Openreach taps Ripley Tools for bespoke solution

Created September 16, 2021
Case Study

Ripley Tools has partnered with Openreach to create a bespoke tool to help the UK’s digital network provider meet its full-fibre broadband rollout objectives.

Openreach is in the process of rolling out ultrafast full-fibre broadband across the nation. To do this quickly and safely, Openreach is recruiting 5000 new engineers during 2021 and evaluating its toolkits to ensure its growing teams have the right tools to do the job. It was identified that central to getting the right kit in place, was a bespoke cable preparation tool for cable slitting. Its current tool was slowing installation teams down, failing to deliver the high quality results needed and leaving too much room for human error.

Openreach turned to Ripley Tools to translate its ideas for a bespoke cable preparation tool into a real product its teams could use. The ideal tool needed to be able to quickly and accurately slit the specific AFL Fujikura ribbon fibre optic cables Openreach uses along two sides at once – this would make installations faster and more efficient.

The tool had to be precise enough to quickly slit a very narrow jacket on a specific cable diameter, without causing any damage to the fibres inside. It also had to be safe and easy to use for a large workforce with varying levels of experience and usually working remotely, without direct supervision.

Following extensive testing and engineering at Ripley Labs, the bespoke cable slitter (pictured) was developed. It enables Openreach engineers to quickly and easily strip the fibre-optic cables needed for full-fibre broadband and achieve high quality results faster and more efficiently. The tool can accurately slit cables down both sides at once, will slit both longitudinally and circumferentially, and is simple to use; meaning minimal instruction was needed before it could be rolled out to all teams.

During the design process, the applications engineers at Ripley Tools made adjustments which would improve the quality and strength of the tool, to give it a longer life cycle and reduce product waste. The tool is spring loaded and has steel-armoured blades capable of cutting cable jackets up to 15.25mm in diameter.

With versatility in mind, the tool was also designed to be adaptable to use on different sizes of cable. It comes with removable tray inserts to change the diameter of the tunnel where the cable is held. These inserts clip easily into position, and are magnetised to the main tool body to hold them firmly in place. This removes the need for multiple tools, making it a more cost effective choice – and also a more practical one, as engineers using the lightweight tool and interchangeable tray inserts will have less weight to carry when out on the job.

Importantly, the new cable slitter by Ripley Tools is helping to improve worker safety. It has been designed to be easy to hold and safe to use. It sits comfortably in the hand and helps engineers avoid strain and hand-fatigue. A lock was added to the design for additional safety while in use or in storage, and the design means that engineers’ hands should never come into contact with the blades, minimising the risk of injury.

Louis Cawston, Chief Engineer’s Team, Openreach, commented: “We knew what we needed in a cable slitting tool, what would improve results and make life easier for our engineers, but it just wasn’t out there. Our contact at Ripley Tools quickly got his head around our issue and worked with us to engineer the ideal solution. The Ripley Tools team is so easy to work with – fast, responsive, communicative, and true specialists. They’re as passionate about innovating as we are and not afraid to try something original. We’re excited to work with them on future tool innovations.”

The unique cable slitting tool developed for Openreach is now available as the Miller® MB02 Series All Purpose Cable Slitter (global patent pending), while the insert trays specific to the cables they use remain exclusive to Openreach. It means that engineers across the industry can experience raised levels of safety and efficiency from a tool that’s custom-designed to help them do their jobs.

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This article was written
by Peter Dykes

Peter Dykes is a independent telecoms and technology journalist who has over that last 30 years written for a wide range of B2B publications and companies. A former BT engineer, he specialises in networks and associated support systems. He is currently Editor of Optical Connections.