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Existing Equipment Still has Staying Power—Part 1

Wed, 09/11/2013 - 12:13pm
George Karalias, Director of Marketing and Communications, Rochester Electronics

Any time a disruptive technology comes along, prior generations of similar technologies are impacted. In the consumer market, customers generally adopt new technology rapidly if the price is right. For higher-value equipment, though, prior generations may find a new lease on life while customers wait until new technology price points come down.

This is likely to be the case for a new class of x-ray systems, according to InMedica, part of market research firm IHS. New systems combining capabilities, such as radiology/cardiology interventional X-ray systems, are predicted to drive growth in this segment of the medical market. “Traditionally interventional X-ray has been divided into two separate markets: interventional radiology and interventional cardiology. Together these segments produced annual global revenues for X-ray systems of $1.79 billion in 2012. However, the high-cost of interventional X-ray, declining procedural volumes and limited number of interventional specialists have slowed demand, with global revenue growth predicted to be less than one percent in 2013,” reports IHS.

In fact, investment in high-value medical equipment overall has been lagging due to ongoing economic uncertainty. “With healthcare systems still reeling from widespread economic challenges, capital-intensive medical equipment markets like interventional X-ray have suffered,” IHS says. This means existing systems are going to have to last a little bit longer.

The medical equipment industry is facing a couple of challenges when it comes to extending the lifespan of equipment. First, the EU’s Restriction on Hazardous Substances (RoHS), which bans certain materials such as lead and mercury in electronics, now applies to medical equipment. Use of those materials in equipment destined for the EU must be phased out by 2019.

Secondly, the components that make up the high-tech part of medical electronics may go out of production as component makers transition their manufacturing capacity for newer products. (We’ll cover this issue in Part 2 of this series.)

RoHS has implications for both component suppliers and OEMs. Medical equipment makers now have to start designing equipment without using any of the banned materials. Existing equipment isn’t going to have to be dismantled, but it will have to be disposed of properly when the time comes. In the meantime, hospitals and clinics have two choices if they need a spare electronics component to repair an existing device. They can try to find a non-RoHS replacement part, or use a comparable RoHS-compliant device.

Many component makers stopped using lead and other banned substances in their devices when RoHS was first enacted in 2005, which means pre-RoHS parts are scarce. In some cases, RoHS-compliant components work fine in older equipment; in other cases, they are incompatible with older solders on printed circuit boards. These are two areas in which a company such as Rochester Electronics can help.

Rochester buys available inventories of OCM parts with the supplier’s authorization. If the finished goods aren’t available, Rochester buys the tools necessary to manufacture these devices—the die, masks, and IP. Suppliers authorize Rochester, which means the parts produced by Rochester meet supplier specs exactly and are supported by Rochester to the same degree as the OCM. If those tools are no longer available from suppliers, Rochester, through its Extension of Life solutions, has the ability to re-create devices to the same form, fit, function, and specs as the OCM part.

More importantly, however, Rochester can manufacture any existing product to be complaint with environmental directives. Rochester engineers make sure the devices act exactly as the OCM intended and test devices extensively to ensure ongoing performance. Component makers increasingly are aligning themselves with partners such as Rochester so customers aren’t confronted with impossible-to-find component dilemmas.

Click here to read Part 2 of this blog.

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