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Protecting fully automated spectrometer for climate research

Protecting fully automated spectrometer for climate research
Flexible conduit from Flexicon is protecting vital fibre optics in the world's first fully automated field spectrometer; equipment that is playing a vital role in assessing how ecosystems as diverse as coral reefs and tropical rainforests utilise light.

The challenge faced by the team from Oxford University was how to develop and protect a spectrometer that could be used and left anywhere in the world, including harsh environments such as in the sea.

The unit itself has two spectrometers controlled by a computer with external fibre optics that carry the light to the unit.  The main issue faced by the team was how to protect these external optics, since traditional fibre optic penetrators proved cost prohibitive at upwards of £20,000.

After joint development work, Flexicon supplied the university with its liquid tight conduit system LTP, offering an ingress protection rating of IP66, IP67, IP68 (at 5 bar pressure) and IP69 when LTP fittings are used.  The flexible conduit system also has a high mechanical strength, good flexibility, is UV resistant and can be used across a wide range of temperatures from -200C to +105°C.

Standard thread sizes and tapers used by Flexicon allowed the addition of non-standard parts into the assembly using standard tooling.  In addition, the unit can be easily adapted and modified to use with different flexible conduits from Flexicon to tailor the unit to the diverse conditions that it might face. For example it might be also be used in the artic or even hazardous areas.

Following initial development work, the system has now proved itself in the field with tests showing no ingress of water after submerging the unit to a depth of 20 meters for 10 hours.  The unit has also been posted and carried without any protective packaging and the optic fibres have remained undamaged.

Says Dr Russel Cain, project manager for the spectrometer, "Developing the world's first automated spectrometer that can be used in the field is a significant challenge.

"Finding a cost effective solution to protect the fibre optics proved to be crucial and the technical expertise provided by Flexicon's engineers throughout the design and build process with drawings, work arounds and access to distributors for components was absolutely essential in finding a solution.

"Using Flexicon's flexible conduit Cable Protection system, the fibres are housed in a crush proof, completely submersible assembly, which can be easily maintained, stripped down and cleaned.  We recently completely disassembled and rebuilt the unit in Honduras and the performance was not affected."

The project to develop the world's first fully automated spectrometer is continuing with extended field trials planned later this year.  Oxford University reports that there is considerable interest from the scientific community around the world.

Says Colin Legg, Marketing Manager at Flexicon, "As a proud UK manufacturer, we are delighted to support this important research development project. The environmental challenges faced by this equipment demonstrate the performance capabilities of our products, far beyond the conditions to which they are likely to be exposed, giving the ultimate customer reassurance."
 
Flexicon

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