European congress serves as launch pad for products in computed and digital radiography

March 19, 2003

Portable DR product focuses on mobility and added functionalityVendors at this year's European Congress of Radiology, held March 7 to 11, offered diverse solutions for hospitals planning to convert from film to soft copy. One

Portable DR product focuses on mobility and added functionality

Vendors at this year's European Congress of Radiology, held March 7 to 11, offered diverse solutions for hospitals planning to convert from film to soft copy. One product, introduced by Instrumentarium Imaging, addresses the entire range: digital radiography, computed radiography, and film. Another by Eastman Kodak is an extension of the company's long-standing commitment to CR.

Instrumentarium chose the annual meeting in Vienna to showcase a new mobile DR unit. The work-in-progress, called Shuttle DR, is going after a stronghold of CR. Sites preparing to go digital often choose a CR reader, if only to get portable digital radiographs from existing x-ray equipment. Instrumentarium executives, however, are keen to capitalize on the untapped potential for portable DR.

"There are no other digital mobile x-ray units on the market," said Jenni Tuulos, technical product manager with Instrumentarium Imaging. "We want to be the first one."

The product launch comes amid uncertain times for the company's DR business. GE Medical Systems bid $2 billion for parent company Instrumentarium late last year (SCAN 12/25/2002). Whether the deal goes through may not be known for several months. In the meantime, Instrumentarium is going ahead with Shuttle DR and a supply agreement with Canon Medical for the amorphous silicon detectors that fit inside.

The system is more than just the "first ever portable DR." Instrumentarium plans to make the unit compatible with conventional film and CR plates. These non-DR configurations would include a pull-out box for film or phosphor plate storage in place of a screen for displaying digital radiographs.

Shuttle DR users will be able to choose from either a 24 x 30-cm or a 35 x 43-cm portable flat-panel detector. The larger panel (CXDI-50G) was launched by Canon at this ECR as the first portable large-area flat-panel detector. It had previously been featured at RSNA 2002 as a work-in-progress.

The CXDI-50G is currently awaiting its CE Mark. Advance orders taken in Europe should be filled during the second half of 2003, when the panel becomes a commercial product, according to Martien Oerlemans, DR products specialist with Canon Europa.

Canon's smaller portable flat-panel detector, the CXDI-31 launched at ECR 2001, is already being applied in pediatrics, Oerlemans said. Launch of the larger panel will extend the range of bedside exams possible with DR, allowing in situ abdominal exams in adult intensive care units and emergency rooms.

"Patients are immobile and cannot come to the x-ray, so the x-ray has to come to them," he said. "One big advantage with the Shuttle DR is that you never have to go back for a retake. If the patient has moved, you see that immediately."

The Shuttle is compact enough to fit between beds in intensive and cardiac care units, pediatric and neonatal units, and emergency wards. A rotating arm allows adjacent patients to be scanned. Fully charged, the unit has enough power to take 50 chest images. Applications requiring longer exposures are also possible, given the system's 32 kW, 400 mAs power.

Shuttle's maneuverability and versatility are selling points, regardless of whether customers choose the film-based, CR, or DR configuration. Visitors to the company's ECR booth were invited to test-drive the battery-operated DR system at the show, using grip-operated controls to move the unit left or right.

"It is lighter than other mobile x-ray units," Tuulos said. "Because it is motor driven, the weight doesn't matter, which makes it is easier for the nurse."

Eastman Kodak similarly claims to have radiography operators' interests at heart with its latest CR cassette processor. Launched at the ECR as a work-in-progress, the Kodak DirectView CR 950 is equipped with a multicassette system, allowing technologists to complete short administrative tasks while their plates are being processed.

Up to eight cassettes can be loaded into the CR 950 for sequential processing. The operation can then be started or paused using a button on the unit itself, rather than on a workstation monitor. When operating continuously, the CR 950 can process up to 81 plates (35 x 42 cm) per hour and store up to 2000 images locally, according to Kodak.

The company expects the multiplate functionality to be particularly useful in examinations of a patient's entire leg or spine. A single scoliosis CR examination, for example, will generate four separate plates. The CR 950 is compatible with the Kodak DirectView CR long-length imaging system, which uses fully automatic stitching software to generate images of up to 43 x 129 cm from two, three, or four plates.

The CR 950 is the latest product to join Kodak's expanding CR family, which now comprises the CR 800, CR 850, and CR 900. The high-speed compact single-cassette CR 850 debuted at the RSNA meeting in December. Appearance of the two new CR systems reflects the company's continued investment in what is often regarded as "bridging" technology between the worlds of film and digital imaging.

"We need to be realistic. The decision to go from a film-intensive environment to an image-intensive environment cannot happen overnight. It's an evolution," said Dan Kerpelman, president of Kodak's Health Imaging Group and senior vice president of Eastman Kodak. "Everyone thought that CR would be a bubble, but it keeps on growing. It's one of the fastest growing modalities right now."

Europe is a particularly good market for such a bridge technology, explaining the decision to show the CR 950 first in Europe and not the U.S. The ECR traditionally attracts significant attendance from radiologists based in Central and Eastern Europe, where the cost-effectiveness of digital imaging solutions is a critical factor. The x-ray market is also strong in some Western European countries, where government regulations limit the acquisition of MR and CT scanners. France, for example, has especially strong potential for CR sales, Kerpelman said.

Kodak continues to invest in DR technology, as demonstrated by the DirectView DR 5100. The compact digital detector, now available worldwide, features the same user interface as Kodak's CR portfolio. This may have benefits for technologists working in radiology departments with both CR and DR technology, he said.