Silica fiber is a long thin thread made of sodium silicate. Silica fibers are the dominating material in fiber optics due to their excellent properties and characteristics. Silica fibers have superior mechanical strength against bending and pulling, provided that the fiber is not very thick and that the surfaces are well prepared. In addition, cleaving and fusion splicing of silica fibers works fairly well. The mechanical strength of silica fibers can be further improved with a suitable polymer jacket. Silica fibers can be used as reinforcements in polymer, metal and ceramic matrices. The high strength-to-weight and modulus-to-weight (i.e., stiffness-to-weight) ratios of the silica fibers allow the fabrication of composite materials that are superior in physical properties to much heavier homogeneous metal materials. In addition, silica fibers are chemically very stable as compared to other materials.
Silica fibers have many applications in automotive, telecommunication, electronics and aerospace industries, due to their superior heat resistance. Silica fibers are used as optical fibers for long distance telecommunications, sensors and fiber optic medical instruments. Huge investments have been made to develop innovative types of silica fibers, which have further increased the performance advantages of silica fibers over fibers based on other materials. Silica fibers can also be used to produce silica acid fibers by a dry spinning method. Silica fibers have properties which make them useful in friction-lining materials. Silica fibers can withstand temperatures of up to 1832 degrees Fahrenheit (1000 C) for long periods or even higher temperatures of 3092 F (1700 C) for short periods of time. Silica fiber heat protection is so effective that silica fiber blankets are used on space shuttles as part of the thermal protection system. The threads are part of the advanced flexible reusable surface insulation. Silica fibers reduce the weight of the insulation and can deal with the heat load encountered upon re-entry. Other applications of fiber optics include imaging for surgical procedures, and as sensors. One surgical application is an endoscope. This tool is made up of bundles of silica fibers and is used to inspect the interior of the body.
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The growth in key end user industries such as telecommunication and electronics industry is expected to drive the demand for the silica fibers. Demand for silica fibers is growing due to their excellent characteristics such as high temperature insulation, low thermal conductivity and energy efficiency. This has resulted in the increased applications of silica fiber products in diverse industries such as iron and steel, metal, petrochemical, and others. However, development of alternatives could hamper the growth of this market.
Asia Pacific is the fastest growing region for silica fibers due to growth in telecommunication industry. China is one of the largest market for silica fibers and accounts for majority of the world demand. The demand for silica fiber is growing in North America and other emerging economies of Asia Pacific due their efforts to build Fiber to-the-Node and Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) networks. The Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) consumption of silica fibers is forecast to lag behind.
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Global prospects for silica fiber companies appear profitable. The key players in this market are mostly fiber optic companies. Some of the companies operating in this market are Corning, Draka, Prysmian, Nexans, Sumitomo Electric, Fujikura, Yangtze Optical Fiber and Cable Company, Sterlite and Prime Optical Fiber Corporation among others. The growth in fiber optics industry is expected to boost the demand for silica fibers and increase the revenue of silica fiber companies over the next few years.