Polaroid moves Helios forwardas parent company restructures

April 24, 1996

PMIS develops premium sales strategy for Helios 1417The restructuring of Polaroid Corp. has put its healthcare subsidiary,Polaroid Medical Imaging Systems, in an awkward position. As itsparent moves to cut costs by scaling back expensive R&D

PMIS develops premium sales strategy for Helios 1417

The restructuring of Polaroid Corp. has put its healthcare subsidiary,Polaroid Medical Imaging Systems, in an awkward position. As itsparent moves to cut costs by scaling back expensive R&D projects,some industry observers have begun to question Polaroid's commitmentto its Helios dry-processing laser printer, a technology it hasspent years and millions of dollars developing.

Polaroid chief executive Gary DiCamillo indicated last monthin an interview with The Wall Street Journal that Polaroid waslooking for partners to help it sell and manufacture Helios. DiCamilloalso said that Polaroid would not spend additional R&D moneyin the medical imaging and graphics arts units pending an analysisof those businesses, which are part of a digital imaging divisionthat lost $190 million last year.

The scuttlebutt couldn't come at a worse time. PMIS began shippingits Helios 1417 printer for large-format imaging in the fourthquarter of 1995, six years after the division introduced Heliosto the medical imaging community at the 1989 Radiological Societyof North America meeting (SCAN 1/17/90 and 3/15/89). Helios 1417addresses a much larger market than Helios 810, a small-formatversion for ultrasound, C-arm, and nuclear medicine applicationsthat has been on the market since 1993.

PMIS executives, however, believe that DiCamillo's positionon Helios corresponds to ongoing trends that have been takingplace within the division for the past year and a half, when thecompany hired Resonex veteran Gerald Knudson to head the division(SCAN 11/9/94). At that time, PMIS began evolving from a R&D-orientedsubsidiary sheltered by a large corporate parent into a entrepreneurialbusiness that must answer to the bottom line. This model has becomea goal for other Polaroid business units, according to Rich Borrelli,vice president for worldwide marketing and sales.

"Much of the reorganization and the changes that havebeen going on (at Polaroid Corp.) are not unlike what we've beendoing at Polaroid Medical Imaging Systems," Borrelli said."It's a restructuring of the business to be more profitable,to increase productivity, to be more strategically focused onthe areas that are going to make Polaroid more successful."

As an example of Polaroid's new business model, Borrelli citesthe agreement signed with Konica last year for Japanese distributionof Helios on a private-label basis. Konica debuted Helios at thismonth's Japan Federation of Medical Congress Promotion (JMCP)meeting.

Polaroid will continue to look for additional partnershipsfor Helios, which could range from Konica-like private labelingdeals in other territories to possibly even manufacturing of Heliossystems. While the manufacture of Helios film is probably toocomplicated to outsource, the hardware itself could be transferred.

"We are going to look at everything that makes sense forour business," Borrelli said. "We would be silly toturn away opportunities to leverage other companies' know-howin order to either make our product better, make it less expensive,or get it more widely distributed."

R&D freeze. Borrelli believes that the R&D freeze announcedby DiCamillo will not have as great an impact on Helios as onemight expect, because the product is already far along in theR&D cycle. Current work addresses improvements and enhancementsrather than technology innovation, according to Borrelli.

"If we were still in the invention mode, it would slowthings down," he said. "But as we look at progressiveimprovements to our platform, I don't think the restructuringis going to have as big an impact. I'd worry about it if we werein the invention mode."

Still, Polaroid continues to look for ways to improve the platform.One area that needs work is in printing speed. Helios has a throughputof 34 films an hour in the 14 x 17 mode, compared with 120 filmsan hour for 3M's 14 x 17 dry-processing laser, DryView 8700.

Polaroid is working on speeding up Helios and will probablymake an announcement later this year on the outcome of this work,according to Borrelli.

PMIS is also fine-tuning its sales strategy for Helios 1417.Rather than marketing the product as a technology appropriatefor all applications, the company plans to emphasize the use ofHelios for applications that demand the highest image quality,such as digital subtraction angiography, cardiac cath labs, anddigital x-ray. In these applications, the resolution of conventionaloutput devices does not reproduce all the data the systems arecapable of acquiring, Borrelli said. Helios, with its 12-bit imageresolution, tonal control, and other advantages, is ideally suitedfor these uses.

"We're focusing all of our efforts on this premium segmentof the imaging area, where the performance advantages of Heliosare going to be seen and best utilized," Borrelli said. "Thisis the first time that we've had a truly digital technology thatcan hold all the performance of the imaging system."

To validate the image-quality advantages of Helios, PMIS presenteda paper at the International Society of Optical Engineering (SPIE)meeting in February in Newport Beach, CA. In the study, researchersat the University of California at San Francisco's Laboratoryfor Radiological Informatics ran a series of tests comparing Helioswith wet lasers made by Kodak and 3M. Polaroid claims the studyfound Helios to be superior in spatial frequency performance,gray-scale accuracy, and consistency.

"This is probably just the beginning of an ongoing demonstrationof performance capability," Borrelli said.