Subsea-Fiber Wet-Mate Connectors Require Careful Design To Balance Cost, Performance
- Adam Wilson (JPT Special Publications Editor)
- Document ID
- Society of Petroleum Engineers
- Journal of Petroleum Technology
- Publication Date
- August 2018
- Document Type
- Journal Paper
- 65 - 67
- 2017. Offshore Technology Conference
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- 36 since 2007
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This article, written by Special Publications Editor Adam Wilson, contains highlights of paper OTC 27987, “Subsea-Fiber Wet-Mate Connectors: Achieving the Balance Between Consistent Optical Performance, Product Cost, and Compact Size,” by Elaine Saxton and Helyson Parente, SPE, Siemens Subsea, prepared for the 2017 Offshore Technology Conference Brasil, Rio de Janeiro, 24–26 October. The paper has not been peer reviewed. Copyright 2017 Offshore Technology Conference. Reproduced by permission.
As the hunger for data grows, long stepouts become more common, and fiber communication becomes standard, the use of fiber in subsea oil and gas fields is set to increase. While optical loss along fiber itself is low and data-collection possibilities are high, these applications will only be fully realized if wet-mate fiber connectors can achieve high optical performance consistently. Excellent results are achieved with compact design, a modular approach, and an emphasis on cleanliness.
Wet-mate fiber connectors have been on the market for years and are used increasingly in the subsea oil and gas industry. While they have been moderately successful, the technical challenges should not be underestimated. Industry specifications demand high levels of optical performance and extensive qualification programs. The balance between performance and cost of the finished product has always been difficult to achieve.
Subsea fields are seeing longer stepouts, which are suited to using fiber as the key communication network. Furthermore, the subsea industry is seeing an ongoing drive to use fiber sensors in downhole systems (e.g., distributed temperature sensing), allowing greater amounts of data to be transmitted topside. Other applications such as direct-current and fiber-optic distribution and pipe-in-pipe heating are also emerging. For reasons of flexibility and practicality, the wet-mate fiber connector plays an important role in all of these.
The key technical challenges are a mixture of mechanical design, operation and maintenance, and operational environment.
Mechanical Design. The core of a standard single-mode fiber is 9 µm, and it must be completely aligned in every dimension for optical performance to be achieved.
Manufacturing, Operation, and Maintenance. Cleanliness of the optical ferrule faces on every single mate is crucial. Without it, performance is degraded or lost. In the worst case, permanent damage is transferred by a dirty ferrule face mating with a clean one.
Operational Environment. A wet-mate connector is a sealed, oil-filled, pressure-balanced mechanical device that will be handled in harsh topside conditions in extreme temperatures before being deployed to sea depths of up to 4,000 m.
Operation and Maintenance. High optical performance is required on all lines for up to 1,000 mates. Subsea connectors typically are mated only a few times in deployment and lifetime operation, but the same connectors are used for testing topside where they see many more mates.
Compact Size. Space on subsea equipment structures is always at a premium, and designs always need to be as efficient with space as possible.
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