Best Practices for Cleaning MT and ARINC801 Fiber Optic Connectors

Author: Rick Hoffman

Cleaning optical connectors, whether they are MT connectors or ARINC801 connectors, is a crucial aspect of maintaining the integrity and reliability of optical communication systems. These connectors are commonly used in optical fibers, avionics, industrial applications, and military applications, where even the tiniest speck of contamination can result in signal loss or data errors. To ensure optimal performance and minimize the risk of costly downtime, it is essential to follow best practices for cleaning these connectors. 

Whether you are managing data communications networks or aviation systems, following these best practices will be instrumental in preventing costly downtime and ensuring seamless operations.

Understanding MT Connectors and ARINC801 Connectors

MT connectors, often used in data communications, feature an array of multiple fibers within a single, compact connector body. This array, commonly arranged in rows, simplifies high-density connections, making them ideal for data centers and telecommunications infrastructure.

ARINC 801 connectors, designed for aerospace applications, feature a rugged and robust construction, ensuring reliable performance even in harsh environments. They are engineered to withstand extreme temperature fluctuations, vibrations, and electromagnetic interference while maintaining precise optical alignment. This article offers a glimpse into the distinct structures and design philosophies of MT and ARINC 801 connectors and how best to clean theme during installation or maintenenace. 

Sources of Contamination

Common Internal Contributors

MT connectors and ARINC 801 connectors, although used in different domains, share a common vulnerability to contamination, which can have a detrimental impact on their performance. These connectors, whether in data communications networks or aviation systems, often face internal sources of contamination.

Common internal contributors to contamination in both types of connectors include:

  • Dead skin, hair, and clothing lint

  • Debris from foam based swabs and paper based wipes

  • Zinc whiskers from electroplated surfaces

  • Packaging and construction materials

  • Connector wear debris and dirty test assemblies

  • Protective end-caps for connectors and adapters

Environmental Contributors

  • Electricity generation and vehicle emissions

  • Plant pollen and molds

  • Aerial blown dirt and sand

  • Concrete dust

Preparing for Cleaning

Safety Precautions

Before starting any cleaning procedures, it is recommended to ensure that the equipment is powered off and disconnected from any power source to avoid any electrical mishaps. Wearing appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) such as safety glasses is essential to protect oneself from any potentially harmful chemicals or debris. Adequate ventilation should also be maintained in the cleaning area to prevent inhalation of any fumes or particles. Lastly, it is important to carefully follow the manufacturer's guidelines and instructions for cleaning the connectors to avoid any unnecessary risks or damage.

By taking these safety precautions, the cleaning process can be conducted with confidence and minimize any potential hazards.

Using Mechanical Clickers

These handy click-to-clean tools are specifically designed for the precise and thorough cleaning of fiber optic connectors. The mechanical clicker features a spring-loaded mechanism that allows for controlled and consistent pressure to be applied during the cleaning process. With a simple push, the clicker provides the necessary wiping action to remove dirt, dust, and other contaminants.

Apply these tips to achieve optimal results:

  • Apply a small dab of engineered high purity cleaning fluid onto the cleaning ribbon 

  • Insert tip of the clicker into the connector and click to clean A single click is typically enough to thoroughly clean the end face

Recommended product: Sticklers™ CleanClicker™ 600 MPO Connector Cleaner

  • 'Keyless' cleaning tip allows up or down insertion

  • Remove the tip insertion orientation key and the tool cleans inverted - makes cleaning in tight spaces or near floors or ceilings much easier

  • 600+ cleanings in each tool

  • Cleans both male (with guide pins) and female (without guide pins) MPO connectors

  • Enables wet-dry cleaning on heavily soiled end faces, use with the Sticklers Fiber Optic Splice & Connector Cleaner Cleaning Fluid

  • Translucent plastic housing shows the tech how much cleaning ribbon remains - avoids surprises out in the field

Using Fluid & Stick Cleaners

Stick cleaners, equipped with soft, lint-free tips, provide a mechanical means to remove particulate matter and lightly adhered impurities without the need for liquid solutions. The combination of fluid and stick cleaners offers a versatile approach to connector maintenance, allowing technicians to combat various forms of contamination.

Apply these tips to achieve optimal results:

  • Tilt can of cleaning fluid slightly

  • Only moisten the stick taking care to not saturate the tip

  • Single fiber Termini - Rotate 6 to 8 times in the same direction MT Termini - Wipe stick in single vertical direction 

Recommended product: Sticklers™ Cleanstixx™ 1.6mm Fiber Optic Connector Cleaning Sticks

  • This cleaning stick has an extra-long tip to reach deep into connectors and clean without the need to disassemble the connector

  • Patented sintered polymer fibers for consistent, high-purity cleaning

  • Ultra clean construction - does not contain fabric, foam, glue or particulate

  • Precisely molded to clean the entire end face, not just the central core

  • For best results, wet/dry clean using Sticklers™ Fiber Optic Connector Cleaning Fluid that cleans effectively, dissipates static and leaves no residue

  • 1.6mm fiber optic connectors cleaning swabs come in high-purity self-sealing bags

  • 50 swabs per box (10 swabs in 5 self-sealing bags)

  • Military Approved

  • NSN: #6070-01-553-2262

In conclusion, adhering to best practices for cleaning MT and ARINC 801 connectors is not just a matter of routine maintenance; it is a fundamental step in ensuring the reliability and performance of fiber optic avionic systems. With a comprehensive understanding of the structures, designs, and environmental contributors that impact these connectors, coupled with the use of appropriate cleaning tools like engineered cleaning fluid and stick cleaners, technicians can mitigate the risks of contamination and signal degradation.

By following these best practices, organizations can minimize costly downtime, maintain data integrity, and enhance safety, both in the realm of optical fiber networks and aerospace systems. Regular and meticulous cleaning procedures ultimately underscore the importance of attention to detail and precision in achieving optimal network performance, underpinning the success and efficiency of these critical technologies.