RF-MEMS ohmic switch exceeds one-billion-operation lifetime

June 02, 2015 // By Graham Prophet
DelfMEMS has announces that its SP12T, MEMS RF switch has exceeded 10 billion operations while on test, and is still fully functional. The company designed its FreeFlex RF-MEMS technology to outperform current RF switch designs and to deliver the operational performances needed for next generation LTE-A handsets.

DelfMEMS says that two innovations help it achieve this breakthrough. First, although gold is currently used as the contact material, this will be replaced in the production switches by a metal compound that has been proven to be reliable for cold switching in excess of 50 billion cycles. Second, its FreeFlex MEMS switch design ensures that the contact point is always changing slightly, which lengthens the life of the switch.

Cybele Rolland, DelfMEMS CEO, comments, "Achieving the billion switch milestone is a major achievement for our FreeFlex design. Importantly, this is the first time an industrialised RF-MEMS contact switch has been show to achieve this level of performance, but this is only the beginning. Our second-generation production switches, which we will be shipping towards the end of 2016, are expected to achieve up to 50 billion operations. This ensures that they will reliably deliver the performances required for the next generation of handsets, LTE-A and beyond, with ultra-low insertion loss, outstanding isolation and superior linearity."

The DelfMEMS RF-MEMS switch structure uses an integrated, micro-mechanical building block that is based on an IP portfolio that includes seven key patents and innovations. It does not use a cantilever beam or bridge [that employ] a highly conductive electrode electrostatically actuated in order to create an ohmic contact resulting in a mechanical switching. These older structures (the company adds) proved to have several issues: stress on the anchors, possible stiction, low commutation speed and possible creep of the beam.

DelfMEMS’ design approach has resulted in the development of an anchorless structure for mechanical RF switching which overcomes these historical design problems instead of trying to simply reduce them.

The FreeFlex membrane is always in a known controlled state as it is electrostatically actuated by two sets of electrodes. The electrostatically ON state is achieved by making physical contact between the membrane contact area and the transmission line and the similarly controlled OFF state is