Dornier helps AI broaden products

January 29, 1992

Acoustic Imaging's development of a standard phase-shift color-flowDoppler ultrasound scanner will accomplish two market objectivesfor the vendor. Initially, the company is relieved of the pressure to introducea color product while it fine-tunes its

Acoustic Imaging's development of a standard phase-shift color-flowDoppler ultrasound scanner will accomplish two market objectivesfor the vendor.

Initially, the company is relieved of the pressure to introducea color product while it fine-tunes its advanced system underdevelopment.

More importantly from a strategic point of view, AI has createda two-tier color-flow product line. This will allow the companyto meet growing demand for high-end ultrasound features at a mid-tierprice, while reserving the ability to differentiate its premiumproduct with a premium price.

"We are taking some of the risk out of banking everythingon the high-end (color) development," said Reinhard Warnking,president and CEO. "We want to do that job right and recreatethe high end. The high end at the moment is going away. High-endsystems are sliding somewhat and becoming mid-range."

AI purchased a standard color-flow engine from outside thecompany and integrated the technology into its AI 5200 scanner,relabeling it the 5200S. The new system is awaiting Food and DrugAdministration clearance and should be available in the secondquarter of this year, Warnking said.

The vendor's more advanced color-flow technology, based ona sophisticated maximum-entropy method (MEM) algorithm (SCAN 12/12/90)is now planned for a premium system called the AI 7200, whichis expected to be available in the third quarter. Clinical trialsof MEM were due to begin this month. AI had originally hoped tostart commercializing MEM color over a year ago at the 1990 RadiologicalSociety of North America meeting.

"We have reprioritized our programs. We do not have on

the MEM development now," Warnking said. Top priority isbeing given to the release of the initial color-flow 5200S, followedby completion of MEM development and then the 3-D product, hesaid.

Changes in the AI product line reflect a growing integrationof the once-independent, Phoenix-based ultrasound firm with itsparent Dornier Medizintechnik of Germany. Dornier has providedAI with the resources to be more than a one-scanner firm.

Color-flow Doppler was integrated into the 5200 at Dornier'sEuropean ultrasound research and development facility in Germany.The core of this separate ultrasound research group--as well asthe new CEO of AI--came to Dornier through the acquisition ofa separate ultrasound engineering company, Warnking Medical Systems.

The European ultrasound group originally worked to integrateAI technology into Dornier's lithotripter line. It is now focusedon developing the company's 3-D ultrasound product. Engineershave been exchanged between Germany and the U.S. as the companytakes a global approach to R&D as well as markets.

AI CONCENTRATED ON RADIOLOGY sales and had some business in thesmall perinatology market. Through Dornier, the vendor will beable to approach new markets such as urology and mammography,said Daniel E. McNulty, former president and now a member of theAI board of directors.

Substantial progress was made in AI's 3-D ultrasound developmentproject over the past year. A works-in-progress package was displayedat the RSNA meeting last month on a dedicated dual-processor workstation.

Up to 60 slices are acquired in 10 seconds using a specialtransducer. Three-D data can be displayed immediately, as slicesplaced in perspective, while the system takes 10 minutes to createa transparent 3-D image, said Dolf Schmitz, director of marketingand strategic planning.

The transparent 3-D reconstructed image maintains the diagnosticadvantages of ultrasound while providing new information in aneasy-to-view form, Warnking said.

"It (transparent 3-D display) is a promising way to conservethe strength of ultrasound, which is in the morphology informationfound beneath the surface," he said.