Pickering Teams Up With Menlo Micro for MEMS-Based RF Multiplexers

June 23, 2023 by Jake Hertz

The collaboration will deliver test systems with 300x longer operational life and 60x test system throughput, according to the companies.

As today’s technical challenges become more complex, company collaborations can often pave a way forward. A prime example of this came recently when Pickering Interfaces teamed up with Menlo Micro to create a new, longer-lasting, and higher-performing MEMS-based RF multiplexer.


The 40-878-211 product

The 40-878-211 product. Image courtesy of Pickering Interfaces


RF Multiplexer Challenges 

Pickering Interfaces develops modular signal switching, simulation, and software tools for electronic testing and verification. As part of this, the company develops RF multiplexers, devices that use electromechanical relays (EMRs) to connect multiple signal paths to a single device under test (DUT). With an RF MUX, testers can more efficiently test multiple devices or multiple signal paths within a single device without constant human intervention to switch the connection.


Block diagram of a high-speed RF MUX

Block diagram of a high-speed RF MUX. Image courtesy of Pulse Research Lab

The impetus for this collaboration with Menlo Micro began because Pickering was facing issues with the operational life of the EMR switches in its PCI eXtensions for Instrumentation (PXI) RF multiplexer modules. These switches were only lasting around three months, despite being rated for 10 million switching cycles, and customers who were using these devices to extensively test their semiconductors were encountering failures. 

According to Pickering, the underlying reason for these issues was the inherent limitation of the EMR switches. Because of their mechanical nature, EMR switches experience wear and tear over repeated uses. In the case of Pickering’s RF MUX equipment, the EMRs could not withstand the high frequency of switching cycles, and this led to the switches failing prematurely after only about three months of use.


Menlo Micro’s Ideal Switch

To address the challenges they were facing, the Pickering team decided to team up with Menlo Micro to use Menlo's unique Ideal Switch technology.

Menlo’s Ideal Switch is a distinctive commercial MEMS component that demonstrates superior performance characteristics compared to conventional electromechanical switches. Because of this, the Ideal Switch is considered the first MEMS switch to meet the specifications required for RF testing, combining the best of both worlds: the robustness and reliability of EMRs and the performance and efficiency of solid-state switches.


Functional block diagram of the MM9200

Functional block diagram of the MM9200, the switch used by Pickering Interfaces. Image courtesy of Menlo Micro

With an operational life of more than three billion operations, this MEMS switch significantly surpasses the life expectancy of EMR-based solutions, which are typically around 10 million operations. Additionally, the device offers an operational speed of just 50 milliseconds, a number that far exceeds conventional EMR solutions.


Pickering and Menlo Micro Join Forces

By teaming up with Menlo Micro, Pickering Interfaces created a series of new MEMs-based RF multiplexers.


The default switch state of the quad 4-to-1 RF MUX

The default switch state of the quad 4-to-1 RF MUX. Image courtesy of Pickering Interfaces

The new products, dubbed 40-878 (PXI) and 42-878 (PXIe), are both 50 Ω 4-to 1-RF multiplexer solutions. According to Pickering, the products both offer a 4 GHz bandwidth (a large upgrade from the 3 GHz offered by existing EMR products), allowing for heightened RF power handling capabilities. The MEMS switches used in the 40/42-878 multiplexers are Menlo’s MM5140 SPST power switches, which exhibit a low insertion loss that is typically <1.4 db at 4 GHz. This ultimately provides an insertion loss level comparable to EMR solutions while delivering the advantages of a MEMS-based design. All About Circuits covered the MM5140 when it debuted last year.

The 40-878 multiplexer is compatible with all of Pickering’s LXI/USB modular switching chassis, allowing the use of a PXI-, LAN-, or USB-controlled switching solution with the same high levels of performance. Further enhancing the flexibility of this module is its ability to accommodate either SMB or MCX connectors, providing users with the freedom to select the most suitable interface for their applications.

Note: When we talked to Menlo Micro for this article, they shared that their MM9200 Ideal Switch for Power is now sampling, with possible production release in December this year.