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Lumisys set to begin tests of new low-cost CR reader


ACR may be used in place of film digitizersLumisys plans in the next few weeks to begin testing its new low-cost computed radiography system, which could radically impact the x-ray film digitizer market. The product, code-named Affordable CR, is

ACR may be used in place of film digitizers

Lumisys plans in the next few weeks to begin testing its new low-cost computed radiography system, which could radically impact the x-ray film digitizer market. The product, code-named Affordable CR, is scheduled to start beta testing at the end of May. If all goes well, ACR will debut at this year’s meeting of the Radiological Society of North America, with commercial deliveries scheduled for the first quarter of 1999.

Lumisys engineers are grooming ACR to operate in much the same way as film digitizers, reading one image at a time and delivering data sets up to 4K x 5K in about the same time that a high-resolution film scanner digitizes a piece of film. The advantage of the Lumisys product is that film will not be part of the equation.

ACR will employ the same type of phosphor-plate technology now used in mainstream CR products from Fuji, Agfa, and Kodak. Lumisys executives are emphatic, however, that they do not intend to position their new product to compete with CR readers from these companies. Instead, ACR will be a value-priced product designed specifically for teleradiology, an application for which many sites currently use film digitizers.

“This clearly is a more elegant and more expensive digitizer,” said Philip Berman, president of the Sunnyvale, CA, company. “We expect that the low-volume environments will begin to install many of these when they otherwise might have acquired digitizers.”

Berman expects that time and cost savings in labor and materials will make ACR a winner. Lumisys plans to sell the product through OEMs, which means the final price is not under the company’s control, but Berman believes it will probably fall in the range of $60,000.

That price should put the new CR system well under that of other phosphor-plate readers, thereby preempting competitors from getting into what Lumisys executives believe will be a growth market. ACR’s price tag will include installation and networking, final configuration, and staff training. Additionally, the product has been designed to match the needs of teleradiology: It will be able to print hard-copy films, but its strength will be in handling soft-copy images in the DICOM 3.0 format.

“It is a DICOM appliance, with local-area and wide-area communications, as well as compression and image processing built into the platform, so by itself, it is a teleradiology system,” Berman said.

In developing ACR, Lumisys combined its own technology and expertise with that of CompuRad, according to Berman, who moved to Lumisys as part of that company’s November 1997 acquisition of CompuRad (SCAN 10/1/97). CompuRad had been a PACS and teleradiology vendor, focused on networking products such as acquisition, server, and workstation software. Traditionally, Lumisys has manufactured PACS hardware, particularly film digitizers and framegrabbers.

ACR’s phosphor plate-reading laser is based on technology already used in Lumisys film digitizers. Lumisys believes the technology is not covered by patents held by Fuji, which has historically had a strong patent position in phosphor-plate technology. Some of Fuji’s original CR patents have begun to expire, although the Stamford, CT, company holds many other patents on CR.

The ACR plate reader will be about the same size and weight as a Lumisys film digitizer. The CR-based desktop peripheral will be easily transported on a cart within a facility, and can be moved from one clinic to another. The first version will be controlled by a separate PC running Windows NT. Ultimately, engineers will merge the plate reader and PC into a single device.

Each phosphor plate will require about one minute to read, which is not much different from the speed achieved by most CR readers now on the market. But plates will have to be fed manually into the reader, just like sheets of film are fed one at a time into a digitizer. Mainstream CR products are considerably more elegant, Berman said, as they allow plates to be stacked. But they are also considerably more expensive, he said.

“This is a Volkswagen compared with a Cadillac. We’re trying to address markets that are not departmental,” he said.

The goal is to develop a deployable CR unit that can handle low volumes. Examples are small clinics or physician offices, ICUs of five beds, and operating rooms. In the wake of such a deployable CR solution, demand for digitizers will probably drop, but Berman does not expect the market for digitizers to disappear completely, at least not in the short term.

“As people implement PACS, they will need digitizers, because there will still be films,” he said. “Clearly though, over the next 10 years, one would expect digitizers to fade away.”

In other Lumisys news, the company signed new OEM and system integrator deals with nine companies that will incorporate Lumisys hardware and software into PACS products. The companies include dealer/distributor firms across the U.S., as well as nuclear medicine firm NUMA.

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