Greg Freiherr, Industry Consultant

Greg Freiherr has reported on developments in radiology since 1983. He runs the consulting service, The Freiherr Group.

Blog | Greg Freiherr, Industry Consultant | March 23, 2012

3T Reaches High-Field Price-Point

It’s been nearly a decade since vendors first floated the idea of 3T as the new clinical benchmark in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Finally, it looks like their prediction is about to come true, but it wasn’t clinical advances that paved the way. Those were achieved years ago. It was an economic breakthrough in the form of a brand new MR scanner priced at about what 1.5T systems were a few years ago, namely, Siemens’ Magnetom Spectra, which was launched a few weeks ago at the European Congress of Radiology.

Usually vendors launch new imaging products, especially MR scanners, months earlier and on the other side of the Atlantic at the RSNA meeting, a fact that Christiane Bernhardt, director of Outbound Marketing for Siemens MR, acknowledged. More important than the venue is the product, which is scheduled to begin shipping in the second half of this year for a price “half of what 3T systems cost five years ago,” Bernhardt told me.

My memory recalls a price-point back then of about $3 million, which Bernhardt said was a little bit high. So, by the powers of interpolation, this new system will go for under $1.5 million. It’s probably not a coincidence that 1.5T scanners were commanding this price when they were at the top of the MR food chain. And purchase price is only part of the story.

Bernhardt and Spectra product manager Richard Winkelmann, Ph.D., talked repeatedly about the low TCO (total cost of ownership) that accompanies this product. Underpinning the savings is an undersized bore with a 60 cm diameter, versus the 70 cm that has come to characterize MR scanners of late. Those extra 10 cm mean less expensive gradient coils for one thing, and a more compact design for another, which translate into a lower cost to manufacture and less space required for installation. TCO is further minimized by the zero helium boil-off, which puts a cap on energy costs, Bernhardt noted.

None of these cost-cutting measures degrade the clinical capability of the system, she said. Spectra is built on the same technology platform as Siemens' Skyra 3T and Aera 1.5T systems, which were introduced a little over a year ago at RSNA 2010. Therefore, Spectra supports all the same applications, according to Bernhardt. It is also equipped with Tim 4G, the company’s fourth-generation total imaging matrix, and the company’s Dot (day optimizing throughput) technologies.

“The key points are quality and usability,” she said, giving a nod to the affordability of the system.

“Really it’s this combination that makes the system unique,” Winkelmann added.

And while the name implies that the Magnetom Spectra is capable of MR spectroscopy – and it is, they assured me – this particular application is not why the name was chosen. Pressed for the underlying rationale, Bernhardt said, “because it’s ‘spectracular.’"

Who says Germans don’t have a sense of humor?

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