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$18m backing for GE spin-off that ‘re-invents the switch’

08 December, 2016

A new US company, spun off from GE’s Global Research Center, claims to have re-invented the electronic switch, with a device that can handle kilowatts of power, yet offers the size, speed, cost, and reliability attractions of solid-state devices.

California-based Menlo Micro has attracted $18.7m of investment from GE Ventures, as well as the semiconductor developer Microsemi, the materials specialist Corning, and Paladin Capital Group. Menlo predicts that its Digital-Micro-Switch (DMS) technology will find applications in many sectors of industry from telecommunications to the industrial Internet of Things.

According to Menlo, the electromechanical relay hasn’t experienced significant innovation for 50 years. While the high-power handling and electrical performance of relays have allowed them to continue to flourish in many markets, their limitations in terms of size, speed, cost, and reliability present major challenges to system designers.

The new switch – based on MEMS (microelectromechanical systems) technology – is the result more than 12 years of r&d at the Global Research Center, which has resulted in more than 60 families of patents, as well as a series of DMS-based GE products. Menlo Micro will focus on developing the technology further and taking it to a broader market, across many industries. Potential uses include DC, AC and RF products, in applications including battery management, home automation, electric vehicles and wireless base stations.

The switching elements are thinner than a human hair and are designed to be scalable. Hundreds of the elements, which are manufactured using automated wafer-level processes, can fit in a space smaller than 10mm2. The switches can handle hundreds of volts and tens of Amps without arcing.

Losses are said to be extremely low – from 1Ω down a few mΩ ­– and the electrostatically-driven actuators need only a few picoAmps to operate. Menlo also claims that its switching devices have lifetimes of tens of billions of cycles – more than a thousand times longer than traditional mechanical switches.

Menlo Micro's MEMS-based Digital-Micro-Switch technology can handle kilowatts

“Menlo Micro’s DMS technology allows us to create something which is as close as possible to the ‘ideal switch’,” says the company's CEO, Russ Garcia. “Not only has it been proven to be reliable, with tens of thousands of units already shipped in the field, but it truly is a scalable design platform. This will give us the ability to address applications from milliwatts to kilowatts, and bring disruption to many different end-markets.

“This is truly an exciting time,” he continues, “and we are excited to get this unique technology into the hands of the world’s most creative system designers, to see what amazing products they can create, enabling the future power of IoT, communications and beyond.”

“With the creation of Menlo Micro, and the scale-up of the Digital-Micro-Switch technology, GE will be able to accelerate its digital initiatives across multiple businesses, from healthcare to aviation to energy management and beyond,” adds Risa Stack, general manager of new business creation for GE Ventures.

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