Siemens Ultrasound rises from adversity with RSNA rollout of premium Elegra scanner


German firm spends over $200 million on platformJudging by outward appearances, Lothar Koob, group vice presidentof Siemens Ultrasound, was one of the happiest executives on thetechnical exhibit floor of last month's Radiological Society ofNorth

German firm spends over $200 million on platform

Judging by outward appearances, Lothar Koob, group vice presidentof Siemens Ultrasound, was one of the happiest executives on thetechnical exhibit floor of last month's Radiological Society ofNorth America meeting. An omnipresent smile suggested that a greatweight had been lifted from his shoulders.

In the past 20 months, Koob rose from the depths of the industryinto its spotlight. Koob's Issaquah, WA, company hit bottom in1994, when it agreed to voluntarily shut down U.S. product shipmentsafter a dispute with the Food and Drug Administration over complaint-handlingprocedures (SCAN 3/2/94). Siemens resumed U.S. shipments ninemonths later.

With those days behind it, Siemens Ultrasound moved up to claimradiology's center stage with the introduction of Sonoline Elegra,a new high-performance ultrasound platform that was arguably themost significant new product introduction of the Chicago meeting.A case of the flu kept Siemens AG CEO Heinrich von Pierer fromsharing the glory, but no matter, as Horst Langer, chairman ofSiemens Corp., stepped in to demonstrate that the product roll-outhad the backing of the highest levels of Siemens' corporate hierarchy.

Sonoline Elegra is the high-performance vehicle that Siemensexpects will transport the vendor to the goal of global ultrasoundleadership. The all-digital platform is scalable up to 256 hardware/softwarechannels on a high line-density monitor with 37% better resolutionthan on conventional displays, according to Kyle Brennan, radiologymarketing manager.

"You have to compromise between performance and cost,"Brennan said. "Elegra has 128 real channels and 128 softwarechannels. Through imaging processing, the user gets the same imagequality as if there were 256 hardware channels."

Dual-channel signal processing improves image density and performsat twice the frame rates of conventional ultrasound systems, accordingto Brennan.

Elegra is equipped with high-density array transducers thatcover most gray-scale and Doppler applications. The user interfaceis easy to learn and use, Koob said. DICOM compatibility is builtin with a PACS fiber-optic link. The scanner will cost $180,000to $220,000.

Koob stresses that numerous future performance innovationswill arise from Elegra's ability to process four billion instructionsper second. Extended field-of-view imaging is foremost among thefirst round of investigational applications. It provides the kindof exceptionally large FOVs that contributed to the popularityof B-scanning. In real time, users will again be able to scanacross the abdomen to survey organ placement. The image scrollsacross the monitor and is stored after the FOV extends beyondthe physical dimensions of the display.

Siemens tested the limits of printed circuit board design tocapture such performance capabilities, according to Robert Dumke,Siemens Medical Systems CEO. Siemens engineers at the ultrasoundgroup's Issaquah headquarters designed the boards, then turnedcomponents over to Siemens' energy and automation group for manufacturingat the company's printed circuit board center in Johnson City,TN.

Massive R&D effort. Siemens chairman Langer estimated thatthe company spent between $200 million and $300 million on R&Din the three years required to design Elegra. The project involvedmore than 300 engineers.

"Our quest to become a world leader in diagnostic ultrasoundwas not a matter taken lightly. We have made a total commitment,"Langer said.

Elegra completes the family of Sonoline technology that Siemensplans to ride to world leadership in diagnostic ultrasound. RSNAvisitors also got their first close look at Sonoline Prima, alow-cost portable member of the Sonoline family. The gray-scalescanner is designed for the physician's office, urology and emergencyroom use.

The moderately priced Sonoline Versa is a fully featured systemthat was showcased as a work-in-progress at the 1994 RSNA show(SCAN 11/23/94). The scalable scanner comes with optional spectral,color and power Doppler. It fits general radiology, vascular andob/gyn market slots.

Siemens engineers stressed the continuity in the control paneldesign and the overall touch and feel of the three systems, accordingto Koob.

"The assumption is that customers will have high- andlow-end Siemens products in their hospitals, so technologistsshould be comfortable going from one system to the next,"he said.

All three systems are FDA-cleared. Siemens started shippingVersa and Prima in the U.S. in September and October, respectively.Elegra will be ready to ship in January. More than 300 Versa scannersare in operation in markets outside the U.S., according to Koob.Prima and Versa have also been introduced in Asia, where the marketingeffort is especially strong in China and India, he said.

The ability to time commercial production with the pyrotechnicsof a product launch distinguishes Siemens' approach from the high-profileintroduction of GE's Logiq ultrasound series two years ago, accordingto Koob. GE did not begin shipping its high-performance Logiq700 until late 1994, nearly a year after it was introduced (SCAN12/15/93).

Siemens made a conscious decision to hold off on a productannouncement until it was prepared to begin shipping, accordingto Langer.

"(We decided) we would only go to the RSNA show to deliverthe goods," he said.

Although Siemens is concentrating on improving its sales positionin radiological ultrasound, industry observers can expect thecompany to eventually end its long hiatus from the cardiologyultrasound market.

"We believe the basic design of Elegra will support cardiacapplications. It is just a matter of time before we expand intothat area," Koob said.

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