3D printing of silica glasses and silica optical fiber preforms has recently been proved experimentally. One challenge of 3D printing silica optical fibers performance is how to extend the recent reports of small-scale glass “bulk or slice” printing from a few millimeters to centimeters.
Dr. Yushi Chu and Prof. Jianzhong Zhang of Harbin Engineering University (HEU), and Prof. Gang-Ding Peng of the University of New South Wales (UNSW) led a research team to extend small-scale glass printing by several orders of magnitude. The paper, titled “Additive Manufacturing Fiber Preforms for Structured Silica Fibers with Bismuth and Erbium Dopants,” proved that optical fiber preforms could be made through 3D printing.
It is essential to consider the capability of 3D printing technology to produce complex fiber structures. The ability to demonstrate these additive capabilities improved manufacturing processes by reducing separation and integration processes. The researchers also introduced dopants from five different elements. The elements were bismuth, erbium, germanium, titanium, and aluminum. Germanium, titanium, and aluminum formed waveguides and enriched the core glass network structure, conducive to luminescence. Bismuth and erbium provided the broadband luminescence-covered O-L band under a single wavelength excitation.
As part of their experiments, the researchers also discussed fiber loss, considered the most important property that restricts 3D printing optical fiber. They found that increasing the roundness of the core and cladding. It also reduced the moisture in the optical fiber, effectively reducing fiber loss. These can be achieved by carefully controlling the temperature and pressure during the fabrication process.
3D printing technology promises to revolutionize specialty optical fibers, providing opportunities for new applications. It is possible that society could see the creation of multicore fiber fan-in/fan-out or ideal mode coupling in space division multiplexing without optical fiber splicing.
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