What Is Fiber Optic Sensing

Fiber optic sensing is a unique way to sense certain characteristics such as temperature and strain by the way they affect light. Using a fiber optic thread as a sensor, a device can measure the physical properties of light across thousands of continuous points along the entire fiber. As a useful detection method along pipelines, power cables, and more, it can be helpful to understand how fiber optic sensing works as well as where it can be used. These questions and more are answered below as we discuss how this vital technology is used in modern applications.

How Does Fiber Optic Sensing Work?

A fiber optic cable is essentially a cable made of one or more thin flexible fibers that have a glass core through which light can be sent with very little loss to its illumination. As such, they can be used as a communication pathway between two devices. When the cable makes a path between a test station and an external sensor, it is known as extrinsic sensing. Alternatively, when the fiber itself acts as the fiber optic sensing system, it is known as intrinsic fiber sensing. This method of sensing is beneficial because with less components, there is a decrease in the overall cost.

In order for intrinsic fiber sensing to work, external factors such as temperature and strain fluctuations need to influence the light source within the cable in a measurable way. Due to their design which effectively transports light from one end to another with minimal loss, fiber optic cables can effectively show even minute changes that affect the overall scattering of light. For example, because heat has an observable effect on density, such as how hot air will rise and expand, it also affects the scattering of light through a material such as the glass in a fiber optic cable. Therefore, by measuring the intensity of back scattered light at any point in the cable, you can get an accurate determination of its temperature.

What Are the Applications of Fiber Optic Sensing

Optical fiber networks are often used to help transmit data in radio and television systems, railway communication, and much more. Aside from helping to transfer data, the cables can be used as sensors themselves to monitor for any problems along the cable. In other applications, fiber optic cables can be used simply for sensing, like in infrastructure monitoring. In these operations, a fiber can be used as a probin device which is deployed along critical infrastructure such as bridge, pipelines, or dam walls to set off an alarm if the fiber demonstrates strain movement or unusual temperature conditions. The cables can also be used to secure openings such as doors or manhole covers to generate an alarm if the opening is breached. Additionally, the optical fiber cables can also be used to detect ground movement along a pipeline as well as locating leakages and mechanical deformation.

Fiber monitoring is especially useful because it provides an immediate alarm when a change is detected. It can also provide a precise location of the event, allowing organizations to dispatch a team to inspect a portion of infrastructure or fiber network with little delay from searching for the exact spot of damage. More than that, fiber optic cables tend to be more sensitive to wear than a pipeline or wire so that the cable will alert potential wear before it results in a noticeable leak or breakage.


Fiber optic sensing has become a popular form of monitoring for infrastructure and fiber networks themselves by taking advantage of the physical properties of light. Using this method of sensing, it is possible to find precise locations of damage or risky temperature conditions and respond quickly with minimum downtime. When you are in need of durable parts for your cable assembly, NSN Unlimited is here to assist you with all that you require. Working with a network of suppliers that spans the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States, we guarantee expedited shipping to fit all our customers requirements, wherever they are located. Get started today when you browse our online catalog of available parts or send an RFQ form with details about your operational needs.


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