GE launches new line of HiSpeed scanners to ride growth wave in mid-range CT segment

New line features high-end solid-state detectors at all price pointsGE Medical Systems this month unveiled a new line of CT scanners in its HiSpeed line that is designed to take advantage of the burgeoning growth of the mid-range CT segment. GE

New line features high-end solid-state detectors at all price points

GE Medical Systems this month unveiled a new line of CT scanners in its HiSpeed line that is designed to take advantage of the burgeoning growth of the mid-range CT segment. GE executives said the new systems bring all of the features and functionality of GE’s premium HiSpeed CT/i scanner to the mid-range price point, resulting in a product line with high-end image quality and capabilities at a much lower price.

The CT market exhibited robust growth in 1997, with the U.S. market increasing 14%, from $497 million in revenues in 1996 to $570 million last year, according to Vivek Paul, general manager of GE’s global CT business. The company attributed the growth in large measure to a strong replacement market for CT, as smaller hospitals finally upgrade to spiral technology.

CT’s resurgence is not translating into across-the-board growth in all price segments, however. Because many of the hospitals now upgrading to spiral tend to be smaller, they are favoring mid-range and economy systems over the premium scanners purchased by spiral CT’s early adopters. As a result, revenues in the premium segment of CT swooned 12% last year, while the economy price point grew 27% and the mid-range segment expanded at a torrid 72% rate.

GE’s new HiSpeed platform is designed to hit the mid-range sweet spot of CT growth, according to Paul. The new line comes in three flavors: HiSpeed LX/i is an upper mid-range scanner, HiSpeed FX/i falls solidly in the mid-range segment, and HiSpeed DX/i is an economy scanner.

The line features a newly redesigned gantry with a 70-cm bore that is smaller and easier to site than GE’s HiSpeed CT/i, an important consideration for international markets. The scanners all employ GE’s HiLight rare-earth ceramic solid-state detectors, although the use of such high-end detectors is unique on CT scanners at these price points, according to Ken Denison, manager of Americas CT marketing.

“In yesterday’s market, if you bought an economy scanner, you had to make a compromise between a xenon detector or a lower performance solid-state detector,” Denison said. “Now, there is no compromise.”

In general, GE designed the new line to be able to conduct all the high-end applications available on HiSpeed CT/i. These applications include GE’s SmartView interventional CT package, SmartPrep real-time contrast monitoring technique, and SmartHelical helical scan and reconstruction technique. Other features on the new platform include the new Silicon Graphics O2 workstation as its processing computer, which supports 3-D image processing and Navigator fly-through reconstructions.

The only real difference between CT/i and the new HiSpeed systems is throughput, due to the different x-ray tubes and generator sizes on the new systems, Denison said. HiSpeed CT/i is available with a 6.3 million-heat-unit (MHU) tube and a 53-kW generator. On the new systems, LX/i has a 36-kW generator and a 3.5-MHU tube; FX/i a 30-kW generator and a 3.5-MHU tube; and DX/i has an 18-kW generator with a 2.5-MHU tube. These specifications translate into a throughput of about 20 to 25 patients a day for DX/i, 20 to 35 for an FX/i, and 35 to 45 for an LX/i. By contrast, GE has some HiSpeed CT/i customers who have scanned 100 patients in a day, Denison said.

GE also upgraded its CT/i technology concurrently with the rollout of the new HiSpeed systems. The upgrade, called CT/i Pro, brings the high-end scanner the latest Silicon Graphics workstation, Octane, as its computer platform, which reduces reconstruction speeds from three seconds to 1.75 sec. The upgrade also gives CT/i Pro 100baseT networking, a 10-fold increase over the older Indigo2 workstation used on CT/i.

The release of the new HiSpeed scanners will not have a dramatic impact on other systems in GE’s product line, according to the company. HiSpeed CT/i will remain at the top of the company’s offerings, and GE will also continue to sell the ProSpeed mid-range line. Customers can also upgrade to different HiSpeed scanners throughout the product line.

The first new HiSpeed scanners have been installed in Japan and Europe, with the first U.S. system scheduled to be installed at Kenosha Hospital in Kenosha, WI, in the next several weeks. The systems have received 510(k) clearance.

By offering the same functionality as a premium CT/i at lower price points, GE is running the risk of cannibalizing its own products. But the company believes that the benefits of expanding its offerings in the hot mid-range segment are worth it. In any event, cannibalizing its own systems is better than giving up sales to competitors, and GE’s 40% market share of the global CT market makes it an attractive target. GE pegs its competitors’ market shares at 17% for Toshiba, 15% for Siemens, 13% for Picker, and 15% for other firms.

GE executives believe that while CT’s overall long-term prospects look good, things are not so rosy in the premium segment. The introduction of spiral technology gave hospitals a reason to acquire high-end systems; now that spiral is available throughout the product line, that rationale is no longer as strong. The premium segment may continue to suffer until a breakthrough as revolutionary as spiral is developed, Paul said.

“Consumers aren’t seeing enough value in the premium segment. Until we come out with the next helical breakthrough, the premium numbers will continue to trend down,” he said.

In other CT developments, GE is investigating the development of cardiac scoring protocols that would enable its scanners to examine coronary artery calcification, a possible precursor to coronary artery disease. The utility of such exams has been touted by ultrafast CT developer Imatron, and lately Elscint and Siemens have also developed cardiac CT packages (SCAN 4/29/98). Although the company confirmed the filing of a 510(k) application, GE has not yet determined the direction it will take with cardiac CT, Paul said.

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