Moore's Lobby Podcast

Ep. 45 | The “Ideal Switch”? GE’s Spinoff, Menlo Micro, Looks to Disrupt the Power Industry

Episode #45 / 56:17 / May 10, 2022 by Daniel Bogdanoff
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Episode Sponsor: CUI Inc.

Chris Keimel, CTO of Menlo Micro (a spinoff from General Electric), introduces the metal MEMS Ideal Switch®. Its ambitious goals merely include replacing the centuries-old electromechanical relay and disrupting the power and RF switching industries.

Chris Keimel may have dreamed of being a veterinarian, but he is undoubtedly making a bigger impact on the world through his work on micro-electromechanical systems (MEMs). In this episode of Moore’s Lobby, our host, Daniel Bogdanoff, speaks with Chris about his career developing cutting-edge nanotechnology.

 

Metal MEMs Ideal Switch Technology. Image used courtesy of Menlo Micro

 

Chris recounts the technology development behind their Ideal Switch and the creation of Menlo Micro, a company that traces its lineage and name back to Thomas Edison, “The Wizard of Menlo Park." The work began at General Electric’s Global Research Center, where Keimel and his co-workers were asking the question: 

 

“How do you reinvent the circuit breaker, something that's been in existence for decades or even a century, kind of back to the times of Thomas Edison?”

 

“We Were Just Blowing Them Up”

In this conversation, Chris noted that “Almost no one in their right mind would…go make a circuit breaker smaller.” Typically, if you want to put more power through a device you make it bigger and add more metal. However, the GE team was “thinking outside the box…how do we reinvent this?”

As they first started testing the technology available at the time, they were definitely not successful.

 

“When we started pushing watts…or hundreds of watts through these relays, we were just blowing them up in the labs…Okay, this is a transformational moment. We either stop and move on to something else because this is not going to work or we dig in and we figure out why this is not working.” 

 

The Humble Switch and Its Impact on the World

In our increasingly electrified world, nearly everything includes a power switch. From our lights and our phones to our cars and coffee makers. Taking on big projects like this is what motivates Chris: 

 

“What I love about this technology is I get to have an impact on developing a technology and looking to transform a technology that we use every day…The switch is the interface between us as humans in a society.”

 

Both engineers and business leaders will find interesting takeaways from this fascinating conversation with Chris Keimel including:

  • “We had Eureka moments every year, almost every month.”
  • The unique aspect of GE’s business culture, which allowed the Ideal Switch technology to develop for over a decade, despite not producing income.
  • Why Chris compares the product development to an orchestra.
  • The process behind commercializing the metal MEMs technology and the decision to spinout from GE.

So listen in and tell us what you think!

 

A Big Thank You to Our Sponsors! 

 

 

Meet Chris Keimel

Chris is the Chief Technology Officer at Menlo Micro leading efforts to disrupt electrical switching markets with their Digital-Micro-Switch technology. Menlo Micro is a spinout from GE's Global Research Center and is backed by GE Ventures, Microsemi, Corning, and Paladin Capital. 

 

 

Prior to leading the creation of Menlo Micro, Chris helped to start GE's metal MEMs technology group where he led development for more than 10 years. While at GE, Chris was also involved in nanotechnology research focused on block copolymer lithography, nanopatterning, and materials growth mechanisms for quantum dot applications. 

Chris has authored or co-authored multiple publications (Nature, APL, etc.), has 27 granted patents, 15+ patent applications in progress, and has given over 10 invited talks and multiple conference presentations. 

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