22 Jul 2024


Mechanical relay is ‘reborn’ as a tiny MEMS device

GE claims that the mechanical relay has been reborn at its Global Research Center where researchers are using MEMS (microelectromechanical systems) technology to create tiny switches that could have a major impact on the future design of a wide range of industrial and consumer applications.

The metal switches – a similar size to the width of a human hair – could control the flow of electricity to systems ranging from light bulbs to multi-kilowatt devices. A single die, containing 400 of the MEMS switches, can control 1kW of power. GE says that future applications of the technology are far-reaching and could affect everything from hand-held electronics, to industrial equipment.

According to the company, its MEMS switch differs from other MEMS technologies in its “unique” set of materials that allow it to operate for billions of cycles under extreme operating conditions, such as high temperatures, while maintaining extremely low contact resistances.

“Our cross-disciplinary expertise in materials, device design, fabrication, packaging, electronics and system integration has allowed us to solve the fundamental challenges of switch miniaturisation,” explains Chris Keimel, a process development engineer at GE Global Research. “We have developed a common device fabrication platform that allows us to pack hundreds of microscopic relays together on a single die for industrial power control or, alternately, to create high-isolation, low-loss switches for next-generation RF communications products. We’re guiding a transformational change in switch technology and I’m excited to see where it goes next.”

Initially, GE is focusing on potential applications in mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets where, it says, the MEMS technology has the potential to deliver improved performance at prices comparable existing semiconductor technologies.

“We’re proud to see our MEMS technology reaching maturity,” says Keimel. “We’ve spent the last decade developing this advanced switching technology and components that will be used in GE’s mission-critical systems. Reinventing the switching component allows us to deliver breakthrough benefits to our systems that drive down the size, weight, power consumption, and cost of our systems while improving overall performance.”

GE is also working with partners to license the proprietary process and to enable other low-cost manufacturing options that will allow the technology to be used in consumer and industrial applications.