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EE Times Europe: Making the Switch

November 02, 2021
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EE Times Europe  — November 2, 2021

Solid-state switches and electromechanical relays help manage power in everything with an electrical current. Despite their ubiquity, traditional switches and relays have major shortcomings including energy loss, cost, weight, size, performance, and reliability. These inherent limitations compromise the ability to design and deploy next-generation 5G networks and the electrification of everything – the rapid transition to electric vehicles, sustainable energy sources and a smarter electric grid.

Menlo Micro has overcome the limitations of solid-state switches and mechanical relays with a micromechanical switch design that leverages Corning HPFS Fused Silica glass (HPFS) materials and copper-filled through-glass-via (TGV) technology. This case study presents how Menlo Micro collaborated with Corning’s Precision Glass Solutions to create switch products based on Corning’s HPFS glass. The resulting Ideal Switch products can operate up to 1000x faster than mechanical relays, can operate longer lifetime, can handle kilowatts of power, and are built in a microstructure smaller than a human hair, enabling the creation of micromechanical switches that can operate for decades under high-stress conditions.

A new type of relay

Technology is taking giant leaps forward as the IoT, artificial intelligence, 5G connectivity and the electrification of everything are changing how we connect, share information, and understand and control the world around us. To make this leap forward, we need to design and build microelectronics in new and disruptive ways.

A case in point: We need next-generation switches and relays that are faster, smaller, and more resilient and energy efficient than traditional solid-state and electromechanical devices. Solid-state switches are based on CMOS process technology that most integrated circuits (ICs) are manufactured on silicon wafers. However, because silicon is a semiconductor material (i.e., a partial conductor), it’s not very efficient and subject to leakage, resulting in considerable energy loss and heat dissipation. While microelectronics engineers can push isolation performance in CMOS to higher levels, they eventually run into fundamental physics issues. There are limits to what can be achieved with silicon wafers to optimize energy efficiency and minimize leakage. And with more advanced technologies and applications, like 5G New Radio, these limitations will become even more pronounced. The problem with electromechanical switches comes down to the need to reduce size, weight, power, and cost (SWaP-C). These reductions will be fundamental for decreasing energy consumption and accelerating the transition to next-generation 5G infrastructure, medical technology, and electric vehicles. An important key to solving these challenges lie with innovations in materials science and a commonly available material: glass.

Glass is an insulator; ideal material as a dielectric substrate for switch to replace high-resistivity silicon (HR-Si) wafers. Glass has a resistivity several orders of magnitude higher than HR-Si, which means electricity cannot pass through it and no energy is lost. Corning’s collaboration with Menlo Micro is expanding the possibilities of what can be achieved with glass wafers.

Read the full article here.

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