Developing MB02 to support Openreach as they connect the nation

4th May, 2022


Openreach is the UK’s digital network provider. It’s in the process of rolling out ultrafast full-fibre broadband across the nation.

To do this quickly and safely, Openreach began a recruitment drive to find 5000 new engineers during 2021 – and needed to provide its growing teams with the right tools to do their job. Ripley Tools designs and manufactures high quality cable preparation tools. A family business founded in the US more than 80 years ago, Ripley Tools proudly supports technicians, telecoms engineers and installers across the globe – by providing high quality, precision tools and unrivalled customer support. They are an Openreach supply partner in the UK.

The challenge

With so many newly recruited engineers, and its commitment to roll out the UK’s full-fibre broadband network at ‘record pace’, Openreach wanted to find a cable preparation tool that would make cable stripping faster, easier and safer. Their current tool was slowing installation teams down, failing to deliver the high quality results needed and leaving too much room for human error.

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.

There are a variety of different cable stripping tools available on the market, but the cable preparation tool Openreach wanted – which could make precise incisions on two sides of their cabling without touching the encased fibres – simply didn’t exist.

The solution

Ripley’s UK-based applications engineers worked closely with the Chief Engineer’s team at Openreach to scope out their requirements and translate their ideas for a bespoke cable preparation tool into a real product their teams could use.

This began with the development and creation of a 3D printed prototype created at Ripley Labs, which Ripley Tools delivered to the Chief Engineer’s team only 2–3 weeks after their first consultation. With feedback from Openreach, Ripley Tools then swiftly took the new tool design through three iterations, adding features and improving ergonomics to produce a durable, cost effective tool that sits comfortably in the hand and provides the precision and functionality that Openreach needs.

Faster, easier broadband installations

With the new cable slitter, Openreach engineers can 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 latitudinally and circumferentially, and is simple to use; meaning minimal instruction was needed before it could be rolled out to all teams.

The cable slitter is helping Openreach to boost productivity and get closer to achieving their mission. They want to make sure everyone in the UK can get connected to super-fast, superreliable broadband in line with the Government’s directive to deliver full-fibre rollout by 2025 – something that’s more important now than ever since the Covid-19 pandemic changed the way we live and work.

And in a highly competitive marketplace, an ability to deliver full-fibre efficiently and effectively will help deliver competitive advantage to Openreach.

Improving worker safety

The new cable slitter was designed to be easy to hold and safe to use. Unlike some other tools meant for a similar application, 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.

Practical and cost effective

The ability to clip different tray inserts into the main body of the tool means the cable slitter can be easily adapted to provide a perfect fit for different sizes of cable. 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.

Built to last

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.

Adaptable and versatile

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.

“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.” Louis Cawston, Chief Engineer, Openreach

The future

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.

Thanks to the experience and engineering expertise of the Ripley Tools team, Openreach was provided with a high quality solution within tight deadlines and at a lower cost than comparative tools.

After the success of this product development project, Openreach and Ripley Tools have board-level support to work together on the development of tools that support different job functions across the organisation.