Rising demand for MR prompts Siemens to boost manufacturing

July 24, 2002

Cardiology and 3T applications drive changesSiemens Medical Solutions, moving to produce more MR scanners, plans to increase capacity from 500 last year to 700 in 2003. A major factor in the decision is the increasing demand

Cardiology and 3T applications drive changes

Siemens Medical Solutions, moving to produce more MR scanners, plans to increase capacity from 500 last year to 700 in 2003. A major factor in the decision is the increasing demand worldwide for MR procedures, which is being satisfied largely by 1.5T systems, according to Dr. Heinrich Kolem, president of the Siemens MR division.

Routine radiologic applications represent the main driver, but cardiac applications will also be increasing. Kolem expects to sell between 30 and 50 of the 1.5T Sonata, a high-performance version of the Symphony optimized for cardiac imaging, up from about a half-dozen cardiac units sold the year before. Cardiologists will be buying most of these systems, he said.

"Initially, cardiologists were hesitating," Kolem said. "It is quite obvious there is a struggle as to who owns the technique."

Widening acceptance of cardiac MR is fueling interest by cardiologists in the technology, he said. Cooperation between these specialists and radiologists will help run many of the cardiac-optimized systems that Siemens executives expect to ship this year. In the future, however, dedicated cardiac systems will be built for use by cardiologists alone.

"At the moment, you need some manual adjustment of postprocessing, and that takes some time. But very quickly we will be very close to 'push-button' techniques for cardiology," he said. "Cardiologists don't really care for individual adjustment. They just want robust techniques."

During an onsite visit to the MR facility in Erlangen, Germany, DI SCAN learned that several other factors contributed to the decision to increase MR production capacity. One is a shift in the manufacturing of Siemens' 3T Trio system from a facility run by its partner, Bruker, to the Erlangen plant. Demand for this product is expected to rise dramatically in the next few years, and Siemens is better equipped than Bruker to meet that demand, according to Kolem.

"In two or three years, 3T will probably make up 20% to 30% of the market," he said. "In getting to that point, 3T will assume the role of today's 1.5T scanners."

Most of the fast routine scanning will be done at 1.5T, Kolem said. Research will be done largely at 3T.

"I see two product lines at high field," he said. "These will be 3T and 1.5T, whereas in the past they were 1.5T and 1T.

In this transformation, demand for cylindrical 1T scanners, which has dropped steadily over the last few years, will disappear. This field strength may still survive, but in an open configuration--and then only if manufacturers can resolve problems that have delayed their introduction (SCAN 6/12/02).

Four of Siemens' open 1T scanners, the Rhapsody, will be operating at sites in Europe and the U.S. before the end of the year, Kolem said, two of them already in operation. But issues affecting the performance, as well as problems with efficient and cost-effective manufacture, of this system have led Siemens executives to consider redesigning it.

"Whenever you put out a completely new technology, you discover some weak points, which we have to overcome," Kolem said. "These are mostly very deep in the magnet."

Siemens executives are reviewing two different models for revamping Rhapsody. One will be chosen by the end of this year, Kolem said. Information from the beta sites will provide guidance in making this choice. He declined to provide any further details.

The company is also developing ultrahigh-field MR scanners, particularly ones operating around 7T. These systems, according to Kolem, will assume the role played by 4T scanners throughout the 1990s. Clinical and engineering experience with 7T scanners could provide information useful in the further development of Siemens products operating at lower fields, such as 3T.

"You cannot test all the techniques at lower fields (such as 3T) at the same intensity that you can at 7T, where the signal-to-noise is much better," Kolem said. "Research at this high field strength can give us some insight as to where the technology may be going."