Multislice CT vendors fight for position as technology surges to next level

April 12, 2000

Vendors of multislice CT scanners appear headed into a period of one-upmanship, as industry leaders jockey to pass each other in detector technology.Detectors are being designed to surpass the current state of the art. One company, Philips Medical

Vendors of multislice CT scanners appear headed into a period of one-upmanship, as industry leaders jockey to pass each other in detector technology.

Detectors are being designed to surpass the current state of the art. One company, Philips Medical Systems, may get into the game with a detector that will outperform those now on the market. Another, GE Medical Systems, is hoping to stay ahead of competitors with an array that offers twice the number of slices now available.

At present, Netherlands-based Philips Medical Systems does not have a multislice product, but the company, which has U.S. headquarters in Shelton, CT, is clearly on a developmental path. Two CT scanners, released at the 1999 Radiological Society of North America meeting, can be upgraded to multislice capability (SCAN Special Report, January 2000). The scanners resulted from an in-house development effort, part of which is now targeted at developing a detector specifically suited to these new scanners.

Philips is aiming at a point ahead of existing technology. According to a well-placed industry source, engineers have been working to develop an eight-slice detector that could be available by the end of 2001. Officially, however, company executives have refused comment, neither denying nor confirming that such a development effort is under way.

“Everyone believes that multislice is the way to go for the future in CT and we are onboard,” said J.V. Beckett, Philips’ group marketing director for CT and MR. “But what that upgrade is and what we will be delivering is still a work-in-progress. That means we have a couple of alternative ideas that we’re experimenting with. To unveil them now would put us in an impossible position.”

Philips strategists may be wrestling with fundamental issues that must be decided before R&D is locked into a specific path. Beckett noted that there are basic questions about the type of multislice detector, the kind of product developed, and where it would fit into the customer base.

“There are competing ideas about multidetector systems,” Beckett said. “There are symmetric versus asymmetric detectors, four-slice versus eight-slice versus 16-slice. And there is still a bit of a fog in the air on what is the appropriate kind of multislice hardware for hospitals versus clinics versus major medical centers.”

Several companies appear to be building multislice families designed to offer a range of choices. Both Siemens and Marconi Medical Systems offer dual- and quad-slice products. Siemens unveiled its two-slice Volume Access configuration of the Somatom Plus 4 line at the 1999 RSNA meeting (SCAN Special Report, January 2000). Marconi offers a two-slice scanner, originally part of the Elscint product line, which was acquired along with the Elscint CT business in 1998.

GE was believed to be considering development of a dual-slice scanner, but has apparently shelved those plans. Rather than add to the lower tier of multislice scanners, the Milwaukee-based company has chosen to push the envelope. Its engineers are working on an eight-slice detector that could be launched commercially within 18 months.

“Clearly we are going to go to eight slices and we’re going to go there very quickly,” said Ken Denison, manager, global CT leadership segment for GE.

Denison is not revealing secret future plans. Rather, he is part of the GE choir that has been explaining future directions for multislice engineering to its installed base and to prospective customers.

“We want them to know that multislice is going to change quickly over the next couple years, so that they can make the appropriate choices and decisions,” he said.

The strategy is two-fold: to demonstrate GE leadership in multislice CT to attract new customers, and to assure the expanding installed base of multislice CT owners that they will not be left behind.

“There absolutely will be an upgrade path for all LightSpeed scanners,” Denison said. “Eight slices may not be for every customer. In fact, we don’t think it will be, but it’s not for us to decide. Our customers will decide that for us.”

Such openness about technology development is relatively new for GE, which in the past has held on tightly to information about its R&D. While this attitude may portend a widespread change at GE, it is especially well-suited to GE’s strategy regarding multislice CT.

“We’re trying to be a little more up-front with customers about what the continuum is going to look like so they can plan their purchases and actually reserve money for upgrades,” Denison said. “We think that is something they’re used to doing in MR, but they’re not used to doing in CT.”