Topographical changes within the contact area as a function of cycling could be a critical factor causing failure and reliability issues in RF MEMS switch operation. In this paper, gold-to-gold contact, cantilever-type RF MEMS switches were tested (cold-switching mode) for different number of cycles, namely, 10, 102, 103, 104, 105, and 106. After the cycling tests, the contact area of each switch was scanned using optical microscopy, scanning electron microscopy and atomic force microscopy to quantify the exact gold-to-gold contact surface changes, leading to adhesion failures (at about 106 cycles). Detailed roughness analysis was carried out to better quantify topographical changes on the contact surface and relate them to failures. It was found that the material transfer from the top beam to the bottom substrate was dominant, and observed after only few cycles. Adhesion failure of gold-to-gold contact switches could be attributed to large protrusions formed on the bottom surface as the switch cycles over 105 times.

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