by Cat Vasko

· Report: Compact Revolution Driving Ultrasound Market
· New Piezoelectric Composite Components from Morgan Electro

Diane Wilkinson
Diane Wilkinson

Report: Compact Revolution Driving Ultrasound Market

The second annual ultrasound imaging equipment report issued by medical research firm InMedica, a division of IMS Research, Wellingborough, UK, anticipates that the worldwide ultrasound market will exceed $5 billion by next year and reach $5.7 billion by 2010, driven largely by the “compact revolution”?the rapid growth of the market for handheld and portable ultrasound imaging units.

According to InMedica market research analyst Diane Wilkinson, there are several different factors behind the lightning-fast expansion of the compact ultrasound market. The first is a trend toward miniaturization. “For example,” Wilkinson explained, “in 2006 many manufacturers produced new hand-carried, laptop-sized ultrasound systems. Other manufacturers are doing the same thing. They’re increasing the quality and the feature sets that appear on their ultrasound systems and making them lighter and more ergonomic in design.”

Another factor is the increasing number of clinical applications emerging as ultrasound drifts further and further from its traditional home in diagnostics. “Miniaturization has meant that ultrasound can be used in more types of procedures,” Wilkinson said. “Hand-carried is really opening up avenues to new sections of the market?especially the point-of-care market. Anesthesiology, emergency medicine, image guidance are all growing markets for ultrasound.”

As ultrasound becomes a more realistic technology to own for small clinics and private practices, regulators feel more comfortable recommending its use for new procedures. In the United States, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is revising its Ultrasound Diagnostic Procedures National Coverage Determination to provide for Doppler monitoring of cardiac output in some contexts; meanwhile, in the UK, ultrasound has been recommended as the preferred method for placing central venous catheters.

Demand for portable ultrasound systems has fueled a market that will exceed $5 billion in sales this year.

“If other countries follow suit and say that ultrasound needs to be used for these procedures, that will drive the number of systems purchased,” Wilkinson noted.

Moving to the topic of miniaturization, Wilkinson explained that compact ultrasound is defined for this report as both cart-based portable systems and hand-carried units. “We defined hand-carried as systems that are less than 5 kg [11 pounds] and portable as between 5 and 10 kg [22 pounds],” she said. “Another aspect of the hand-carried market to consider, though, is the fact that those systems do often wind up being put on a cart anyway, because you need so many transducers and gels.”

So who’s most accepting of the increasing trend toward miniaturization? The United States, according to Wilkinson, with Europe following closely behind. “It’s definitely less of a trend in Asia,” she noted, “but this is partially due to availablity and product awareness.”

And, to be fair, miniaturization seems to be ahead of quality improvement, though the two do operate in tandem. “To an extent, it’s easy to make things smaller,” Wilkinson said. “If you think about mobile phones, for instance, they’re always getting smaller and smaller. People see the advantages of smaller size and look at increasing quality later. When the first compact ultrasound systems came out, the quality wasn’t all that great. The image quality of compact ultrasound systems certainly continues to improve, and the number of feature sets is also increasing.”

Wilkinson noted that although growth is certainly slower in the traditional markets, including radiology, it’s still happening: “Hand-carried is obviously driving avenues to the new opportunities for the market,” she said. “And I think the growth is slower in the more dedicated markets because of the resolution that you need for some diagnostic purposes. You need the best equipment you can possibly get, in which case you wouldn’t want hand-carried systems. But people do like the degree of flexibility that they bring, so they’re moving into traditional markets as well.”

New Piezoelectric Composite Components from Morgan Electro

New from Morgan Electro Ceramics (MEC) Ltd, Bedford, Ohio, are piezoelectric composite components for ultrasound transducers. These materials reduce the cross coupling that typically occurs between different modes in the ceramic of ordinary transducers; medical components then respond in a more precise and predictable manner. Transducers manufactured with the new materials reduce spurious activity, offering higher transmit and receive efficiency; they also provide lower acoustic impedance and improved bandwidth. Medical Imaging asked Morgan Electro Ceramics a few questions about the new materials.

MI: What exactly is meant by “piezoelectric composite”?

MEC: Piezoelectric composite refers to a two-part system containing the piezoelectric material (PZT in this case) and a polymer that acts as a suspension to hold the PZT in a specific orientation and also acts to suppress the lateral modes that would be seen in a monolithic or solid PZT structure.

MI: How is this a departure from traditional transducer material?

MEC: Traditional piezoelectric materials have been made as a single shape or monolithic part that is less efficient due to the various modes of vibration supported by the solid structure of the material. The polymer helps break up the “bad” vibrations and give better thickness mode or single directionality.

MI: Are MEC’s piezoelectric composites new, or enhanced from a previous iteration?

MEC: These are new materials for MEC, though they have been around for 20 to 25 years. Our goal is to be a volume producer for someone who needs lots of material.

MI: Are transducers manufactured with these materials already on the market?

MEC: Yes, in both medical imaging and some undersea sonar.

MI: What does a piezoelectric composite transducer from MEC cost?

MEC: We would price this based on the specific job a customer wants quoted.

MI: Are these transducers available and ready to ship?

MEC: We’ll build to specifications or build to print. We would custom make the material or transducers based on customer inquiries.

MEC offers piezoelectric composites in both 1-3 and 202 orientations, in sizes up to 1.5″ square and frequencies from 100 kHz to 12 MHz; additionally, piezoelectric volume fractions can be tailored for any application. The composites can be thermoformed to conform to complex geometric surfaces and are available in both standard and custom materials.