Take the shirt off my back-please!

February 19, 2003

By Greg Freiherr, Editor, gfreiherr@cmp.comI'm reminded of how long I've been waiting for the digital revolution in x-ray to happen every time I go to my closet. There,

By Greg Freiherr, Editor, gfreiherr@cmp.com

I'm reminded of how long I've been waiting for the digital revolution in x-ray to happen every time I go to my closet. There, hanging along with my other shirts, are two embroidered with DIGITAL DETECTOR LAUNCH in gray stitching with red underline on the right sleeves.

Jeff Immelt gave me them in August 1997. It was after GE Medical Systems and its partner EG&G Amorphous Silicon unveiled their production line for flat-panel detectors at EG&G's Santa Clara, CA, plant. I was supposed to get only one, but there were a few shirts left over.

On that bright, clear afternoon, Jeff predicted that flat detectors would revolutionize x-ray much the same way CT and MR had revolutionized the industry a decade earlier. A lot has changed since then.

For example, Jeff now runs all of GE. EG&G Amorphous Silicon is now Perkin Elmer OptoElectronics. And both my shirts have holes. I'm tempted to throw them out, but they're conversation pieces. I can't tell you how many times people have asked me what "EG&G" is.

They're also a testament of sorts, not just to GE but to an industry that's kept plugging away. About the time GE and EG&G held their grand unveiling, a lot of other companies were gearing up for what just about everyone, including myself, expected would be a steady, if not rapid, adoption of solid-state detectors. Siemens, Philips, and Thomson Tubes Electroniques (now Thales Electron Devices) had formed a joint venture called Trixell to produce the same kind of flat panels as GE and EG&G. Canon and dpiX, with partner Varian, were on board the same technological train. Sterling Diagnostic Imaging, through Direct Radiography, was making amorphous selenium plates. Swissray had CCD-based detectors. More companies have since chimed in with their own ideas and their own products.

In short, digital x-ray is not going away. It's getting stronger. Unfortunately, its pace is agonizingly slow.

In 1997, we looked at the aging installed base of x-ray systems as reason for optimism but failed to consider the price end users would have to pay to replace them with digital products. For the most part so far, this price has proven too high.

Today the idea of a digital x-ray revolution has worn about as thin as the shirt that bears the name of its launch. But I'm as certain as ever that digital-eventually-will win out. I just hope it happens before I have nothing appropriate left to wear.