New products join Fuji in computed radiography

Competition in computed radiography may soon heat up for Fuji,the lone pioneer in the CR market for nearly a decade. Both Kodakand Agfa showed works-in-progress CR units at the 1990 RadiologicalSociety of North America meeting. Clinicians are showing

Competition in computed radiography may soon heat up for Fuji, the lone pioneer in the CR market for nearly a decade. Both Kodak and Agfa showed works-in-progress CR units at the 1990 Radiological Society of North America meeting.

Clinicians are showing more interest in CR as the cost of the units drops and microprocessor technology improves. It is far from clear, however, whether the CR market is ready to take off.

Some companies, such as Kodak, believe digital x-ray systems will be in greater demand for emergency room and other remote applications than as a centralized system in radiology departments.

Although the growth in CR product offerings raises the competitive pressure on Fuji, it also serves as an endorsement for the company's stimulable phosphor plate technology. Fuji's overall business could increase if the CR market grows.

"We (Fuji) have carried the burden of (introducing) computed radiography to the users. Competition from other vendors with recognized names (in medical imaging), helps build credibility for the concept," said David Armstrong, equipment division director for Fuji Medical Systems in Stamford, CT (SCAN 12/27/89).

Fuji initially sold its CR technology on an OEM basis to several large medical imaging scanner vendors. The Japanese company entered the U.S. market in 1989 with its own unit, the AC-1, which produced only hard-copy output. Fuji introduced the AC-2 at last year's RSNA meeting. The new system links CR data to digital imaging networks as well as printers. It also integrates patient data and images digitally, Armstrong said.

The introduction of the AC-2 with its network focus marked Fuji's entrance into the U.S. picture archiving and communications systems market. The firm is a leading supplier of PACS technology in Japan. Fuji's approach to PACS in the U.S. will be confined to radiography, however, Armstrong said.

"We like to think of ourselves as a prime RACS (radiology acquisition and communications systems) player. We offer the ability to network radiography itself, sending radiographs from peripheral areas to a central processor. The radiologist then can send either hard or soft copy back to the attendant physician," he said.

Fuji's U.S. CR sales have developed according to the business plan written two years ago, he said. About 40 units were installed in 1990.

Although Fuji is comfortable with the prospect of increased competition in CR, the vendor is concerned about potential technology overlaps. Kodak has licensed Fuji CR patents, but Agfa has not. Fuji has looked at Agfa's system and believes the system violates Fuji patents, Armstrong said.

Much of the technology in Kodak's CR system is supplied by Lumisys of Sunnyvale, CA. While Fuji also sees patent conflicts in the Lumisys technology, the system will be sold under Kodak's name and covered by the licensing arrangement, he said.

Agfa rejects the notion that its CR system may conflict with Fuji patents.

"We have done a lot of investigation and are convinced that our position in no way confronts the position of Fuji," said George Brys, senior vice president of Agfa Matrix.

Agfa has not made a decision whether to introduce the system commercially once it obtains market approval from the Food and Drug Administration, Brys said. The company is receiving mixed signals about the commercial viability of CR.

The prices of CR systems are coming down and technological developments have improved their performance, he said. But this does not mean that doctors and hospital administrators are eager to purchase CR systems.

Agfa senses that reimbursement and general economic pressures continue to make the U.S. medical community reluctant to invest in non-revenue-producing capital equipment.

"People are saying it (CR) looks much better than expected, but it is not on the priority list for the coming two to three years," Brys said.

Kodak has also performed extensive market research over the last two years and feels there is potential for CR in specific applications, said Catherine M. Burzik, manager of image and information management.

"Our vision is to have CR cost-effective and small enough so that (hospitals) can have multiple CR units that could be distributed in such areas as intensive care units," she said.

Kodak expects its CR unit to be commercially available by the end of the year, Burzik said.

(The preceding is the first part of a two-part series, which will conclude in the next issue of SCAN)