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Using the Phenom Desktop SEM for Quality Control at Menlo Micro

On occasion, we are given the opportunity to watch, learn, and broadcast some of the most fascinating inventions of our time. Today is that day of sharing.

Meet Dr. Naomi C., Sr. Quality and Reliability Engineer at Menlo Microsystems (Menlo Micro). Part of her work is focused on ensuring quality in the manufacturing processes used to fabricate the Ideal Switch®: a totally reimagined electronic relay technology that is enabling the next generation of electrification. Equipped with a Phenom ProX Desktop SEM, Naomi and her team can quickly analyze device dimensions and critical manufacturing defects, allowing them to keep up with the pace of manufacturing ramp-up.

Dr. Naomi C., Menlo Micro, using a Phenom ProX Desktop SEM for surface analysis.

What is the Menlo Micro Ideal Switch®?

The Ideal Switch® for RF applications.

The Ideal Switch® is the electronic industry’s “Holy Grail” of switching technology, combining the benefits of both electromechanical relays and solid-state switches. A tiny, fast, and reliable, Ideal Switch® can withstand extreme temperatures and handle thousands of watts with ultra-low losses. Menlo Micro has reinvented the electronic switch with its patented technology, bringing 99+ percent reductions in size, weight, power, and cost (SWaP-C) to dozens of industries such as medical, aerospace and defense, telecommunications, consumer electronics, industrial IoT (Internet of Things), and test and measurement.

The Ideal Switch® packaging is hermetically sealed in a miniaturized chip-scale package for superior RF (Radio Frequency) performance. Combining semiconductor manufacturing with a micro-mechanical actuator, the Menlo Micro Ideal Switch® airgap achieves practically infinite isolation when OFF, and close to zero Ω when ON.

The Ideal Switch® for power applications.

The goal: manufacturing ramp-up

This disruptive technology has enabled a growing array of products offered by Menlo Micro. These include the world’s highest power micromechanical switch, an industry-first system-in-package RF switch boasting the highest data rates, as well as the highest density signal relay.

“As we ramp up our production and qualify more products, we need to identify and address failures as fast as possible…Having the SEM capability in-house is critical for timely results in hours, compared to 3rd party analysis that takes days or sometimes weeks to complete. Also, we found that it is more budget friendly to have in-house analysis capabilities.”

– Dr. Naomi C., Menlo Micro

Desktop SEM as a workhorse for device characterization

A desktop scanning electron microscope (SEM), commonly referred to as benchtop SEM or tabletop SEM, is a compact yet powerful instrument for high magnification imaging and chemical analysis. Unlike optical microscopes, desktop SEMs possess significantly higher resolving power than optical microscopes allowing them to clearly image the micron-scale defects and dimensions in chip-scale packages.

SEM image of a Menlo Micro device taken with the backscattered electron detector (BSD) showing several micro-bumps.

The Phenom ProX Desktop SEM is primarily helping the Menlo Micro team with looking at failure analysis and device characterization. “Being able to see these issues visually is necessary because not all defects can be caught electrically,” Naomi shared. The integrated energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDS) allows for the identification of contamination and residues, which helps to target manufacturing processes needing improvement. While a small part of the overall product qualification process, physical characterization with SEM is an essential component of ensuring quality benchmarks are being maintained.

Knowing Menlo Micro would need a reliable workhorse instrument that fit within their existing lab space, Naomi confidently chose the Phenom ProX Desktop SEM. Its fast sample loading cycle reduces the time-to-image, allowing results to be generated more quickly than other desktop SEM models. The long-lifetime, high-brightness CeB6 electron source makes for low downtime while maintaining superior resolution.

Working with the Phenom ProX Desktop SEM

Naomi is an instrumental contributor to the Menlo Micro quality and reliability team, that comprises multiple SEM users. Menlo SEM users with previous experience were able to become comfortable operating the instrument within a few days. Thanks to the user-friendly interface, it only took a few weeks for the users without prior SEM experience to become proficient. With the help of Nanoscience Instrument’s experienced applications scientists, the Menlo team was able to receive helpful guidance and tips ensuring everyone was quickly up-and-running.

Naomi (right) with Menlo’s SEM reliability team experts.

According to Naomi, her favorite feature is charge reduction mode, “We don’t have to coat our glass samples, making analysis quicker and allowing us to do electrical testing after SEM inspection.” Charge reduction mode, standard on all Phenom models, uses low vacuum imaging to dissipate charge buildup on uncoated samples.

Imaging whole devices and locating areas of interest is also a breeze with the image stitching feature. It has made it easier for Naomi and the Menlo team to standardize reporting, allowing them to focus on analysis and keep up with the fast pace of product qualification.

Looking to the Electrified Future

As Menlo Micro continues to release more breakthrough devices based on their game-changing Ideal Switch® technology, we can surely expect to see the transformation of everything electrification in the coming years. Armed with the power of a Phenom ProX Desktop SEM, Naomi and Menlo Micro are helping to ensure scalable and quality manufacturing for Menlo’s partners and customers. Naomi shares some concluding thoughts with us: “Our big dream is for ThermoFisher to incorporate our power devices in Phenom tools in the near future!”

We would like to take this opportunity to thank Naomi and the Menlo Micro team for sharing their story with us. The ability to work with innovators who are striving to change our everyday lives is an extraordinary opportunity that we appreciate being the authors of.

About Menlo Micro

Headquartered in Irvine, California, Menlo Micro has created an entirely new category of electronic switches with its Ideal Switch technology. The Ideal Switch eliminates compromises and tradeoffs by combining the benefits of electromechanical and solid-state switches into the best of both worlds. Menlo is bringing more than 99 percent reductions in size, weight, power, and cost to dozens of industries such as medical, aerospace and defense, telecommunications, consumer electronics, industrial IoT, and test and measurement. For more information, visit or follow the company on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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