The downside of upgrades

April 16, 2003

By Greg Freiherr, Editor, gfreiherr@cmp.comI feel kind of let down about the way CTs are being "upgraded." I know I shouldn't. It's hard to find a loser in the way it's being

By Greg Freiherr, Editor, gfreiherr@cmp.com

I feel kind of let down about the way CTs are being "upgraded." I know I shouldn't. It's hard to find a loser in the way it's being done. Owners of quadslice scanners, for example, "upgrade" by trading their old system in. Those who want to keep their old systems trade them in-on paper-and then buy them back, a pretty slick trick. The vendors win because they sell more units and, presumably, make more money.

But it just doesn't sound like an upgrade. When quadslice scanners entered the market four years ago, I was looking forward to the time when field engineers would just pop in a new detector when the old one was outdated. Something like replacing the amplifier on your stereo system when you need a bit more power. I think some of the vendors hoped they could do that, too.

There are a lot of reasons why it didn't go that way. There are technical reasons, like the 16-slice detector being too big or the fast rotation speed of modern gantries. There are practical reasons, like the time needed to swap the detectors being twice as long as the time needed to pull out the old system and put in a new one.

Another reason that makes sense was told to me by a customer who asked not to be named, for fear that it would mess up his deal with the vendor. He wanted a warranty that covered the whole machine-not just the detector.

Ironically, only a few years ago this type of upgrade was widely ridiculed by the imaging community. It was seen as evidence that the manufacturer had failed to come up with a truly upgradable platform. Ultrasound fomented this change in thinking. Sam Maslak built his company on the upgradability of the Acuson 128. But it was MR that really drove home the importance of onsite upgrades, when replacing one scanner with another caused massive facility reconstruction.

Somehow, since then, forklift upgrades have lost their sting. Maybe it's a good thing, because some equipment perhaps just isn't meant to be upgraded. When enough care is taken to match the footprints of new equipment with the old-and owners are not faced with either holding onto an old junker or paying an exorbitant premium for the "upgrade"-swapping whole systems is the way to go.

But if it is, maybe the term "upgrade" needs some upgrading of its own. How about "trade up?"