3M takes on Helios in dry laser market with RSNA debut of DryView

December 14, 1994

Agfa joins output fray with dye-sub printerPolaroid's reign as the sole vendor of dry processing laser imagersis about to come to an end. Competitor 3M of St. Paul, MN, gotits feet wet in the dry-processing segment with the introductionof its

Agfa joins output fray with dye-sub printer

Polaroid's reign as the sole vendor of dry processing laser imagersis about to come to an end. Competitor 3M of St. Paul, MN, gotits feet wet in the dry-processing segment with the introductionof its DryView line at the Radiological Society of North Americaconference this month. Agfa also weighed in at the RSNA meetingwith a dye sublimation printer that could siphon off some salesof the 8 x 10 versions of Helios and DryView.

Polaroid's Helios 810 imager for nuclear medicine, C-arm andultrasound applications has been well received since its introductionin 1993, although the vendor reported last month that it wouldnot reach its goal of shipping 300 units in 1994 (SCAN 6/1/94).At the RSNA meeting, Polaroid, of Newton, MA, rolled out a 14x 17 version of Helios that it expects to begin delivering bymid-1995 (SCAN 11/9/94).

The idea of chemical-free laser printing is too attractivefor the segment to be cornered by one vendor, however. 3M's entrywas seen as the inevitable start of what will become a pitchedbattle over dry-processing technology.

3M's DryView comes in two versions, a 14 x 17 model calledDryView 8700 and an 8 x 10 model named DryView 8300. Both unitsare surprisingly compact, with the 8 x 10 model about the sizeof a multiformat camera. The units take up to two inputs, whichcan be expanded to eight with the DryView 8800 Multi-Input Managermodule.

Multi-Input Manager also serves as a migration path from 3M'sexisting wet-processing 969 HQ and 969 HQS lasers to DryView.Multi-Input Manager can drive a DryView printer and a wet laserat the same time, and 3M this month started a trade-in programin which customers who buy a 969 HQ with Multi-Input Manager nowcan trade in the wet laser for a DryView when that technologybecomes available in the third quarter of next year.

DryView's technology is based on the use of an infrared laserdiode to expose a special photothermographic film. The image isthen developed with a controlled application of heat. While thefilm contains silver, it is not a silver halide film and requiresno chemical processing.

Image quality will likely be the main battleground betweenDryView and Helios, with the two sides sparring over the benefitsof digital technology, and even the definition of digital itself.Polaroid maintains that Helios, which it touts as being "totallydigital," has image quality and stability advantages overDryView. 3M responds by claiming that its new products offer "continuoustone" resolution that is a purer representation of the conventionalwet films to which radiologists are accustomed.

Throughput and price are likely to be other fronts in the battle,and at present DryView has an advantage. Like 3M's 969 HQ line,DryView 8700 has a throughput of 120 films an hour, compared to30 with Helios 1417. 3M has released budgetary pricing of $85,000to $90,000 for a multiple-input version of DryView 8700, comparedto $97,000 for a fully configured Helios 1417. A single-inputDryView 8700 lists at $65,000 to $70,000. Price per print of bothtechnologies is about the same, about 8% to 10% higher than thatof conventional film.

Polaroid is not going to stand idly by while competitors encroachon its turf, however. The vendor is planning a higher throughputversion of Helios 1417, according to Richard Borrelli, Polaroiddirector of marketing. Polaroid also upgraded Helios 1417 to 16-bitarchitecture from the eight-bit architecture used in Helios 810.

A wild card in the deck is Agfa's new Impax DryStar 8 x 10thermal sublimation printer. While not a laser like DryView orHelios, Agfa says DryStar provides diagnostic-quality 8 x 10 imagesat 300 dpi for nuclear medicine and ultrasound applications. DryStarsupports both gray-scale and color printing and has a throughputof 50 films an hour in gray-scale and about 17 an hour in color.The unit is compatible with ACR-NEMA's DICOM 3.0 standard.

At a list price of $27,000 for a DICOM-compatible unit, DryStaris competitive with the 8 x 10 versions of both Helios and DryView.Agfa is also developing a 14 x 17 version of DryStar, accordingto the company.