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Webinar Recap: Fiber Optics in Medical Devices

July 2013

We were happy to invite Timbercon to our last webinar of 2020 to share about fiber optics in medical devices. In case you missed the webinar, keep reading to learn about solutions to common fiber optic problems in medical devices. Listen to the full webinar here.

There are three common challenges when it comes to building medical devices that use optical fiber: sterilizing fiber optic cables, designing cables with low ferromagnetic content and building hybrid electro-optical cables and harnesses. We’ll talk briefly about these challenges below.

Challenge #1: Sterilizing Fiber Optic Cables

Sterilization is critical in the medical industry. Oftentimes, medical devices are not designed around fiber optic cables; rather, the cable is determined based on other design criteria. A few common choices for fiber optic cables are plastic optical fiber (PMMA), silica fibers and borosilicate fibers. Ethylene oxide (ETO) sterilization is the most common and safest method of sterilization in fiber optics. 

An alternative and less-researched sterilization method for optical fiber is E-beam. This newer sterilization method generates highly charged electrons that pass through the medical device, resulting in sterilization. E-beam sterilization raises less cause for environmental concern, which could make this preferred sterilization method for fiber optics in the future.

Challenge #2: Designing Cables with Low Ferromagnetic Content

When designing medical devices that will experience an environment with a magnetic field, such as MRIs, it’s important to avoid using cables with ferromagnetic content. While it is possible to design cables with zero metallic content, such cables won’t last long because they are extremely fragile. To get around this challenge, Timbercon has designed cables with enough stability to be durable without using an extensive amount of ferromagnetic materials.

Copper and brass are not ferromagnetic materials, so they are good options when building medical devices. On the other hand, stainless steels (most COTS) can be highly ferromagnetic, making them less than ideal for many fiber optic medical devices. LC, SC and MT connectors are commonly used for medical Datacom devices.

Challenge #3: Building Hybrid Electro-Optical Cables and Harnesses 

When designing Datacom devices, there are many cables involved, which can result in a disorganized array of cables. The more cables there are, the harder it becomes to access the cables and remember what goes where. This is where electro-optic harnesses and cable assemblies come in. These products are smaller and feature reduced routing complexity for cable infrastructure. This leads to lower installation costs.

Typical configurations use electrical for power and fiber optic for data transmission. One limitation is the amount of power and data transmission that these cables can carry in close proximity without interference.

Connector choice is the key to successful design for medical devices with fiber optics. Timbercon and Radiall have experience in choosing and customizing connectors to meet design goals. Use our online chat feature to ask us any questions you have about fiber optics in medical devices. And don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter to be the first to hear about future webinars.