Menlo Micro’s “Ideal Switch” Gains Traction with $150 Million Funding
Claiming to have realized the “ideal switch,” GE spinoff Menlo Micro has secured over $225 million in funding to this point.
In the electronics industry, an ideal switch is considered for many the “holy grail”—widely conceived but elusive to actually achieve. Practice varies from theory, and while a faultless switch may be theoretically possible, it seems nearly impossible in reality.
General Electric spin-off Menlo Micro, however, is aiming for perfection—combining the merits of the relay with those of the transistor.
At 50 μm x 50 μm, Menlo Micro's device can fit hundreds of switches on a die.
Menlo Micro says that with its "Ideal Switch" technology, relays, which offer metal-to-metal contact when closed and an air gap when open, can now be manufactured with the reliability and scalability of semiconductor manufacturing. Last week, the company has secured another $150 million in its Series C funding round to support this technology.
The Ideal Switch
All About Circuits spoke with Chris Giovanniello, co-founder of Menlo Micro and SVP of worldwide marketing, to hear more about the company, Ideal Switch technology, and its place within the power industry.
Switching in Power Control System
While the power electronics industry is constantly undergoing innovations for the sake of efficiency and performance, one aspect of the field that has remained largely unchanged is power controls and distribution.
“Once you convert the electricity to where it needs to be, then that needs to be delivered to a load, and those loads need to be turned on and off and the power distributed,” Giovanniello commented. “And I would say that more than 80% of the control relays used for this today are still mechanical. They’re based on technology that hasn't really changed all that much since Thomas Edison in reality.”
The inner mechanisms of a mechanical relay.
Mechanical relays may be able to offer high power at low losses, but they are slow switches. And due to their mechanical nature, they tend to be unreliable. On the other side of the spectrum are solid-state switches, like MOSFETs, which may be fast and precise, but are less efficient compared to mechanical relays. They are also unable to handle high power for an extended period of time.
In today’s world of smart control systems, engineers must often choose between these two options with neither being the perfect fit. The notion of a high-power, high-efficiency, fast, and reliable, all-in-one package switch has been elusive.
Menlo Micros’ Ideal Switch
Menlo Micro aims to check all the boxes of both mechanical relays and solid-state switches with its Ideal Switch technology. Specifically, the Ideal Switch is based on MEMS technology, where it combines the efficiencies of mechanical relays with the reliability, speed, and precision of a solid-state switch. The device promises more than 3 billion actuations, according to the company.
Giovanelli explained, “Our core technology is a MEMS switch, and it's kind of a combination of two worlds. On the one hand, it's an electromechanical device, so it has physically moving parts that move to open and close the switch. But it's actually built in sizes that are so small that we can manufacture these just like you manufacture semiconductors on eight-inch wafers.”
Example of a Menlo Micro MEMS switch.
With this approach, Menlo Micro said they have achieved the best of both worlds. The company reports that, when compared to traditional relays and switches, its Ideal Switch is 9,999 times more linear, 999 times faster, and 99% smaller, lighter, and more efficient. To put numbers to these claims, the Ideal Switch is said to offer an on-resistance of 10 mΩ, switching speeds of 20/10 microseconds, and a size of less than 2 cm x 1 cm x 0.2 cm.
The Ideal Switch also doesn't generate significant heat because of its low-loss metal conductor—negating the need for a large heat sink—and can operate between -40°C and +85°C.
The Ideal Switch Delves into Power Design
Menlo Micro sees the Ideal Switch making a significant splash in high-efficiency power electronic design. As further validation of its technology, Menlo Micro has recently announced the closing of a $150M Series C funding round.
With the company's latest $150M round of funding, Giovanniello reported two key objectives: “One is to accelerate our product roadmap,” he explained. “We have plans to accelerate our RF product roadmap and to begin to lean into the power side.” The other goal, he said, is to accelerate Menlo Micro's supply chain and capacity planning.
Diagram of the MM5130, the first generally-available high-power RF SP4T using Ideal Switch technology.
“We're currently running our production with a manufacturing partner in Sweden that has been our initial partner for bringing this to market. And one of the goals with the funding is we're actually looking to expand our capacity and build a U.S.-based manufacturing line that will give us the increased capacity we need for future growth.”
Giovanniello noted that one of the key objectives back at GE was to pursue AC-DC power switching. “Think of things like your 120 volt, 240 volt, 10 amp, 15 amp, 20 amp power relays. That was the objective of General Electric in the first place,” he said. “That's what we're looking to do with some of the funding is to accelerate our product roadmap in that area because it is a much larger market for the company long-term.”
All images used courtesy of Menlo Micro.