Jake Hertz for All About Circuits – June 23, 2023
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.
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.
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.
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.