GE Ventures announced this week the launch of Menlo Micro, a new spin-out company from GE's Global Research Center, which will be commercializing a MEMS based switch. Menlo Micro is backed by $18.7 million from GE Ventures, Microsemi, Corning, and Paladin Capital Group. We spoke with Chris Giovanniello, Menlo Micro's co-founder and SVP for Product Development, about the company's plans, target market segments, and competitive advantage. Russ Garcia, Menlo Micro's CEO, and Risa Stack, General Manager of New Business Creation for GE Ventures, have also provided comments via the company's press release.
MEMS Journal: Many companies have tried to commercialize MEMS switches in the past and most of these efforts have failed. What are you doing now that's different?
Chris Giovanniello: Most, if not all, previous MEMS switch efforts fell short due to lack of reliability and manufacturability issues. Menlo’s key differentiation is a novel approach to addressing MEMS switch reliability through advanced material science and techniques that were borrowed from GE’s decades of experience in hi-rel markets like jet engines and gas turbines.
MEMS Journal: What's the application that you are pursuing first and how big is this market segment? For this application, is your plan to replace existing non-MEMS switches, or will you be enabling a new application?
Chris Giovanniello: Initial market is medical equipment and we are targeting the replacement of pin diodes which have lots of constraints in terms of complexity of design due to high negative voltage requirements, power consumption, thermal profile, etc. Overall the opportunity in medical and scientific instrumentation is approaching $200 million.
MEMS Journal: What are the second and third applications on your roadmap? How big are these market segments?
Chris Giovanniello: Expanding from medical equipment, we are exploring two other key markets. Pin diode and electromechanical relay replacement in RF front ends in the military/government radio market as well as commercial wireless infrastructure. Our high power handling allows us to look at unique architectures for things like broadband PAs, tunable impedance matching networks, tunable filters, phase shifters, electronically steerable arrays, etc. The combined market opportunity here is over $1 billion.
MEMS Journal: How big is the total market for MEMS switches?
Chris Giovanniello: This question really depends on the switch and what it is capable of. In Menlo’s case, since we have a high reliability, high-power MEMS contact switch, the TAM is quite large since we include RF applications (industrial, medical, telecom) but also AC/DC power switching. Combined the TAM (total available market) is more than $5 billion.
MEMS Journal: Who are the main companies with MEMS switches on the market today? How do their products compare to yours?
Chris Giovanniello: The only company with a MEMS contact switch on the market (that we are aware of) is Analog Devices. Our product is different in that we are targeting different applications, primarily 5W and above. There are some companies with commercially viable capacitive MEMS switches but that is a different category of product (not a contact switch) and those capacitive switches also tend to be focused on applications in the <5W range.
MEMS Journal: What's most unique about your technology?
Chris Giovanniello: Most unique is the high-reliability that has been demonstrated, with product already qualified and shipping in FDA approved equipment. Beyond this, the most unique aspect is the ability to handle hundreds of watts of power with a micro-mechanical switch that has a sub-micron air gap. Finally, the ability to address applications from RF to AC/DC (versatility) makes it a very unique technology “platform”.
Other notes from Menlo Micro's press release this week:
* Menlo Micro is led by Russ Garcia, chief executive officer; Chris Keimel, co-founder and chief technology officer; Chris Giovanniello, co-founder and senior vice president product development and marketing; and Jeff Baloun, senior vice president of manufacturing operations.
* Comments from Risa Stack, General Manager of New Business Creation for GE Ventures: "GE's transformation to become the world’s premier digital industrial company requires innovation at many levels, from software and analytics to sensing and connecting the physical and digital worlds. 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."
* Comments from Russ Garcia, CEO of Menlo Micro: “[Our] DMS technology allows us to create something which is as close as possible to the "ideal switch". 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, 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."
* The fundamental electromechanical relay hasn't experienced significant innovation in the past 50 years. While superior high-power handling and electrical performance have allowed electromechanical relays to continue to flourish in many market segments, their limitations in size, speed, cost, and reliability present major challenges to system designers.
* Menlo Micro claims that its unique approach to solving problems through advanced material science allows it to offer unprecedented power handling (kilowatts) and superior electrical performance in a micromechanical device with the size, speed, cost and reliability of a solid-state device. This reportedly enables dozens of high value applications including DC, AC and RF products, covering such diverse markets as battery management, home-automation, electric vehicles, medical instrumentation, and wireless base stations.
* GE, with its expertise in advanced materials, MEMS processing, and high power system design, says that it has invested over 12 years of R&D into this new MEMS switch technology, producing over 60 patent families, and a series of GE-qualified DMS products. Now, Menlo Micro will focus on bringing this technology to the broader market.
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