Menlo Micro ports DMS platform to 8″ wafer manufacturing line

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Menlo Micro announced that it has successfully ported Digital-Micro-Switch (DMS) technology platform from an R&D facility to a commercial 8” wafer manufacturing line, at Electronica 2018, Messe Munchen, Germany. 

Menlo is a GE spinoff that is re-inventing the electronic switch. Menlo’s DMS technology operates up to 1000x faster than a typical mechanical switch with 1000x longer lifetime. It can handle kilowatts of power and is built in a structure smaller than a human hair.

Working in partnership with Corning Inc. and Silex Microsystems, Menlo is now sampling product from this new manufacturing line and will begin scaling up the production of its unique micro-mechanical switches before year’s end.

Elaborating on the Digital-Micro-Switch (DMS) technology platform, Menlo’s senior VP of Products, Chris Giovanniello, said: “The electromechanical switch hasn’t experienced much change in the past 150 years, and many of the applications Menlo is addressing have seen little innovation in the last 25 years. Menlo Micro’s innovations have come to market by developing unique materials, designs and processing techniques to build an enhanced electronic switch that can handle high-temperature, high-stress conditions for products that require decades of useful life.

Menlo DMS

“Menlo Micro’s DMS platform is the re-invention of the most basic electronic function, the switch. It is a game changer for those who design electronic systems with a market opportunity of more than $20 billion.

“It has the potential to serve multiple industries, including: next generation 5G mobile networks, industrial IoT markets, battery management, energy management, enterprise building management, home automation, electric vehicles and medical instrumentation.

“The new switch operates up to 1000x faster than a typical mechanical switch with 1000x longer lifetime; it can handle hundreds of watts of power and is built in a structure smaller than a human hair.”

Some of the key attributes of Menlo Micro’s switch technology include:

Size: Board space and weight are at a premium in many applications. Traditional mechanical switches take up lots of space, have limited number of channels, and in some cases need to be manually assembled. Menlo Micro switching elements are smaller than the width of a human hair and are architected to be scalable, depending on the power ratings required. All switches are manufactured using automated wafer-level processes and tools. They are so small we can fit hundreds of them in a space smaller than 10mm2.

Speed: Making mechanical structures small also means you can make them move fast. A typical mechanical switch might operate in a few milliseconds, whereas Menlo Micro switches can operate 1000x faster, in only a few microseconds. This can have enormous implications on systems that were previously limited in performance by how fast they could reconfigure, or open and close critical circuits.

Power handling: This is an area where Menlo Micro completely throws conventional wisdom out the window. When faced with the prospect of handling higher power levels, most people think bigger. More mass, more metal, larger air gaps between conductors. We took a different approach. We make everything smaller and move the electrical contacts closer and closer together. Our miniaturized switches and scalable architecture allows us to handle 100s of volts and 10s of amps without arcing.

Power efficiency: In an increasing number of systems, power is getting more and more expensive. When you’re working off a battery, every 0.1dB and every microamp counts. Both RF and AC/DC losses need to be balanced with amplification and in some cases with extra power supplies. This is where the Menlo Micro technology really shines.

We can scale our switches to have ultra-low losses, from 1 ohm down to a few milliohms. Additionally, our electrostatic-driven actuator means that a single switch only needs a few pico amperes (pA) to function.

Reliability: When you are developing products to meet the needs of businesses that serve markets like healthcare, aviation, and other mission-critical industrial applications, reliability is not an afterthought; it’s the primary design criteria. In the end, that’s why we are here. Our mechanical switching device has lifetimes more than 1000x longer than traditional mechanical switches; not millions of cycles, but tens of billions of cycles without degrading performance.

“Even more important than the performance demonstrated to date, is the deep understanding in material science, reliability, and failure analysis that enables us to model and predict the failures, so that we can push the technology even further.”

Menlo wafer

Role of Corning and Silex
Next, I wanted to find out more about Menlo’s arrangement with Corning and Silex, respectively.

He said: “Corning is a key investor in Menlo, but they are also a supplier and development partner to Menlo. Menlo has worked with Corning to develop a truly unique packaging technology for MEMS, called Through-Glass-Via or TGV. It allows us to create a very small package with copper interconnects embedded in the glass.

“Silex is a key supplier to Menlo as well. We fabricate all our switches on 8” wafers at Silex. Previously, when we launched the company we were manufacturing on 4” wafers at GE Global Research. This major company milestone with Silex gives us significantly more capacity to serve customers, as well as a huge reduction in costs and faster lead-times for product delivery.”

How will the micro-mechanical switches bring step-function improvements in performance for various systems?

He noted: “Depending on the system in question, Menlo’s DMS technology can bring orders of magnitude of improvement in various key metrics, which are critical to system design.

  • When replacing traditional mechanical relays, Menlo offers 90 percent reduction in the space taken up by the relays, as well as a 1000x increase in the switching speed and 1000x improvement in reliability, from millions to billions of operations.
  • When replacing traditional solid-state relays, Menlo offers 100x improvement in linearity, which is a key metric for RF (Radio Frequency) systems and a significant reduction in losses due to the fact that Menlo has a metal-to-metal contact and not a transistor which carries losses and leakage currents with it.”

How will the integration of Corning’s TGV (through glass via) substrates with Menlo’s MEMS switch process deliver a miniaturized, chip-scale-package solution?

Giovanniello said: “TGV allows us to eliminate wirebonds, and create a chip-scale-package that we can directly connect to the customer’s PCB. It is because we can connect vertically through the glass right to the board, rather than horizontally to a wirebond. This has reduced the size of the die/package as well, in some cases by over 50 percent.”

How has Menlo’s breakthroughs enabled simplified manufacturing flow, when compared to CMOS processes?

He said: “Innovations in material science to manufacture a highly reliable structure have allowed us to eliminate complex design features which drive complexity in processing flows. We are left with a process with only 14 mask layers, which is relatively simple to manufacture (less steps) than other MEMS or complex semiconductor processes, typically 25-40 mask layers.”

Finally, when are these coming into actual production and shipping?

Giovanniello said: “We have ported all our product designs to the new 8” wafer fab at Silex and are now sampling product from the new fab to key customers. Production qualification and shipment of these products will occur towards the end of 2018 and into Q1 2019.”

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