Close up on circuit board repair
(image courtesy of MRIcoilrepair. com)

Special report: The economics of MRI Coils

September 17, 2012
by Diana Bradley, Staff Writer
Since the U.S. Supreme Court delivered its landmark ruling in late June, companies in the MRI coil business have been bracing for the anticipated impact on sales and repairs due to the effects of health care reform.

“The industry now has a new [medical device] tax to contend with, and we are going to have hospitals and other manufacturers looking at ways of reducing costs, because they will invest less while taking on more patients,” says Lauri Johnson, vice president of sales and marketing for ScanMed, a company that manufactures, sells and services MRI coils.

But this may actually be a boon for small businesses, according to Johnson. “People are going to be looking for lower cost options, and so for us, there is going to be an increase in customers wanting repairs, instead of throwing away a pile of coils. Customers will be looking for something outside the OEM coils, maybe something that is a little different, and something that costs a little less or fits their needs a little more.”

Customers are hanging onto their capital investments longer than they have in the past. In an effort to keep these large investments up and running at peak performance, as opposed to investing in new equipment, end users are looking to extend the life of their equipment, and that is a service provider’s “sweet spot,” according to George Smith, technical operations manager for Medrad, Inc.

“The uncertainty surrounding legislation should show a slowdown in spending, because people are risk adverse and I certainly understand that,” says Mark Richard, vice president of operations for ScanMed. “From a repair point of view, that then becomes an advantageous equation. Customers suddenly want a coil repaired instead of buying a whole new system. Same thing for specialty coils – customers look at implementing capability by adding a new coil instead of replacing the whole system.”

Consolidation and expansion
But while coil repair service is booming, the overall landscape is becoming more desolate. Over the last decade, major manufacturers have purchased coil companies. Two big names - GE Healthcare and Philips Healthcare – purchased USA Instruments Inc. and Intermagnetics General Corp., respectively.

“Most of the coil companies ScanMed competed with are gone, have been bought by Siemens Healthcare, Philips, GE, or are in alliance with one of the vendors,” says Johnson. “ScanMed is still independent and providing coils for any vendor that comes to us asking for coils. Most of the other coil companies are specialized and do one type of product, whereas we can do a lot of different coils – like standard imaging, research and development coils.”

MRI manufacturers have purchased larger companies, while smaller coil companies have had a harder time staying alive. During the past several years, the MRI coil repair and sales market took a business downturn of 30-40 percent, according to Richard. Smaller companies, which depended upon sales to the OEMs or direct sales to customers, might have been hit hardest.

NORAS Neurosurgery Solution 5
– Head Holder “Flexibility” with
8 channel head coil and Brainlab
reference star for automatic image

“There were many small coil companies that depended upon research dollars to produce specialty coils,” says Richard. “Those research dollars have become much more competitive for institutions, hospitals and research universities. As a result there is a downturn on that side of the equation.”

While more companies appear to be offering the coil repair services, there isn’t actually an increase of businesses doing the work, according to Ryan McCartney, sales manager for, a division of Creative Foam Medical Systems. His company services MRIs, and is an OEM contract manufacturer.

“Independent service organizations may offer the service, but they still funnel it through a handful of actual repair houses and people like ourselves,” he says.

Looking ahead, the global MRI market is expected to grow from $4 billion to $4.7 billion between 2011 and 2016, at an estimated CAGR of 3.55 percent, boosted by technological advancements, according to a report published by the research firm Markets and Markets last November.

With the burgeoning market, there is going to be an increased need for expanding repairs and sales, according to Gabor Mizsei, chief technology officer at MR Instruments, a company that manufactures, sells and services their own coils.

“The coil market is saturating,” he says. “Nevertheless, I strongly believe that we will see competitively priced, suitable, and reliable products emerging from smaller vendors, complementing OEMs’ product lines.”

Keeping up with technological advancements
Coil repair encompasses three facets: electrical, mechanical and cosmetic. And as MRI coil technology continues to evolve, service providers must remain in the know to develop a better understanding of how to amend any potential faults.

