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Case Studies

Flexible Cable Passes the Test with U.S. Navy

Robotic Industries Association


Problem:

As the U.S. Navy began modernizing its Trident II submarines, General Dynamics needed a flexible cable similar to those used with industrial robots and related flex cable applications – except that it had to be a fiber optic cable used in speed-of-light data communications.

The fiber optic flex cable had to pass through airtight hatches that would be frequently opened and closed by crewmembers. Over a 30-year lifetime of hatches opening and closing, the fiber optic cable might have to endure up to 10,000 flexes. While copper flex cables in robotics applications may experience literally millions of flexes over a lifetime, fiber optic cable is not generally known for its rugged durability in flex applications. An indication of just how extraordinary this particular challenge actually was, current military specs for flexible fiber optic cable require only 500 flexes over a lifetime.

Without a fiber optic communications cable that could handle 10,000 flexes, the only other solution would have been more costly and complicated. On each side of every hatch, lightwave signals would have to be converted to electronic signals to be carried through the hatch by standard copper flex cabling, also requiring related interface hardware and electronics.

There had to be a simpler, better way to do that job.

Solution:

Here is a singular case where BICCGeneral’s extensive resources, wide range and variety of specialized materials and manufacturing process capabilities, and generations of custom engineering and design experience combined to provide a new and simple solution to a difficult problem few competitors could tackle.

BICCGeneral cable engineers developed a custom fiber optic flex cable for going through airtight hatches on Trident II submarines. The prototype was then shipped to General Dynamics for testing.

The fiber optic flex cable not only passed the test of enduring 10,000 flexes with flying colors. General Dynamics flexed the cable more than 50,000 times – equivalent to 150 years of service in the submarine application – without a glitch or problem, even when a tested power loss of 0.1 decibel would be considered a total failure.

General Dynamics didn’t stop testing BICCGeneral’s prototype cable at 50,000 flexes. But at that point it was officially determined that BICCGeneral’s fiber optic flex cable passed the performance test without a doubt. Case closed.

BICCGeneral is the flex cable problem-solver.

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