just like electrical strain gages). So, for example, if the measured wavelength shift is 120 picometers, the strain sensor is actually measuring a change of 100 microstrain.

Some calibrated FBG temperature gages may use a third-order polynomial fit to fully characterize the gage factor, but still it’s just a matter of doing the arithmetic to make the conversions from wavelength to temperature.

Up to now, most users have been on their own to make these calculations. Micron Optics has always provided a basic LabVIEW example user interface that customers modify to convert, store and display sensor data. But now Micron Optics is providing a new tool called ENLIGHTPro.

ENLIGHTPro provides an all-in-one solution to configuring sensors connected to Micron Optics instruments, converting wavelengths to engineering units for hundreds or thousands of sensors, displaying data in charts, graphs or images, setting alarm limits and sending alerts, and saving data. A free download of ENLIGHTPro Beta release is available at

The release of ENLIGHTPro represents yet another milestone for making fiber optic sensing solutions more accessible and easy to use. Along with improved sensor packages, sensor installation kits, and simplified instrumentation choices, this software tool allows the user to quickly move beyond optical setup details to actually using and analyzing the data to get the answers that they need.

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Sep 02 2008

Optical Sensing Interrogators – what distance?

Published by under Instruments

Some sensing applications require the ability to measure over very long distances, but what is the range of instruments that measure fiber Bragg grating sensors? The answer comes down to loss budget, i.e., how much light is lost from the fiber core as it travels along great lengths and through connectors and bends. And loss is a round trip affair. Light is sent out and reflections must travel back the same distance, thus the things that cause loss are encountered twice by the signals. Micron Optics interrogators use laser light sources, so the starting power is high. This increases range significantly. Also, our the photodetectors are very sensitive.

The launch power minus the detection noise floor gives us the loss budget of the interrogator (we call it dynamic range on the instrument data sheets). Example loss budgets are 25 dB for dynamic (100Hz to 2kHz scan rate) instruments and 50dB for static measurements.

Round trip loss along a straight fiber can be 0.5 dB per kilometer. Two way connector losses are typically 0.5 dB also. Bends sharper than a 3 cm radius can also induce losses.

Useful measurement ranges are typically 20 km (one way) for dynamic instruments and twice that for static. This is plenty of range for most applications, e.g., a 5 km bridge, a 15 km deep oil well, a 4 km power transmission cable, or even a 35 km pipeline.

Some users have really pushed the limit through both good engineering and perhaps good fortune. For example, Dave Brower, CEO of Astro Technologies recently called me from aboard an off shore oil platform to say that his Micron Optics sm125 interrogator had successfully taken readings from an array of FBG strain sensors located more than 83 km away from the instrument (166 km round trip)!

Most users never need to worry about loss budgets or range. They simply use good hygiene when making the optical connections (e.g., isopropyl alcohol and lens paper) and never encounter significant optical losses. Also, it’s important to note that lowering the power of the FBG reflection does not change it’s measurement value. Its wavelength is stable even if the power is changing.

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Aug 11 2008

Sensing FAQ

Published by under OS Technology

Micron Optics has been helping customers use fiber optic sensors since 1997. In that time we still hear a common thread of questions. Here are the top seven:

Q: How many FBGs sensors can be on one fiber?
A: It depends on the range of measurement. For example, if the instrument (i.e., FBG interrogator) has an 160 nm wavelength range, and one needs to measure strain of +/-800 microstrain at each sensor, this translates to ~2 nm of wavelength range needed for each sensor. So, that’s 80 sensors per fiber.

Q: Are all sensors on the fiber sampled at the same frequency?
A: Yes. All sensors are sampled simultaneously. For example, if the laser scans at 1 kHz and there are 40 sensors on a fiber, one will receive 40 readings (one for each sensor) every one millisecond.

Q: How does change in wavelength get converted to engineering units like strain or temperature?
A:Each FBG sensor has a gage factor. Typical values are 1.2 picometers per microstrain and 10 picometers per degree C. Some more advanced sensor packages have a polynomial fit to cover measurements over a wide range. Calculations are made as a post processing step, or in automated real time fashion in a user interface like Micron Optics’s soon to be released ENLIGHT software tool.

Q: Must you compensate for temperature when measuring strain?
A:Usually, yes. In some cases the temperature change during the measurement is negligible, but in many applications — especially long term applications — strain and temperature FBGs are used together. The arithmetic essentially involves subtracting temperature induced wavelength changes from those that were induced by both temperature and strain, yielding a pure strain measurement.

Q: Won’t the FBG sensors and fibers break when I’m handling them?
A: Probably not. Optical fiber is tough stuff, and packaged sensors have ever improving fiber protection (e.g., buffer tubes) and strain relief (e.g., rubber boots). Handling FBG sensors is not so different from handing oil strain gages. Similar care will result in excellent results.

Q: How can I make fiber optic connections in the field?
A: There are three main choices: Use a field splice instrument. These cost are small, battery powered devices that are amazingly easy to use. Strip, clean and cleave the fiber, and the splicer makes the alignment and uses an arc to weld the ends together. A splice sleeve covers and protects the joint. The second method is to use fiber optic connectors. In the field, these would be housed in a junction box or otherwise protected from the elements. The third option is to avoid field connections and make the fiber array assemblies in advance. All work well, it just depends on the application and conditions on site.

Q: Do I really have to clean connectors every time I make a connection?
A: Yes. Buy and use a proper connector cleaner. Good connector hygiene will save time in the long run.

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Jul 18 2008

ASCE Pipeline Division International Conference

Published by under General

New applications for FOS come about in many ways. Starting more than ten years ago university researchers led the way, but, in recent years, more commercial entities are solving problems using FOS. One example is Durham Geo Slope Indicator (DGSI) in Stone Mountain, Georgia. They’ve earned a solid reputation for providing vibrating wire (and many other technologies) for geotechnical measurements. But for some of their customers with buried pipelines, high EMI conditions made the vibrating wire technology less useful. They recognized that fiber optic strain gages would work well in this environment.

So they coupled their know how for installing and protecting electrical lead wires and sensors to the FOS sensors and have made several installations. The results are impressive. The pipeline owners can resolve much smaller movements in the pipes than ever before, expected lifetime is improved by at least a factor of ten, and installation is about four times faster.

They’ll be exhibiting their new applications at the ASCE Pipeline Division International Conference on July 23-24 in Atlanta. Learn more at the ASCE websiteand Durham Geo’s website

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