“Coils are becoming more complicated and as a result of that it takes a vigilance and ability to understand the design to be able to repair them effectively,” ScanMed’s Richard says.

In order to properly step up a repair facility’s capabilities, a vast amount of training, time and effort is required.

“Field service engineers often feel that once they have repaired an MRI system, they can go ahead and repair coils,” says Richard. “That is still true of some of the older coils on the market, but as we are getting into more and more complex 8-channel, 16-channel and 32-channel coils, you really have to know what you’re doing to effectively repair them.”

Richard says that it is important that a repair facility knows what is it to reverse engineer something and understands the theory behind the coil’s operation, as well as the theory behind an MRI system. After all, there is a major difference between scientific and technical, he says.

And as the technology advances, coils get more cumbersome and awkward to move around. Not to mention, more expensive. Considering the most common MRI coil issue is damage due to mishandling, this is not ideal. To mitigate this issue, companies like Siemens have been working on lighter coils, like Tim (Total imaging matrix) 4G workflow technology, that are either built into the MRI table or directly connect to the table with short cabling or no cable at all.

“Our spine coil, for example, is integrated into the patient table, and software enables the technologists to turn on elements of the coil,” says John Metellus, product manager at Siemens Healthcare. “So you’re not lifting a big heavy spine coil and bringing it to the table; it’s already on the table. As you need it, you just bring it into the equation. If you’re doing an upper spine versus a lower spine, you just remotely turn on the elements needed. If you want to do a head scan, again via software control, you could turn that coil on and then you just add the anterior portion to complete the coil and improve your signal to noise.”

Price point: 1.5T and 3T MRI coils
In the U.S. MRI market today, 1.5T coils take up 65 percent of the market, while 3T coils make up the remaining 35 percent, according to Suresh Narayan, senior manager of market development, MR at Toshiba.

“1.5T is certainly the biggest portion of the business, overall,” says ScanMed’s Johnson. “A 3T scanner costs significantly more, so when you are looking at the economy and return on investment, the 1.5T is still a bigger seller.”

Siemens Healthcare’s
integrated with Tim 4G.

The average price tag for a 3T MRI unit is about $2.4 million, according to a recent ECRI Institute report. But Siemens recently revealed its MAGNETOM Spectra, a new 3T MRI scanner being marketed as more budget than most 3T units. The device was granted Food and Drug Administration 510(k) clearance in July.

“One-third of our sales are focused on the 3T market, and it’s growing,” says Siemens’ Metellus.

Siemens has also seen interest in 70cm Open Bore designed systems, at 3T field strength. The company’s introduction of the MAGNETOM Espree and MAGNETOM Verio has swayed other vendors to follow suit with open bore offerings. Medrad/ Bayer Healthcare has also noted a recent migration to 3T coils, which may be an indication of future trends.

“A couple years ago, we would see 1.0T and 1.5T coils coming to us for repairs, but now the scanner technology has shifted, so we are seeing more 3T coils,” Medrad’s Smith notes.

DOTmed Registered DMBN September 2012 - MRI Coil Repair and Sales Companies

Names in boldface are Premium Listings.
David Stopak, A. Imaging Solutions, AL
DOTmed Certified
DOTmed 100
John M. Scott, Sound Imaging, CA
Charlie Lewis, Southwest Medical Resources, CA
DOTmed 100
Michaelle Serrano, Oxford Instruments Service, LLC, FL
Rick Sagadin, Carolina Medical Parts, NC
DOTmed Certified
Tim Wright, Virtual Medical Sales Inc, NY
Michael Lies, Medical Advantages Inc., PA
DOTmed Certified

Zafar Ali Selani, Medisel, Pakistan
M Osama Akkash, none, Syria
Erik Rehn, inmed medizintechnik gmbh, Germany
Gianluca Ranieri, Rem S.p.A., Italy