As the use of fiber optics has increased in theoil and gasindustry to enhance production via better data reliability, availability and performance than traditional copper communication systems, so have the number of “deployable” systems used in remote locations.

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These applications range from offshore and land-based rig automation to real-time sensors for pipeline monitoring to systems for geo exploration, wireless communications, security infrastructure, smart well controls and operations control centers.

In the field, “deployable” systems are increasingly important to ensure satellite uplink networks, distributed control system (DCS)/programmable logic controller (PLC) automation/control, closed-circuit television (CCTV) for physical security, supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) for pipeline control, monitoring and wellhead automation, as well as LAN/WAN communication infrastructures for shore-to-platform and inter-platform connections.

In contrast to fixed installations, deployable systems are designed to be quickly installed, retracted and then relocated in the field in some of the most inhospitable environments on earth.  

As oil and gas exploration/production continues to get more remote, cold, hot or deep, deployable systems will become even more vital to the industry. 

Given the environments in which they reside, oil and gas-grade fiber optic systems are typically commercialized versions of field-tested, proven military-grade products. 

As such, the component parts of the system are designed to withstand everything from dust and debris to chemical exposure, temperature extremes, UV, radiation, electrical power transients, interference, fire, moisture, humidity, water, crush, tension, flexing, impact and vibration.

Rick Hobbs, director of business development at Optical Cable Corporation (OCC), says that when designing a deployable fiber optic system, it needs to be looked at in its entirety. 

Unlike fixed applications, a deployable system is designed from beginning to end (plug and play) and delivered to the customer as a complete solution.  OCC designs and manufactures fiber optic cable, connectors and assembly solutions for harsh and rugged environments.

According to Hobbs, the primary elements of a deployable system include hardened cable jacketing; “genderless” connectors for quick deployment without regard for male or female ends; hybrid systems that include copper along with fiber to deliver data communications and power; and reel systems that speed deployment and retraction while protecting the fiber while not in use or during transit.

Hardened Cabling

For purposes of deployment, OCC typically recommends its tight-bound, tight-buffered distribution style cabling, which is ideal because of its small diameter and lightweight construction. 

Distribution-style cables have a tight-bound outer jacket, which is pressure extruded directly over the cable’s core.  This combination of a helically stranded core and a pressure extruded outer jacket provides an overall cable construction that offers better crush and impact protection along with increased tensile strength. This also reduces outer jacket buckling during deployment.

According to Hobbs, increasing degrees of cable protection are available as needed to meet the specific needs of an application.

Various jacket materials are available, including PVC or polyurethanes, which are specifically tailored to meet the mechanical and environmental needs of the application. Options within each jacket material include coefficient of friction, cold temperature flexibility and temperature range, to name a few.

Water tolerant options are available that take advantage of the qualities of tight buffered cable and super absorbent polymer aramid yarn. 

Fiberglass or metal braided jackets not only provide excellent abrasion resistance, but also deliver increased rodent protection.  Custom rodent resistant cables are available that include metal or dielectric armor or additives to the outer jacket. 

“In deployable applications, exposed cable is often an intriguing temptation for animals, which can, and often do, chew on it,” says Hobbs.

Hybrid Cables, Connectors

For applications that can benefit from fiber optics and copper, hybrid connector-cables offer both within the same cabling sheath. 

A distinct advantage of hybrid cable-connector solutions is that the customer can bundle both the high performance of fiber with the copper power or control signals in one cable. This reduces the number of cables that must be designed, purchased and deployed into a system. 

It also offers distinct savings in labor and cable structure costs for the customer.

Genderless Connectors

“Genderless” connectors have both male and female elements, and perhaps are more appropriately described as dual-gender, and are often called “hermaphroditic”.  They are designed for quick deployment, allowing the user to unreel fiber cable without regard for male or female ends. 

Companies such as OCC have further simplified the genderless design with user friendly mating interfaces (the company’s EZ-Mate family) capable of “blind mate” and/or applications that require thousands of mating cycles.

In addition, the connector system is designed to resist extreme harsh mechanical and environmental conditions including high vibration, mechanical and thermal shock, and fluid immersion.

Reel Systems

The key characteristics of a reel system in deployable fiber optic applications are that it is lightweight, rugged and stackable for storage and transit, says Hobbs.

To meet these requirements, companies such as OCC are providing lightweight alternatives to traditional metal reels.  Constructed of durable, yet lightweight, impact absorbing polymers, these modular advanced reel systems (MARS®) are designed specifically for the demanding needs of harsh, oil and gas-environment fiber optic installations.  

“In harsh oil and gas environments, when you can put your fiber optic assemblies in a controlled environment storage system like a reel, possibly together with a cartridge, any potential damage to the cable or the connectors is minimized,” says Hobbs.  “This reduces the need to refurbish components regularly, because the system is better protected during its deployment.”

Increasing Conversion to Fiber Optics

According to Hobbs, there are many oil and gas companies that are converting to fiber optics as the costs for components continue to drop, making fiber a better solution than copper in most applications.  Even die-hard copper devotees are moving to fiber and when they do, they rarely look back.

“When oil and gas System Engineers realize the bandwidth opportunities, they usually expand their capabilities, and identify creative new ways to enhance the solutions for their applications,” says Hobbs.

For more information about deployable fiber optic systems for harsh oil and gas environments, contact Optical Cable Corporation (OCC) at (800) 622-7711, Canada (800) 443-5262, or