As medical imaging continues to be transformed by the ongoing digital revolution, imager/printer technology is, by necessity, undergoing its own evolution. One of the most significant changes has been the move away from wet printingwith its need for special plumbing, chemicals, and regular silver reclamation and maintenance servicesto dry printing. The move to dry printing has resulted in smaller, more portable machines, an advantage in the tight and evolving environment of many radiology departments.
Dry printers also are easier to maintain. Technologists and other radiology personnel, not manufacturer’s technicians, can change print cartridges, literally with a touch of a button. Maintenance is still an issue, but many problems can be solved electronically off site by the vendor without the need for lengthy printer downtime. Some systems include automatic quality assurance features that keep the machine properly calibrated. Many of the dry printers have multiple or interchangeable cassettes, ending the need to purchase a printer for each film/paper size. Computer technology also has enabled imagers/printers to be networked, so printing can be centralized and one machine can handle several modalities simultaneously.
More important than a smaller footprint for most radiology departments is the heightened efficiency that comes with the increase in printer throughput, which can be as high as 180 or more films an hour for some units. Print resolution has also gotten better with many printers currently available moving beyond 300 dpi (dots per inch) and into the realm of 500 dpi and higher. Color and grayscale tones have also increased in recent years, giving images additional detail. Printing high-resolution images, however, comes with trade-offs including a reduction in throughput, the need for more consumables, and the need for more printer memory.
Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine (DICOM) compliance and compatibility are seen as key selling points by some companies. DICOM-compliant technology can take data directly from a DICOM source and print, while DICOM-compatible technology? must use a server to translate the data in order to print it. The importance of that feature depends on the use to which the printer will be put. Some printers also have ports allowing them to be integrated into a picture archiving and communications system.
In spite of the move to soft-copy review, imagers/printers will continue to have an important place in radiology departments as backup to soft copy. They are also likely to continue to evolve and could result in hybrids with the ability to “print” information on film, paper, and compact discs.
Laser Imaging System
Eastman Kodak Company, Rochester, NY, will soon offer the Kodak DryView 8900 laser imaging system. The 8900 laser imager produces more than 180 films per hour at 650 dpi laser resolution, which applies to all film sizes, including 14 x 17 inch (35 x 43 cm) and 11 x 14 inches. The imager contains three film drawers and supports five film sizes: 14 x 17, 14 x 14, 11 x 14, 10 x 12, and 8 x 10 inches, allowing for centralized printing, and for producing output from modalities that generate mixed film sizes, such as computed radiography. The 8900 also features a touch screen, multilingual color control panel, and bagless DryView film cartridges that speed film loading. The DryView 8900 laser imaging system is scheduled to be available in the second half of 2003. (800) 328-2910; www.kodak.com/go/health.
Mitsubishi Digital Electronics America, Irvine, Calif, offers the P-91W monochrome printer with upgraded features. The P-91W is compact and combines high-resolution image quality, design simplicity, and multi-format, multi-image printing. The roll paper feed mechanism ensures consistent and reliable jam-free output. The P-91W has a dual voltage power supply as well as UL and CE approvals, making it compatible for worldwide medical applications. The company also offers the P-91DW digital monochrome printer, the P-91DW(UB)a high-speed digital USB printerand the P500W, a high-resolution, large multi-format monochrome thermal printer. (888) 307-0309; www.mitsubishi-imaging.com.
Print Configurator System
Quest International, Irvine, Calif, has developed a step-by-step process, the Print Configurator, by which to better identify the needs of a customer when making the purchase choice of a medical printing system.? The Print Configurator takes into account the ultimate utilization, the different methodologies, and the costversus the technologychoices of the customer. The configurator enables a customer to match an ideal printer solution among the wide variety of print choices on the market today. (800) 231-6777; www.questinc.com.
Color Video Printer
Ampronix Inc, Irvine, Calif, offers the Sony UP-21MD color video printer, a solution for ultrasound, endoscopy, and dental modalities. This Dye-Sublimation (A6) printer accepts and outputs composite, s-video (Y/C) and RGB video signals and prints 400 dpi in 20 seconds. For added control, it has a built-in RS-232C port, allowing the printer to be controlled from external equipment such as a computer. (800) 400-7972 ext 13;[email protected].
Dual Media Size Direct Thermal Imager
AGFA Corporation, Greenville, SC, offers the DRY-STAR” 5500, a high-throughput, high-resolution, dual media size Direct Thermal” imager. The DRYSTAR has a throughput of up to 100 14″x17″ sheets/hour, has a resolution capability of 508 ppi at a spot size of 50 ?m, and can handle two different media sizes. The DRYSTAR features a sorter function, which ensures that whichever modality is being served, whichever print command is currently being handled, all tasks will be carried out and sorted, according to modality or patient record. (877) 777-2432; www.agfa.com/healthcare
Dry Film Imager
Sony Electronics Inc, Park Ridge, NJ, offers the FilmStationTM dry film imager. The FilmStation offers high-quality films of CT and MRI scans in a package that is smaller and less costly than other currently available solutions. The unit has high image quality and fast throughput (70 films per hour), and produces 12-bit (4,096 shades of gray) resolution images at 320 dpi. The FilmStation has a small footprint and can be either horizontally or vertically positioned as space permits. The FDA recently cleared Sony Electronics to market its DICOM-compliant FilmStation dry film imager as a medical device in the United States under 510(k) notification. (800) 535-SONY; www.sony.com/medical.