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Electromechanical Switches


Agilent electromechanical coaxial switches feature low insertion loss, high isolation, broadband performance, long life and exceptional repeatability. Agilent coaxial switches are all designed with an “edge-line” coaxial structure. This transmission line structure provides for movement of the edge-line center conductor between two fixed, continuous ground planes. The main advantage of this innovation is that the moving contacts can be easily activated, yet maintain high isolation and low insertion loss.


The RF contact configuration is designed for controlled wiping action. Since the outer conductor is not part of the switching function, repeatability and life are enhanced. The switching action occurs typically within 15 to 30 milliseconds, after which permanent magnets latch the contacts to retain the new switch position.



Repeatability plays an important role in any test system. In test applications where accuracies of less than a few tenths of a dB are required, the system designer must consider the effects of switch repeatability in addition to test equipment capabilities. In automated test systems where switches are used for signal routing, every switch will add to the repeatability error. Such errors cannot be calibrated out of the system due to their random nature. Agilent switches are designed for high repeatability, 0.03 dB maximum over 5 million cycles.


Repeatability is a measure of the change in a specification from cycle to cycle over time. When used as part of a measurement system, switch repeatability is critical to overall system measurement accuracy. Repeatability can be defined for any of the specifications of a switch, which includes: insertion loss, reflection, isolation and phase. Insertion loss repeatability is specified for all Agilent switches, as this tends to be the specification most sensitive to changes in switch performance.


Factors that affect insertion loss repeatability include:
• Debris
• Contact pressure
• Plating quality
• Contact shape and wiping action


Debris is generated in a switch when two surfaces come in contact during movement. The debris may find its way between contacts, causing an open circuit. Agilent has developed processes that control contamination and debris generation to minimize these effects.


Switch contacts are typically gold plated to maximize conductivity and minimize surface corrosion. Special plating materials, surface finish, contact shape and wiping pressure all combine to minimize surface effects on insertion loss repeatability.


Contact resistance is inversely proportional to contact pressure. Insufficient pressure increases life but also increases contact loss. Too much pressure damages the contact surfaces, with little insertion loss improvement. Contact surface wiping provides a means for breaking through surface corrosion and moving debris away from the contacts. This allows the switch to clean the contact surfaces with each switch cycle.


Input Power

The ability of a switch to handle power depends very much on the materials used for the signal carrying components of the switch and on the switch design. Two switching conditions should be considered: “hot” switching and “cold” switching. Hot switching occurs when RF/microwave power is present at the ports of the switch at the time of the switching function. Cold switching occurs when the signal power is removed before activating the switching function.


Hot switching causes the most stress on internal contacts, and can lead to premature failure. Cold switching results in lower contact stress and longer life, and is recommended in situations where the signal power can be removed before switching.



The life of a switch is usually specified in cycles, i.e. the number of times it switches from one position to another and back. Agilent determines life by cycling switches to the point of degradation. Typically, Agilent switches, in life cycle tests, perform to specifications for at least twice as many cycles as warranted.

Six Agilent’s switch Series have a specified life of 5 million cycles. This long life results in lower cost of ownership by reducing periodic maintenance, downtime and repairs.