The University of Southampton

New glass fibre machine aims to speed up internet communication

Published: 15 February 2006

A new machine to manufacture glass fibres which will be the best in the world could speed up the way messages are communicated through the Internet. Glass fibres with tiny holes through them have many uses, even manipulating light to enable messages to find their own way through the Internet. The new machine involves very complex mechanical components using jet-engine alloys, highly specialised construction techniques, and a special understanding of how to manipulate glass.

The University has already played a major role in the development of technology which led to the Internet. This new research could make communication on the Internet even faster.

The machine will be developed by Professor Harvey Rutt, Deputy Head of the School of Electronics and Computer Science (ECS) and Deputy Director of the Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC), Professor David Richardson, also a Deputy Director of ORC, and co-investigator, Ken Frampton, head of the ECS mechanical workshop. They have just received a grant of £85,000 from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

This new research into ‘The Ultimate Soft Glass Extrusion Machine’ (TUSGEM), has been awarded as a result of earlier work by the team and others at the ORC on using soft glasses to develop the Holey Fibres (HF) in 1995, which enabled glass to be extruded and fibres to be made which contain tiny holes. Their work since then has led them to look for new processing and fabrication techniques for glass fibres.

Professor Rutt commented: ‘This is an exciting development which could revolutionise manufacture of these astonishingly versatile fibres. Ken Frampton has done extensive work on researching the properties of glass and began by using FIMO (children’s modelling clay) to construct dummy fibre preforms which looked like giant coloured beads of toothpaste! His inventive approach to building the machine has been crucial.’

Ken Frampton explained: ‘Although the clay doesn’t behave exactly like glass, it allowed us to look at how the glass could be heated and squidged out through the holes, and how it flows through the machine. The challenge is working with multiple holes. Our new machine will provide a much more accurate way of squeezing the material.’

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