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Swissray sees AddOn-Multi-System as key to penetration of PACS market


Swissray sees AddOn-Multi-System as key to penetration of PACS marketCompany is first to win clearance for digital x-ray systemUpstart imaging vendor Swissray International believes its recently cleared AddOn-Multi-System digital x-ray

Swissray sees AddOn-Multi-System as key to penetration of PACS market

Company is first to win clearance for digital x-ray system

Upstart imaging vendor Swissray International believes its recently cleared AddOn-Multi-System digital x-ray system is a wedge product that will enable the company to drum up PACS sales in situations where larger vendors fall short. AddOn-Multi-System enables Swissray to offer a soup-to-nuts PACS solution for radiology departments, from digital image acquisition to image management software.

Swissray, of Hitzkirch, Switzerland, received 510(k) clearance from the Food and Drug Administration for AddOn-Multi-System on Dec. 18, several weeks after getting the agency's nod for the system's digital detector component, AddOn-Bucky. Swissray has begun its first U.S. installation of AddOn-Multi-System at the Institute of Diagnostic Imaging in Fargo, ND, and as of mid-January the company had four systems in its U.S. backlog. Swissray began installing AddOn-Multi-System in Europe last year.

Developers of digital x-ray systems like Swissray are positioning their products as alternatives to film digitizers and computed radiography systems for the digitization and transmission of x-ray data into PACS networks. Swissray's FDA clearance means that the company has bested Sterling Diagnostic Imaging of Greenville, SC, as the first company able to market a complete digital x-ray system in the U.S. Like Swissray, Sterling has received 510(k) clearance for its DirectRay digital detector, but the vendor is still awaiting the FDA's go-ahead for completed x-ray systems using the device.

Swissray made its name manufacturing conventional x-ray systems that are sold primarily in Europe, and the company has a thriving OEM business with Dutch vendor Philips Medical Systems. Despite its roots in conventional x-ray, Swissray identified digital x-ray systems as a promising growth opportunity, and began work on a digital detector using CCD technology. The company first displayed AddOn-Bucky at the 1995 European Congress of Radiology, and made its U.S. debut at that year's Radiological Society of North America conference.

AddOn-Multi-System's CCD architecture differentiates the product from most other general-purpose digital detectors under development, which use either amorphous selenium or amorphous silicon technology. Because CCDs are a more mature technology than the other detector materials, Swissray believes that its detector will provide better image quality and higher reliability than amorphous selenium and amorphous silicon, according to Ueli Laupper, vice president of international sales and marketing.

AddOn-Multi-System is designed to carry out all the studies conducted in an imaging department, including chest exams and table studies. Swissray hopes the product's versatility will offset its price: AddOn-Multi-System will carry a price tag from $400,000 to $500,000 depending on configuration. This compares with $300,000 to $350,000 for a Sterling dedicated digital chest or table system, and $175,000 for a conventional analog chest x-ray unit.

Swissray plans to sell the systems in the U.S. using a combined direct/dealer approach, with the company directly handling large cities and more populous areas and relying on dealers and distributors for more remote areas. The company is also interested in providing AddOn-Bucky to OEMs for incorporation into new x-ray systems sold by other companies.

While Swissray is optimistic about the potential for individual sales of AddOn-Multi-System, the company has its eyes on a bigger prize: the wholesale conversion of radiology departments from analog to digital technology. In 1997, Swissray formed Swissray Information Solutions, a new division to consolidate the company's PACS efforts (see story, page 6). Swissray in July hired former Lockheed Martin Medical Imaging Systems chief executive Michael Baker to lead the division (PNN 8/97).

The company gained access to a PACS product late last year through an agreement with EMED of San Antonio (PNN 12/97). Swissray gained rights to sell the Texas company's software as Swissray by EMED PACS, and the software is being integrated with the SwissVision workstation used with AddOn-Multi-System. Swissray does not plan to pursue additional relationships in PACS, Laupper said.

Within the PACS market, Swissray will be competing with giants like Siemens, GE, and Agfa, but Swissray believes that AddOn-Multi-System is the secret weapon that will lead to PACS sales. The PACS installations, in turn, will help Swissray market another new offering, an asset management and multivendor service division also formed last year.

It's an ambitious plan, and one fraught with potential pitfalls. The company faces far larger competitors, several of which will be bringing digital x-ray systems to market within the year. Swissray's accomplishment as the first digital detector developer to market may ultimately become an asterisk in the history of radiology.

Or the company may be successful. If AddOn-Multi-System offers the performance that Swissray claims it does, radiologists may find the company's integrated philosophy attractive. Laupper is hoping they will.

"We want to give the customer a full solution to going filmless," Laupper said. "Our goal is to provide a scalable PACS which can be built from a smaller PACS up to a big PACS network."

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